At the beginning of 2016, I was a firm believer that you do get to pick your friends. Sure, they never stand in a row and you never get to pick whoever you like the most. Friendship doesn’t, and shouldn’t, work that way. But that’s not what I thought at the beginning of the year. You do choose your friends. That’s what I thought.
And at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t in the best of places. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have any money. I had nothing to do or keep me occupied. But I had friends. Some that I still love dearly. And at that time I felt lucky for having made quite a few wise decisions with regard to the people I had picked as friends.
By then, I had already lost touch with most of my school friends. Only one of them remains someone I keep in touch with. And I thought this was a smart move. I realized that in school, at that age, thanks to the system, you don’t really meet people you have a lot in common with. Friends are people you sit next to or have the same classes with. So I was happy that I had managed to sort of distance myself from them. And I honestly thought that this was the best thing to do.
As for the people I called friends, they were people I had met at a workplace. But they weren’t exactly work friends. During the 2 ½ years of working there, I was able to meet and become friends with people I really wanted in my life. And I thought that I had been able to pick them.
Throughout the year, however, I realized that this wasn’t the case. I hadn’t picked them and that if they had stood before me and I had been asked to pick, I mayn’t have picked half of them. Before you take this as an insult, please continue to read.
Throughout the years, our group gained members and lost members and gained members and so on. At the moment, we are at around six members. We more or less have in common our careers. Most of us read, some of us don’t. Some are married or in steady relationships while others are still trying to figure it out. We went to different schools and aren’t even the same age. We watch different films and TV shows and have different morals and values.
So if I was given a character description and asked to pick, I honestly wouldn’t have picked some of them, simply because I would have thought I have nothing in common with them. I would have thought that just because they don’t read the same books as I do or believe in the same things as I do we can’t be friends. So I’m glad I didn’t get to pick because now I have this amazing group of friends I can rely on.
And the same goes for my other friends; people I’ve met online, at events, through other friends… I realize now that I never got to choose any of them. I never got to pick them. It just happened that we got to talking and we became friends.
So what has changed now? Have I stopped being a firm believer that you can pick your friends? Definietly. You can’t, you don’t, pick your friends. But this doesn’t mean you have no choice, because you do. See, you can pick whom you want to continue to be friends with.
And there’s a difference between the two. Becoming friends with someone is not something you have much of a say over. You just become friends. But you have a say over how long they remain in your life. And this is something I was struck by during the year.
You know how people say 2016 has been a terrible year because of all the deaths and conflicts and bloodshed? Well, personally, 2016 was a tough year for two reasons. One I wrote about here and it’s basically on loneliness. I may sound whiny but throughout the year, whether when surrounded by friends and family or all by myself, I’ve felt suffocated by this terrible loneliness. And this coupled with disappointment, unhappiness, etc. isn’t a good combination. So I spent most of the year feeling miserable. And one of the reasons for this was the second reason that made 2016 a terrible year for me.
You know how I said I started the year with no money and no job? That changed a few days after the dawn of the New Year. Well, not the money part but the no job part. So I had this job, still a writing job but at a magazine instead of a newspaper, and at first, I was excited to see how magazines work. I had to pick one from two job opportunities and I must admit that I didn’t make a wise decision. But I gave myself excuses and was excited to take on this new world, in a sense.
I was used to cockroach infested offices, daily deadlines, missing lunch and tea gone cold in my mug. I was used to waking up every Sunday morning, impatient to go through the newspaper and see how it all looks in print. But I wanted to see how the world of magazines operated and stupidly, I found myself writing about things and people I had zero interest in.
And at first it didn’t matter, because I didn’t know much about these corporate bigwigs. But soon I realized that I wasn’t personally getting anything out of these interviews. I would have to follow through a set of questions already prepared and leave as soon as the interview was done with. I had to deal with busy schedules and impossible secretaries.
And the worst part was this. So during interviews for the newspaper, usually artists, authors, etc. they were more like conversations and less like QandA sessions. This way I learnt a lot about the people and saw various sides to them. For instance, I was surprised by how humble a particular author was. He was wearing a simple sarong and baniyan. He introduced me to his wife. Told me about his children. Another, a doctor, did the same. While we sipped cool divul kiri, he told us about his family and all these stories.
And so I loved going for these interviews and I loved the newspaper job. The magazine job didn’t give me the same satisfaction and so I became more and more miserable. I finally quit that job in September, I think, and I sure was glad I got out alive.
The job just wasn’t for me, and because of how unhappy I was, I shut myself in. I found it easier to just not talk to people and this led to changes in quite a few friendships I had. And I felt like shit, remembering how I had all these friends I spoke to about the most personal things at the beginning of the year and how that had changed completely by the end of it. I blamed myself, cursed myself.
And I hated myself for picking the wrong friends. And it was then that I slowly started seeing that I didn’t exactly pick them. We studied together, so we became friends. We worked together, so we became friends. We hung out together with a mutual friend, so we became friends. There were no ‘I pick you’ moments. And then what about all those past-friends? The people I no longer talk to?
See, I didn’t pick them either, at the beginning of the friendship. But as time went on, I saw that the friendships weren’t healthy or that they weren’t the people I needed in my life. So I picked them out of my life. And that’s the choice we have. We can’t pick our friends but we can pick them out of our lives.
There are so many people from my previous workplace that I used to be friends with. We spoke a lot, spent time together and were friends in the proper sense of the word. But somewhere down the line, we both realized that it wasn’t working out. We were far too different or didn’t have the same values or we weren’t the people we thought we were. And so just as they decided to pick me out of their lives, I chose to pick them out of my life.
And I’m glad I did that before it was too late.
Because it gets lonely, you know. I’m human, I too would like to meet up with people, talk, laugh, enjoy life for just a bit. But I’d still choose loneliness over the wrong kind of friends. I’d rather be alone than with people who aren’t good for me. And this is where we have a choice. We get to pick who we continue to be friends with and for now, I’m happy with the people I’ve chosen.
As for my school friends, I wish I realized certain things about friendship before I distanced myself from them. I wish I hadn’t grown up so quickly. I wish I hadn’t grown out of them so soon. Because sure, maybe we didn’t have much in common but they were and are people I still care about. They are the people who were with me for most of my life. And they are pretty awesome people.
And I'm not naive to think that once you pick someone to stay, they will never leave. Life isn't that kind to us. Sometimes no matter whom we pick or how much thought we put into our decision, we are left without a choice. Sometimes the choice is made for us. And there's nothing we can do about it.