Thomm Quackenbush, author

Bryan's Engagement | 2016 |

12.20.16

I had already found that it was not good to be alone, and so made companionship with what there was around me, sometimes with the universe and sometimes with my own insignificant self; but my books were always my friends, let fail all else.  

-Joshua Slocum



Friendless without a Fight

The Inciting Event

Kest, some months ago, proposed to Daniel. In a technical sense, I may have known this at the time. He showed me a ring she had given him (two rings, in fact, one fancy and one he pulled from her scrap heap - the latter which he prefers for daily wear). We cooed over it, but I did not ask him what this ring signified. It could be that I didn't want to ask because the significance of that ring could be an expiration date for our friendship. It was clarified when Kest boasted online of having proposed marriage to her Monster. (I don't know that it would ever have occurred to him to propose.)

I don't begrudge them love. Kest is a wonderful, warm, cozy, talented, multifaceted person. I don't think I could contrive a better partner for Daniel. She is wise to want to make this arrangement more permanent and/or legal.

However, I do not imagine that they will marry and live separately long, no matter how often Kest travels for work or just for the joy of being elsewhere. She cannot very well move her forge up from Maryland to New York to please my attachment to Daniel.

Daniel is the more flexible one. What ties Daniel to New York? He has no blood family here, nor do I imagine their presence would act as an anchor for him. If anything, he would have left already to avoid them. His job, though I grasp he is good at it, has plateaued. At his educational and professional level, this is as far as he will ever get. Furthermore, he works within the belly of the banking beast and cannot feel that pride I hear in some people's voices when they speak of what they do forty hours a week. He works there because they pay him a fairly consistent check, not because it speaks to his soul. He would be just as well served in Maryland, if not better.

I want for his happiness, even if it doesn't meet my selfish goal of keeping him close to me. I love the man, but Amber and I cannot give him the joy or completeness Kest can - a feeling I do not think he has felt from anyone else who shared his bed.

Daniel once said, and I believe owing to frequent exposure to his reptilian brain, that either one of us moving away would pretty near end the friendship. His head just doesn't comprehend long distance outside a romantic or sexual context. We would stay friends on social media, but that would soon become the extent of our interactions. Maybe we would see him once or twice a year when a craft fair put him close to us, maybe Kest would drop him off for us to babysit, but it wouldn't be the relationship we have had with him for years.

The Background

We are forewarned, so we can go through our stages of grief in advance of his probable eventual leaving. (I believe I am presently in bargaining.) In other close friendships with men, they broke my heart by seducing my girlfriend while I was out of town or disappeared in the night for a distant state (or moved a few hours away within the course of a couple of weeks, which is less severe but I wouldn't want to imply by omission that Dan Kessler was not my best friend for years). All involved a woman to some extent, because that is the nature of these things. The men I valued followed women to the potential of a different life. I would likely do the same if I did not feel much attachment here. I mostly cannot fault their ends, even if I look askance at their means.

Over Chinese, Amber and I talk about the sting of Daniel one day leaving, even though nothing of the sort has yet been announced. Maybe Kest and he believe in very long engagements or marriage and living separately. She was married once before, so I would expect she has clearer ideas of marriage than Daniel. They are unconventional, so nothing can be ruled out. I surely haven't asked him for fear of getting an answer I don't want to hear. Without definite information, I can continue to dwell in hopeful ignorance.

I found Daniel on a dating site. Most everyone who has contacted me there since has wanted to get into my pants and has been blocked. Since Daniel, those friendships that began there sputtered out before setting alight.

I've tried making male friends before without much success. There was one meeting at a party with a perfectly nice guy that resulted in us going to see a Harry Potter movie together, so we would not have to see it alone. I made a few quiet jokes that did not go over well, so I shut up and we sat in awkwardness until the end credits. Afterward, we did not much speak again. As of writing this, I am not sure we are still connected on social media. If we aren't, I did not notice my unfriending.

Around the time I contacted Daniel for the first time, I also messaged two other men. One, I remember, reacted with annoyance that anyone not trying to sex him up was contacting him on a dating site (fair criticism, I suppose). The other seemed vaguely interested in getting to know me until he showed me his web comic and I didn't think it was brilliant, after which he chewed me out as a philistine and never spoke to me again. I did not consider either of those losses.

