Walking Away From Friendship

It was 10 a.m. on a deadly quiet summer Sunday in Istanbul, and the humidity was at 80 percent and climbing. I was sitting with my computer on a terrace at Starbucks, which had this gorgeous wood patio furniture and trees around the deck. I could spy on the ladies chain smoking at the restaurant next door.

A man in his 60s with a cut jaw and deep lines in his face sat facing me, one table over. We were the only two in the shop. He was reading a book in French through glasses of silver wire; they were perched under whispy white hair and over a dress shirt that was poorly cut but immaculately clean. He shifted nervously as I sat down and peered over his book at me. We made half a second of eye contact. I knew we would talk.

I cursed in French, because the wifi was being difficult, and because ‘putain’ just has more oomph than any of its English counterparts. He picked up on the cue.

“Vous êtes Français?” he asked.

“Oui, Monsieur. Et vous?”

The response was all it took. He launched into his background, that of a Georgian Jew, and told me about his family’s migration to Turkey. He listened with intent as I told him mine. We started talking about the conservative Turkish government, which he said made him feel alienated in his own country. I asked if I could join at his table. His face lit up and he motioned me over, but he never broke his flow, launching into a history lesson about how the Spanish Jews had sought asylum in Turkey during the Inquisition.

Then he asked me about college in America, and I told him about the application essays and the fraternities and the required classes outside of a major. He was in rapture, as if I was revealing a great new scientific discovery, and peppered me with questions about specifics. The man leaned so far over the table to listen that his rib cage burrowed into the edge. His glasses slid down with his sweat from the heat but he made no effort to reposition them.

The man was sweet, and it was an almost interesting conversation. It flowed easily, but it wasn’t enthralling; there was no debate, nor anything really new being said. His hearing had started to fail, and his French was rusty enough that I couldn’t use colloquialisms.

When he moved on to talk about his cousins in the United States and the cities they lived in, I started to zone. We’d been talking for almost an hour, and I told him I was on deadline for an article and that I had to write. It was a lie. I got up and sat back down at my computer, feeling guilty about the lie. He got up to leave.

As he did, he turned to me timidly. I looked up and smiled.

He told me that his wife was dead, his kids were gone, and so were most of his friends. He had no friends, really. He told me he reads all day to pass the time, that it felt like the world had left him behind. I looked past the deep lines to see the pain in his eyes, and the light cloud that formed over them, the numbness that comes to those who are alone too long. He wanted friends. He was so lonely his heart shook.

He talked for several minutes, then stopped and paused. His shoulders drooped a little. Then he looked me deep in the eye, this hard and pleading and vulnerable look.

“How can I make more friends?”

My smile dropped and I frowned and looked at the ground for a moment. His eyes were burned in the back of my skull. I tried to ignore them and come up with an answer that wasn’t pathetic. There was a sense of gravity to the moment.

I told him to be vulnerable, to be persistent in his outreach, to be willing to get hurt. But the answer seemed so prescriptive and invented it turned to ash on my tongue. I wanted more than anything to give him an antidote, to see him smile before he left. But my chest was tight. I stopped short of offering my friendship, the only real help I could give. The thought flashed through my mind for a second, and I considered spending an afternoon with him, just talking. But I didn’t want to. It felt like charity. And I thought I had better things to do with my time. So I stood in shock at the flood of emotion, and kept him at arm’s length.

The guilt of it would break me later. His eyes would stay with me.

He smiled and said thank you and pondered for a moment. He looked at the Turkish sun burning through the sad and lazy haze over the Bosporus. Then he turned and walked away, the slow walk of someone who has no one waiting. I never learned his name. TC mark


image – Joana Coccarelli


More From Thought Catalog

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/07/walking-away-from-friendship/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] Thought Catalog » Life Add a comment […]

  • Jonathan Hart

    Found this strangely familiar, very sad read but enjoyed it thoroughly.

  • saas

    why you gotta be such a jerk?? okay not really. but I have felt the old man’s pain myself so I can relate how he was feeling.

    you’re a great writer, btw :)

  • Christine

    I have had a similar experience twice in the last month – nowhere near the same, but carrying the same import. Thanks

  • Ann

    Wow, youre kind of a bitch.

    • http://gravatar.com/ayao2011 ncma

      and who are you to judge?

      • Lacey

        “and who are you to judge” Really? Its a blog you idiot, thats who she is to judge.

    • Michael Koh

      because you’d do different, right?

  • Christina

    Thanks, great story!

  • Kenai

    i freaking love this website

  • http://www.facebook.com/danielyaphz Daniel Inröv Gemian Yap

    Touching indeed.
    I am sure we can all relate one way or ‘nother.

  • Guest

    Oh what neighborhood in Istanbul? And why sit at starbucks when you can sit in a tea ‘shop’ by the sea?

  • http://twitter.com/hereticaneue Herey (@hereticaneue)

    Sigh. I can see myself doing the same thing, and that makes me sigh even heavier. :(

  • Lacey

    Unfotunately, I am that guy (except I’m a woman). When and if I can find a way out of this “oh so very painful situation” I will make damn sure that I don’t make the hurtful mistake the author made. It takes so little to put hope and a little happiness in someones life. Lonliness sucks. This comment was not meant to provoke sympathy. It was meant to make people think twice about putting a little happiness is someone else’s life.

