There will come a moment when you are sitting beside your phone and waiting, waiting in a way that makes the seconds drag on for hours and sneer at your desperation. You keep picking it up and checking it, making sure you haven’t missed something, that the machinery inside didn’t suddenly malfunction and fail to vibrate or blink when a message came in. This time, you trick yourself into thinking as you pick it up and check for the fifth time in two minutes, they’ll have written you back. How long has it been that you’ve been waiting for a reply? An hour? An afternoon? A few days? It doesn’t really matter. Your whole life of late has been a perpetual state of waiting for them to get back to you, to acknowledge your existence — and nothing really matters until they do.
And when they finally do get back to you — if they even do — their response couldn’t be less fulfilling. They don’t acknowledge how long they’ve made you wait, they only give you a few sparse words to confirm that they still exist and then fade back into obscurity to torture you again. And every time you get a response, past the second or two of adrenaline that courses through you at seeing them once again give you a moment of their time, you feel palpably worse about yourself. Look at how desperate you’ve become, waiting around for someone like a lapdog, asking no respect or reciprocity, only to kiss the back of their proverbial hand.
It is at moments like these that the rest of our lives can fade into a sort of muted blur around us. The friend we’ve had since kindergarten, the mother calling in to make sure we’re settling in well to our new apartment, the neighbor who invites us over to have a drink one afternoon — it’s like they don’t exist. Everyone around us who makes up the comforting, familiar music of our lives dulls to a low hum in comparison to this new person we can’t stop waiting on. Though we know on some level that this new loser will turn out to be like the rest, that their playing with our emotions isn’t the well-obscured sign of some greater affection, we can’t help but play the emotional lottery with them. We go all in, hoping for something, ignoring the steady deposits the rest of the people in our lives have been making since before we can remember.
We are ready to drop those closest to us like an overfull backpack, running unencumbered to the people who don’t deserve our attention. We can even see them (as much as we hate to admit it) as a nuisance in the face of greater opportunity. While waiting for a call from this great new person, we see an old friend call instead. Almost angry with them, we ignore the call. How dare they bother us when we’re waiting for something so important? Scooting people aside seems like the natural thing to do — after all, they’ll always be there for us.
But what if they aren’t? What if one day we have taken them for granted to an extent that can no longer be waved away with an “Oh, I was in a really weird place then.” To what extent is the selfishness of the new, of the masochistically appealing, a forgivable sin? We self-flagellate by giving our time and energy to the people who least reciprocate it, expecting that, at the end of the day, we can crawl back to our real loved ones to have a glass of wine and recount the whole sordid story. We can complain, we can vent, we can go through it all because that’s what real friends are for. But what are we doing to deserve it? If the only person we’re willing to show thrilling, infatuated affection towards are the people who play the delicate Witholding Game, why should anyone waste their time on us?
The people in our lives who really care are often forgotten as a constant baseline of life. They are the people who, through thick and thin, will answer our calls and be there to listen when we have something important and, perhaps, boring to say. But their love is often so unglamorous, so necessary to our lives as to be invisible, and the fact that we don’t thank them more for it is nothing short of criminal.
So thank you to the real friends, to the people who will be there to pick up the pieces when yet another person we should have known better than to pursue has let us down. Thank you to the people who have held back our hair when we vomited, who picked us up at 3 AM when we couldn’t find a ride, who’ve let us sleep in their beds when we needed a place to crash. Thank you to the love that, by blood or by the chosen familial bonds of best friendship, will always be a part of us and will carry us through the times when we ironically feel that we are completely unlovable. Thank you to the moments that fill our lives so fully that we start to see them blend together, the stories of love that span over decades and count scraped knees, broken hearts, and hospital stays amongst the battle scars they’ve seen. Thank you to real friends, who we can sometimes take for granted, but whom we could never live without.