Amber and I joke about putting up a Craigslist ad, what it would contain. I make clear that the prospective friend should be a one or below on the Kinsey Scale if male or a five or above if female; they must not want or expect this friendship with me to have a sexual component (nor should they make eyes at Amber, as that role is permanently taken). If they are married or in a serious relationship, the Kinsey Rule may no longer apply, but Amber suggests that anyone in a relationship would be too busy for us (though potentially double the friends, if we happen to like them both - if we didn't, both would be ruined). They should enjoy the terrible movie The Room and the excellent shows of Bryan Fuller, particularly Hannibal - if they don't, we will have to force them. They should be between twenty-five and forty. I try to push it up to forty-five, but Amber assures me that is too old. They should be proximal to our home so we can see them regularly - there are a few prospects in my periphery who live more than an hour from us and are thus inappropriate to the task of our friendship. If they happen to read contemporary fantasy novels and can become one of my readers, that is all for the better, though far from necessary.

I suggest to Amber that it would be excellent if one of my established readers became a close friend - they would come built-in with an interest in me - but Amber thinks that is too difficult of a power dynamic to overcome. She does not say that I would need more readers for this to even be a possibility or that I am not especially approachable after I've given a talk, as I quickly burn through my ability to interact with other people and tend to stammer in interactions until left alone to replenish.

The Problem

I do not expect that Daniel is fungible. This interaction of three introverts (where I am the outgoing, gregarious one) is a rare, quiet thing not easily reproduced in the wild. We will not find another of his ilk. All the same, I do not think it is healthy if Amber and I disappear into one another.

She points out the dire statistic that people our age experience an increasing decline in the number of friends. I do not want to accede to this. For all my introversion (more of a "you can leave me to my own devices unless you have a reason to interact, but don't fake it because you feel awkward"), I can turn extroverted when it serves my purposes and my neurochemistry allows. I won't go friendless without a fight.

Amber claims she doesn't feel the need of people other than me, but I cannot be everything to her. We need other people with whom we can play off. We have Kristina, but she is busy trying to establish a life outside the needs of her family. We love her and she fills an important role in our lives, but it is not a weekly role.

Outside of her, I cannot easily imagine a close friend. We have friends, that's certain. Amber had been helping Danielle better transform her property into a farm - her erotic magazine Jacques is on the backburner for the indefinite future. Sarah comes to our parties. Dezi and his girlfriend Samantha have moved down the street from us and may become more a part of our lives. Outside the area, there are a half dozen people I admire through social media statuses. If they were physically closer, I would extend emotional closeness. That they are hours or states away, I will give them a Like or maybe a Heart.

However, none are my best friend, like Daniel is.

I feel the need of a male friend (or, as stated above, a lesbian with bad taste in movies and good taste in television - and maybe middling taste in novels) whom I see regularly, in whom I could confide if the need arose. This is not to say that I would confide. Daniel and I occasionally have deep conversations about our lives, but we mostly just coexist well together and find that satisfactory.

Amber and I have to do this the organic way, because I doubt I would again have the luck to find a friend by pestering people online. The trouble becomes that I do not know where in the world we would find such a friend. We participate in no regular clubs (we went to a Kurt Vonnegut pizza party at the local library, but it was attended by three Bard kids, a late middle aged woman, and a former professor; no one I would call a potential friend). We do not play any sports, though Amber mentions my running and suggests I could hang out around a track (wrong kind of running and not compatibility enough of interests inherently). Our leisure activities tend to be solitary and private - art and writing, video games, baking. Otherwise, we are nowhere that friends might appear.

And yes, it has to be a plural friendship. I do not feel capable of being close friends with someone who was not similarly interested in palling around with Amber. She is one of the best people I've ever met, so disliking her is surely the sign of a personality deformation that would signal an irremediable incompatibility. This is especially so because I most enjoy spending time with Amber, even and especially after five years of daily contact, and would not choose to leave her at home if there is a possibility of all being together.

(This is not to say that I am not a raging hypocrite to find companionability with only one member of a couple. For years, Amber and I tolerated Dan Jurow for the sake of being around Holly - and he turned out to solicit children on the internet, so we were obviously justified in finding him unsettling. Clearly, though, we cannot exactly be best buddies with someone whose partner drives us crazy, as I am sure some of my partners have driven my potential friends away.)

A Series of Proposed Solutions

Amber suggests the potential of some of the younger couples in our development - four former Bard grad students in one apartment, a couple that always leaves their window open so their cat can meow at birds - but quickly revises that they are too close. We want a friend, but we do not want them to bother us. Anyone knocking on our door too early or too late (or when we don't want to see anyone) had better be telling us the building is on fire. Also, we've been around these people for years and have only extended occasional nods or, once, the polite question as to whether they knew their cat was roaming around outside, chirping at the bird feeder.