    • Another Person

      I can see what you mean Lacey. He may not have expected a “real” answer. He may very well have realized that he was in a completely different life circumstance under different emotional anguish from and the writer. Such a divide can only be crossed with the kind of selfless empathy which is a commitment as much as it is an expression in that moment. Few can give that much of themselves and still have enough emotional resources to deal with their own everyday struggles.

      Try not to think of it as indignation from an apathetic world. If you do, strangers will start to feel like enemies instead of just people you don’t know. When one knows better, one does better. If the writer truly knew what the right thing to do was in that moment, there wouldn’t have been the moral dilemma seen here. Sometimes it’s not about how much others hate you as it is about how much they hate or are at least preoccupied with themselves.

      Instead of lamenting the relative lack of empathy around you, try to seize the empathy of the moment. A smile from a stranger, a door held open, or some other act of kindness should be savored in your own mind. Know that they are rare, beautiful things in this world and appreciate them as such.

      Ultimately the most effective change you can make is simply your attitude toward a situation. We all have to live with ourselves so we may as well learn to like who we are and find something good in that.

      With regards to your lack of friendship, I wouldn’t focus on the external world to find a solution. The more you attack the problem the more you can come across as needy. Find ways to make yourself happy that are independent of other people and eventually they will gravitate toward you simply because you don’t expect anything from them (in the way a needy person would expect attention).

      Having said all that, loneliness does suck. I can be needy and I know what it’s like to feel like a broken toy no one wants to play with. It’s a lie told so many times it creates deep, almost autonomic, neural pathways toward that miserable destination. Don’t let your mind keep you in a place your heart cannot reside.

      Half the answer is just recognizing the problem.

  • allie

    His story was too sad and vulnerable to be true. You probably dodged a bullet from a psychopath. The are adept at saying just the right thing to draw you in.

    • Shauna

      You’re right, there are no regular, friendly people with misfortunes. They’re all crazy.

      I hate our cynical society.

      • Lacey

        I am so with you Shauna. What a tragic thing to read. (Allie’s post) Speaks volumes about our society.

    • Lacey

      You are what is wrong with society. How can you possibly say something like that and consider yourself human? Come from a “leave it to beaver” home? (if you’re old enough to even know what that means), got lots of freinds and a bright future? Were you maybe a cheerleader or on the pep squad? “To sad and vulnerable to be true” Are you kidding me???? Get your snobby head out of your ass and try to do some good in the world.

  • http://mariavanjeline.wordpress.com Little Miss Trouble

    Reblogged this on ISHIHARA and commented:
    nice article :)

  • Jeann

    Great piece … no matter how much i would love to say that i should have ‘offered’ my friendship, in reality – i know i would have probably regretted it later.

    That said, i really enjoy your writing morgan!

    • Lacey

      offering your freindship does not mean you have to move in with the guy. Buy him a cup of coffee, have some nice conversation and let them know how nice it was to meet them. So many people (not all) would get so much joy from that, you may just change a life.Think outside your safe little box.

  • http://Shaunmoo.tumblr.com Shaun

    I feel like you did the right thing, especially since you felt like it was charity. I would have done the same and felt as you felt afterwards. Great story

    • Lacey

      Really? When did charity become a bad thing?

      • http://Shaunmoo.tumblr.com Shaun

        Charity to an old man because you knew you were just doing it for the sake of doing it. There’s no sense (or a lack) of an honest friendship in a charitable bond

      • nk

        it’s bad because you’re essentially doing it so that you don’t have to live with the guilt of not helping rather than because you actually care that deeply about the welfare of a stranger- so for yourself, not them.

  • http://comenovember.wordpress.com Come November

    I am not old. Nor have many people in my life passed away. But I do know what it feels like when it seems like the rest of the world has moved on and left you behind. This post brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful piece Ms? Mrs? Hartley.

    • Matt Good

      MR? check the profile, yeah?

      • http://comenovember.wordpress.com Come November

        Oh SH*T!!! Didn’t even think of that! Embarrassed and extremely sorry! Still a beautiful post.


    Nice article. Not sure if you were talking about the Starbucks on Istiklal, but if so, I could just picture it clearly.

  • Nick

    Nice piece. I vote this was at the Starbucks in Bebek near Bogacizi, absolutely amazing location.

  • allie

    Maybe it’s that the illustration make him look like Travis Bickle. Lordy Be….people sure do get upset about opinions that differ from their own….calm down.

    • Lacey

      No, people get upset when you make it proof positive that thre are selfish, self-centered people like you out there. Don’t you get it? Its not your “opinion” I care about, its that there really are people like you. You didn’t give your “opinion” sweetie, you made a statement that reflects our society. Calm down? Things have never been accomplished by people that calm down.

  • Daily TC Reader

    Thank you, Morgan, for writing this heartfelt piece.

  • http://blog.theloveapp.com Tina Fine

    enjoyed it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/richakashelkar Richa Kashelkar

    This one of the saddest things ever. Ever.

  • allie

    You’re anger is what’s wrong. Hissyfits are no substitute for intelligence.

  • Allie

    With that being said, I’m bowing out of the discussion because I’m probably having a hissyfit of my own. Bless you all; we’re all just trying our best to get along in the world. Peace.

  • Chloe

    “Then he turned and walked away, the slow walk of someone who has no one waiting.”

    Beautiful and honest. Loved it.

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