Volume 3, Issue 93: The Lonely 1
"When the critics pan, I write in your defense."
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This week, my older son got in a fight with his best friend. It wasn’t a fist fight or anything; William was just mad at his friend because he felt like he was left out of some activity they were doing with their larger friend group, or something like that, who knows. It’s a disagreement between 10-year-olds—applying a logical cause-and-effect to it is surely impossible. But William was extremely upset, to the point that his teacher reached out, saying she didn’t remember seeing him so emotional. William and his best friend are generally inseparable; they were even born on the same day. Having any sort of conflict with his friend was surely traumatizing. There is a time in our lives when having one of our friends mad at us is the worst feeling in the world.
They worked it out, as kids do, and I suspect they’ve already forgotten it happened. That’s what friends do, after all. They can be their worst with each other, and then move on from it, no harm done. They’re friends, after all.
Of all the changes that adulthood has brought, one of the most jarring ones is how little I see my friends anymore. My friends were the center of my life for roughly 25 years. Relationships came and went, careers ebbed and flowed, people moved to new cities and started new lives, but the friends were a constant. They would stay up and drink with me all night, they got me through my toughest spots (there are multiple times in my life when I legitimately have no idea how I would survived without my friends), they would be my most trusted advisors on essentially every aspect of my life—and I, theirs. We were each other’s constants, our North Stars.
But that changes, with families, with kids, with moves, with all of it. People get busy, people lose touch, people run out of time, people go in different directions. People have different lives, different circumstances; we are not underemployed reporters bumming cigarettes off each other on the Lower East Side anymore. Life gets overwhelming; months go by so fast you barely notice. Pandemics also do not help. There were seven friends in my wedding party, and I have seen only two of them since March 2020, one of whom I saw because we discovered over Instagram that we happened to be at the same Cardinals game. There was a time when I talked to my closest friends reflexively, like drinking water, or coughing. Now we have to schedule a phone call days or weeks in advance, if we even bother to do that at all. It’s not that we care about each other less. There are just so many other things now that seem to always require more urgent, immediate attention. Old friends always seem to fall farther in the queue.
This is one of the best things about old friends, of course: They can get pushed back in the queue and they’ll still be there, because they’re your friends. But that gets harder as the years go along too. When you’re not a part of someone’s daily life anymore, you’re go from being an active participant in the stories they tell you to their audience—they get to narrate their stories to someone who is innately on their side. That’s important too. But it’s different. Convenience becomes a greater factor in friendships as I get older. I used to be friends with people just because I found them weird, or funny, or talented, or whatever strange reasons friendship flares up out of nowhere. It is much more regimented now. My closest friends in Athens are awesome people, and I’m lucky to have them. But they are also people who generally conveniently fit in my life, and I in theirs: Their kids are friends with mine, we cheer for the same sports teams, we work in the same industry. And because they have kids and families of their own too, time to hang out is forever fleeting: There’s always a practice to get someone too, or a homework that has to be helped with, or a grandparent that needs to be checked in on. Friends were once at the dead center of everything. Now you just fit them in when you can.
The thing is, though, I care just as much about my friends as I always have. That hasn’t changed. It’s not as if there has been an exchange, some sort of swap: As my love for my children increased, the amount of love I had more my friends didn’t proportionally decrease. That’s all still there. It just gets displaced by more pressing issues of, you know, daily life. You call and check in, you see each other when you can, you make sure to find a common activity that you lock in; I’ve made a good friend of mine here in Athens vow to watch all the USMNT World Cup qualifiers with me just so we have an excuse to hang out. My friend Aileen is coming to visit in January; I’ll see friends in Los Angeles in February; I make it back to Central Illinois once or twice a year. You do what you can. But it’s not enough. It never feels like enough.
I do hope there’s an off-ramp for this, though. I already have some friends who are empty nesters, whose children have left for college and left their homes agonizingly quiet, and boy do I suddenly have their attention. It’s not that they care about their children less and their friends more now. It’s just that their lives have slowed down in a way that allows them more time for the other people they care about. I’m grateful to have them back and will totally get together with them, lemme just get over this hump, just a really busy period right now, the boys have all these activities, I’ve got this book deadline, you understand. And hey, maybe this is the goal all along. To get your life to slow down, to reach that place where you can take a breath, to stretch your legs a little bit and spend time with the people who know you the best and have been with you the longest. Maybe that’s what I want. I want us all to get through the most stressful parts of our lives and then all go live in a retirement community together. I did a book club in a retirement community a few weeks back, and they were all so happy. Most of the hard stuff was behind them. Now they just got to hang out with their friends all day. That sounds so nice.
I might not see my friends enough, or talk to them as much, as I’d like. But they’re still there. We check in when we can. We’re keeping the line open. Eventually, we can only hope that that point comes, where all the other stuff fades away, when we have the time that eluded us before. William may fight with his buddy occasionally, but they’re always going to have each other, no matter what direction their lives take, no matter how complicated it all becomes, no matter how far they end up from each other. They’re lucky to have each other. I’m lucky to have my friends too. They’re still vital to me, even if I don’t talk to them nearly as much as I want to. And I miss them. I should call them more often. You should too.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Why We Can’t Hate Sports Figures Forever, New York. A lot of the responses to this was “well, I still hate Coach K, so your whole notion is wrong.” There is something strange how so many respond to things in such a narrow, self-focused, entirely individual way these days, as if they do not personally think it, it does not exist.
Just Go Out to Eat on Thanksgiving, Medium. We did this for the first time this Thanksgiving, and it was a revelation. I can’t believe I haven’t been doing it forever.
How Each Division Stacks Up in the Wake of All These Crazy Moves, MLB.com. Feel like this piece is going to sit and not need updated for … a while.
Free Agent Power Rankings: Freddie Freeman, MLB.com. So far, they have not replaced by headshot with a silhouette. Will update if this changes.
The Unquestionable Joy of Rapid Covid Testing, Medium. Thanks, Netflix!
This Week’s Friday Five, Medium. Rankin’ stuff.
The Thirty: The Longest-Tenured Players on Each Team, MLB.com. Hardly any team has anyone who has been around longer than a decade.
Free Agent Power Rankings: Corey Seager, MLB.com. I had the Rangers eighth, which makes this piece both outdated and very, very wrong.
The Long Game With LZ and Leitch, discussing how sports ended up handling the pandemic, what’s up with crazy fan behavior and whether college football coaching madness is a sign of decadence.
Grierson & Leitch, discussing “House of Gucci,” “Encanto” and “The Humans.”
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we recapped the Georgia Tech game and previewed a kinda big football game in Atlanta between Georgia and Alabama. I’ll be out there today, drop me a line if you are too.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“The Hard-Won Achievements of Mary Cocaine,” Susan Orlean, The New Yorker. Always read Susan Orleans, always, obviously.
Also, this piece about Stephen Glass, of Shattered Glass fame, dropped this morning and is pretty incredible.
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CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“The Rat,” The Walkmen. I don’t know exactly why I’m in such a 2004-05 mood lately, but I most certainly am.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
Shot 2 is down. Run through the street naked, kids. (Please don’t do this.)
Also, here’s something from the deep archives. My friend Caryn Ganz, who’s the pop music editor at The New York Times, was going through some old files and found a copy of Folio magazine from November 2002. I am fairly certain this is the first piece I ever had published in a national magazine. Maxim magazine had just released a haircare product, and for reasons that I cannot recall, they asked me to dye my hair with it and write about the experience. So I did. Here is that piece, that is now almost 20 years old.
That remains the only time in my life I have ever dyed my hair. Honest.