des moines, Faith and Values, life, Media, mental health, People

Losing friends in the 21st century: blocking phones, unfollowing social media accounts, mean-spirited mail — can’t we all just drift apart?

From the desk of Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

“You’re sorry, all right,” the familiar voice said. “Give me a call.”

The message came from a former friend. We made two solid goes at being close friends. Both efforts ended badly. I was not up for a third go.

I admired my former friend. He was an excellent journalist. He should have been writing for the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. His understanding of the economy, particularly labor and banking, were unparalleled by any journalist I’ve ever met.

He came from a hardscrabble upbringing in the Bronx. There were family issues. Those are his story to tell, not mine. But I think those hard knocks early in life gave my former friend a puncher’s mentality to daily life.

He decisively labeled hustlers, chumps and fakers on the job, often with great volume. Sometimes I was a chump in his view. Sometimes I wasn’t. I didn’t agree, but it didn’t matter. He decided. He was never wrong. Just ask him.

We met at the paragraph factory in Omaha. I learned a lot from him, more than most peers and elders in the trade. He inspired me to push boundaries both as a reporter and as an individual. I became less timid and more confident during the first tenure of friendship.

Things broke down. The story is old. The details are fuzzy. I felt betrayed. He felt betrayed. We went our separate ways. It was the early 2000s. There was no social media, so people drifted apart; friendships ended.

That’s probably the natural order of human relationships before technology upended things.

We got back into touch almost a decade ago. Eight years had passed since our initial falling out. I called him for help on a business story. I mentioned an opening at the local shop. He applied. I vouched for him. The bosses hired him.

It worked out for a while. We rode again. We ate dinner. We hung out. But the Midwest is probably too uptight a place for him. Eventually there were clashes with the bosses. Then he got sick with spiking high blood pressure.

His doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He blamed stress at work. That could be true. The shop was in the midst of a stressful period that started, by my estimation, in 1996 and continues to this day.

The shop started doing screwy things. They made everyone apply for their jobs. There was a catch: There were fewer jobs than there were people. I got a promotion. My former friend’s job was cut, as were those of several of the best people I ever worked with.

My former friend said he was happy for me. But he posted cruel things about me on social media. He accused me of brown nosing management and later alleging I copied a story. Both were untrue, but I never bothered to respond to him directly.

I have no doubt he believes the things he said about me to be true. I knew who I was and what I had and hadn’t done. I didn’t owe anyone an apology. I decided to walk away without confrontation. Consensus is elusive to even the most reasonable people. We were not reasonable people.

His recent call surprised me. I figured he’d had enough of me. I had had enough of him. I did not call back. I texted. I was not welcoming. He replied with similar snark. I thanked him for all the things he taught me. I wished him peace in his future. I heard he’d gotten remarried. I hoped they were happy, but I didn’t care to hear from him anymore. I blocked his number.

Cutting someone out of your life is harder than it used to be. Instead of just not talking to one another, you’ve got to block phone numbers, unfollow and block social media accounts. It’s almost as big a hassle as having people you don’t like in your life.

Can’t we just drift apart?

I was on the other end of this kind of issue earlier this month. A former colleague from the local shop visited in January 2020. She came out to cover the caucuses with a particular interest in Andrew Yang, the fellow who believed in giving $1,000 a month to every American.

She stayed a month. She made for a good roommate for a one-bedroom apartment. She kept to herself, made very little noise, came and went as she needed and cleaned up after herself (and me) far beyond necessary.

I should add that there was no romantic entanglement. There never had been and neither of us desired one. We were just friends. We watched a few movies and some TV. I can’t imagine an apartment with two people being quieter.

She went back to New York to address some family issues. Things ended poorly. She ended up living in an apartment with a sketchy maintenance guy. I was unemployed and we talked a lot late at night. I would text periodically to see how she was doing.

We kept in touch. She decided to move to Washington, D.C. That didn’t work out. Then she moved to Texas, I forget which city.

We chatted a few times. She was sad, as people are after sad events. I tried to be supportive. Mostly it was all pleasant. She’s a comedian, so sometimes we traded jokes.

One day I texted her that I thought of her every time I looked in my bathroom closet, where two bottles of hair product sat. “As a bald man, I suppress my seething rage.”

I meant it as a joke. She took it seriously — that I truly, deeply hated her because of a couple of bottles of hair product in my closet. We had a brief and unpleasant text exchange in which she accused me of gaslighting her.

I reject that. I’m not trying to convince her something didn’t happen. We both agree I said what I said. We disagree on the intent and meaning.

In the end, she texted, “I still love you.” To prove it, she blocked me on the phone and all other channels. I reciprocated. I didn’t give it much thought. When people want to go, I say let them go.

About a decade ago, I lost a really good friend over a joke I made on Facebook. I still miss him. I tried several times to revive that friendship, but there was no reply. I finally took the hint. I decided after losing that friend that you really can’t change people’s mind. A person has a right to their opinion, even if they hate you.

Last week I got a parcel from New York. It was from my most recent former friend. She sent back a “Late Night with David Letterman” sweatshirt I gave her after her visit in January 2020. It didn’t fit me. It never fit me. I thought about having the logo cut out and framed somehow. I loved that show so much.

She wrote on the envelope “Peace be with you and peace be with this sweatshirt.”

Humbug. You can’t block the U.S. mail. So it goes.

I tossed the whole parcel, sweatshirt and all, into the trash bin.

I went inside, poured a mug of tea and called one of the few friends who haven’t blocked me.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. I’m freshly unemployed and have a big tax bill to pay. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.