Friday, August 29, 2008

Seven Dollar Lunch

For as long as I can remember, my closest friends have had little in common with me be it their circumstances in life, aspirations, faith or passions. As it turns out, when there are almost no conflicts of interest, a real friendship is easy to nurture. That said, I have rarely befriended a co-worker though some relationships have come close simply because the differences between us greatly outweighed the common job description. It also helped that these individuals have extremely generous spirits.

Going out to lunch with Cheryl (not her real name) on her last day at the job served as a great reminder for who I should continue to avoid in interpersonal relationships. Cheryl and I have the same role at work. Whereas, she has always confined her job to its description, I have enjoyed expanding the scope to learn and contribute in many more ways that I am required to. As a result, her workday turned more and more tedious and she decided to move on. I have been largely happy.

In personal life, we are much more different than we are in the workplace. She is a few years older than I and married her boyfriend of three years a few months ago. There had been a string of other short and long term relationships that turned out to be wrong. She is relieved to have found the right person at the long last. The biological clock is reverberating in her head but they have not been married long enough to be ready to start a family.

The other and perhaps more important factor is that her husband makes less than she does but they live big. She once told me that they would not be able to afford that lifestyle if they had children - one or both of them would have to earn more. I know things about her that I would not want to know about a co-worker but sometimes it is hard to wall off someone who wants to talk and share.

So at lunch that afternoon, Cheryl and I had this conversation that resembled the sparring of two fencers. She asked me if I dated. I said I did not believe in dating. It was a waste of time. She asked me if my marriage ended because it was arranged. I replied that "arrangement" had no bearing on the "ending". If two people decide to get married for the right reasons and at the right time in their lives, there is no harm in it being arranged - in fact it is the better option and can lead to a far more clear headed decision without emotions clouding judgment. She looked at me like I had lost my mind to say what I had said.

She spouted all the standard wisdom on why dating is essential to getting to know someone. I had to tell her about my encounters with married men who had taken to "looking" out of boredom after marrying women they had dated for years; the amount of time spent with someone does not correlate to how well you will get to know them. Human beings are inherently complex and you will know exactly how much they want you to and no more. Why spend time hoping that you will be able to stretch that window and get to look deeper into their souls. You either feel comfortable from the get go or just never do.

Cheryl argued that all men are not alike and I said while that is true, sustaining a "long term relationship" with most of them takes a lot of time and energy and I would rather expend it on raising my child. While her childhood is very short-lived every bit of effort I put into nurturing her will be well rewarded, I cannot say the same about the relationships I invest my time and emotions into - there are absolutely no guarantees.

By when we headed out, I had said that I already got what was most important to me seven years ago. Having J makes my life 99% complete but would be great to have what is missing. Cheryl described her plans for her first wedding anniversary in very elaborate detail. For every mention of J, there were three references of Cheryl's husband. It was like being back in kindergarten going "my purple crayon is cooler than your green water bottle". In the end we felt about even. I had said my piece and she had said hers, jabbing at the other's voids and vulnerabilities in the process. We were all smiles at each other, wishing each other the best now that we would likely never meet again.

I have not had a lunch time conversation leave such a horrible taste in my mouth in a very long time. It was a cheap meal but an expensive way to learn how people can bring out the worst in each other when they realize their attempt at friendship has completely failed.

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