To celebrate Christmas yesterday I had arranged to meet P and N for lunch in a nice pub near home. We arranged this last week, but by midday yesterday I was ready to tell them that I was unwell and that I couldn’t see them. I’ve run out of patience for them both, and any chance of enjoying a Christmas Eve meal with them after Sunday’s unfriendliness was slim. I endured three hours with them on Sunday – already more than enough for a week. But when I left them that day I stupidly agreed to another dinner on Christmas Eve, and I didn’t have the gall to lie yesterday, because it’s dishonesty that has turned me off the friendship.
The problem ostensibly stems from N’s chronic lateness – he cannot be relied upon to turn up for anything less than half an hour late. If he ever had the capacity to apologise then he could be forgiven, but apology never seems to cross his mind and he never changes. It bothers me on a moral level – I disapprove of it – but it doesn’t upset me half as much as it does P. Every time the three of us are due to meet I can rely on P to bitch about N in the thirty to sixty minutes that we’re waiting for the latter to show up. As soon as N shows up, the bitching stops and P says nothing, adopts the behaviour of a friend as if he hasn’t just spent the past thirty to sixty minutes assassinating N’s character in front of me.
I’ve mentioned before that they have a habit of bickering. This occurs when politics happens to come into the conversation because of their diverging political views. If no one mentions politics then normally it can be a polite, if somewhat bland, conversation. Yesterday N had a lot to say about his work, the things his managers have been doing that have been pissing him off; P listened and nodded and expressed empathy by sharing his own matching stories about management. The conversation stopped and started, suffered from long gaps as we waited for N to say something else because neither of us had much to offer. Of course I prefer that to arguing, but the lack of heat didn’t stop me from wanting to be at home with mum, watching some mindless TV show. It seems that anything is preferable to watching P try to squeeze the last drops out of a dying friendship in a pub.
The real problem in the friendship has to be P. He is the one who finds N’s chronic tardiness the most upsetting, and he’s also the one who keeps clinging to the friendship by inviting N out every week. Even when he’s empathising with N about his problems at work I know there is nothing he agrees with N on; all the time when they’re talking on a pleasant or superficial level there is a visceral resentment bubbling underneath, waiting for N to disappear so that P can share it with me again.
Just before N arrived yesterday I had to come out with it, ask P why he still sees him. This after P had referred to N as a “tosser” for being nearly an hour late. You don’t call a friend a tosser, and the disingenuousness was really starting to grate on me. P retorted belligerently that there are still “elements” to the friendship that he likes. I never got to hear what they are because just then N arrived and we had to start pretending that the last hour of conversation hadn’t happened.
I know what the elements that P still likes are, and they have nothing to do with N. He likes the friendship in itself as a way of keeping himself occupied when I’m not around. Apart from me, N is his last friend remaining in London, the last person who will go to pubs and spend time with him on a regular basis. He can’t bring himself to let go of it, just as I find myself unable to let go of P.
A large part of P’s cool identity rests on having a great social life in London – he’s always saying why he can never leave London despite its ridiculous property prices because “all his friends are here” – yet his only friends here are me and N. I think that P must at some point soon realise that his attachment to the idea of London as a great social party is going to be his downfall. He dislikes N’s lateness, his politics, his “old woman-ness” in never wanting to stay out late or spend money on nice restaurants (the reason we always go to cheap pubs); yet he keeps sending N text messages asking when he’s free and if he’ll join us next week for the meal we’re planning. There is a fundamental dishonesty in P’s approach to life that I can’t stand any more. Clearly the constant lateness is an issue that could be brought up, and any normal friends with a real connection based on honesty would be able to discuss it, but P buries it the minute N arrives because he doesn’t want to upset him, allows it to continue so he can keep hold of this charade of a friendship.
In recent months I’ve gone from thinking that I can bury my reservations about P to thinking that I can’t, and then back again. The dishonesty that P exhibits around N is a dishonesty that I am exhibiting to him, because I have my own issues with P that I can never bring up in case it risks killing the friendship. I keep seeing P despite all the things he does to bug me because I’ve come to need him. Were it not for P, I’d have no one to see regularly, no one to go swimming with, no one to go on holidays in Spain with every summer. The benefits of always being able to rely on company for those things cannot be underestimated. Without P my life would become very lonely indeed. But I know we spend too much time together, and when we see each other now there’s always a sense that we’ve nothing to say to each other any more. It’s like we’ve said all there is to say, and our conversation mainly consists of pleasantries and small talk.
I am obviously not saying the things that I want to say to him, namely that I dislike his dishonesty towards N, his conservative politics (we’ve spent so much time in the past talking about my desire to become a homeowner and my fear that it may never happen because of property prices – after hearing all of that he still continues to support the government as it consigns my generation to a lifetime of rent, by not building any more affordable housing to bring property prices down). These things live under the surface all the time that we’re together and I can’t say them because he’ll never understand why they are important. It’s probably a cruel thing to say about a friend that they have always lacked wisdom, but I don’t know how else to sum up P’s problem. If he was wise, he’d know that the situation with N can’t continue, he’d know that he needs more friends so he doesn’t become so desperate for N’s company every week; he’d know that London isn’t the be all and end all in life; he’d know that his beloved government is ruining more lives than it’s helping.
P’s happy ignorance of what’s really wrong in life seems so indicative of the country’s attitude in general. We allow things to just carry on as they are, ignoring what’s wrong (the refugee crisis, the property bubble, fracking) because it would be inconvenient to address the real problems. It drives me mad nearly every night thinking about it. What can I do? Stop seeing him? Then who would I ever travel with? Sure, I could find other friends in AA, but there’s no one I have that history with, no one with whom I already have an unspoken agreement to spend a week in Barcelona every year.
I could try and spend the next few years building up other close friendships in AA, work towards replacing P as a travelling buddy in maybe five or ten years’ time. It seems that l would need to know someone at least that long before there’s the same level of trust and reliability in the friendship. I’m not just going to find another P overnight. One can say that people in AA are generally more supportive and reliable than people outside, and that I just need to make a bit of effort to find good friends there. One can say that without really knowing me and my needs. My friendship with P works so well because I can just contact him at any time and meet him. I know he’ll go on holiday with me to Spain every year. I know he’ll always be there in the background of my life. There is no one else inside or outside of AA like that. Maybe there would be in a few years from now, but that’s a few years of waiting that I don’t want to face.
Maybe I should be ready to face it. Maybe the fact I’ve been questioning all of this recently means I have to face it. Months ago when I was really annoyed with P one day and I thought I could abandon the friendship, I worked out that I’d be able to do it in the new year once we had taken all the remaining holidays that we had booked together. Next week we are going away for a few days to celebrate the New Year in a nice place – we booked this ages ago. I would have to go on this trip with him whether I was still his friend or not because I paid for it and couldn’t bear to waste it. Once we’ve been to Manchester that’s it, we have nothing more booked and I can consider distancing myself, if that were a path I was ready to consider. We have Barcelona next summer nominally booked, of course, but nothing is paid or committed to yet. P may want to book soon to get the best prices; I may need to make a decision.