Amber is in school again to be a vet tech (or more) and is seemingly popular there, but it is popularity among wowed eighteen-year-olds, who are nearly agog that she has a work ethic and brain. I've met a few of them, but they just read a young to me, not yet ripe for a friendship with someone as decrepit as me. I remember with some embarrassment being that age, being the boy with whom they would be passing friends.

Amber is chummy with one of her coworkers, but has not been able to work with her for months and has barely seen her since. I go out of my way to be friendly but not friends with people at my job. We are not compatible outside of staff meetings - no matter how often they try to host get-togethers at local restaurants - and I prefer to keep the strata of my life separate for a similar reason that I wouldn't want a new friend in my development.

One of my established friends' partners might be the only untapped vein of potential friends. None that I have met have particularly cared for me, nor have I wanted them to.

It isn't so much that there are no people who would want to be my friend as that I react with suspicion to people trying too hard. They must have ulterior motives and do not feel right in my rule-ordered brain. It would be like going to bed with a stranger, something that never appealed to me. If we were meant to be friends, we would have hit it off. That we didn't says all that needs saying.

The Flaw in Proposed Solutions

The natural thing it to let friendship happen through serendipity, but I do not agree with allowing nature to take its course when science (or at least social science) can goad it along. I can only hope the poor guy who next catches my attention is of a similar mindset. Of course, he (or she, but probably he) wouldn't be much of a prospect if he weren't.

I do not patronize bars because I do not drink and never really have (I am not the sort of teetotaler who cares if other people drink, so long as they do not become obnoxious). Clubs/sports are largely out, since there are none that overly appeal to us. We have effectively cancelled our gym membership because of Amber's schooling and ankle injury - and I would not want to talk to someone while I am sweating on an elliptical. If there were swing dancing around us and I did not find there to be a sheen of snobbishness over those with whom I've encountered, that would be a possibility. We might be fine with a book group, but the library's "giving us pizza" club is infrequent and sparsely attended. When we tried a different book club years ago, it seemed more like the preamble to a cult suicide pact. Amber mentions that people our age make friends through our kids, but I am not inclined to have them and would not count "meeting other parents" as an incentive. Though Amber and I are both Pagans of a similar stripe, we would not need or especially want our new friend to be theologically identical. Since we are not church-going folk, we cannot exactly turn to religion to give a topic of conversation. Amber no longer attends her circles - too far away, too political, too busy - and I never felt wholly welcome by dint of my XY chromosomes, so that option is unlikely.

I am really the only one who has decided to be open to a search. As mentioned, Amber would be content with only me until the end of time. However, it is not in my nature to leave well enough alone. I see a possibility and my anxiety demands I plan for it to the best of my ability. Given that Daniel has made no mention of leaving, just been less available for lavishing constant (usually weekly) attention on us, this could be entirely too premature.

So, granting all that, can I intuit from where I am where I would find a friend? The internet is a sure bet, since I can make myself fully known in a format that is pleasing to me. However, I am not under the illusion that most people read what I write, captivating strangers most of all. I doubt most people I know realize that reading my site is an option. I do still maintain an account on the dating site where I found Daniel, one that makes clear in the first line that I am not interested in sex but might be interested in new friends. On there, I was last harassed by a sixty year old man who wanted to make me his bottom for a gay chain that went back to 1918. In other words, that site is likely a dried cesspool and I should instill in it no hope.

Where else? I might not react in abject horror if someone approached me as I jogged about town (catching Pokémon and listening to podcasts, but mostly running), though I am not sure how one would do more than ask me directions. There really isn't a topic of conversation, except that I must be a bit daffy to be bundled up and running while there is snow on the ground.

I know that I am not shy about complimenting strangers when I see something worth complimenting, but I also do not go out of my way to interact with them beyond this so they do not think I am flirting. Sex ruins this whole idea of finding new friends, because there must be a tedious dance of "So, I don't want to bang you, okay? No, but really." Maybe Daniel could give me a notarized certificate that assures that I am, in his words, "aggressively nonthreatening," though proffering this at an interesting stranger is a problem in its own right. It would tend to put most people off.

Amber suggests that Daniel should train us a replacement for him as a final act of mercy, so we don't have to go out in the cold, cold world and meet someone new. I doubt he would be much inclined toward this, as it would involve his talking to new people, which I think I have made clear is not our collective forte.

An Idea Presents Itself

What I need is someone I like, but do not know well, to throw a party and invite me. That crucible, that melting pot, that forced interaction might be able to introduce me to someone with whom we might gel. Given that it is the season of Christmas and New Year's Eve, one would think there would be a few parties stewing in our area, but invitations were not forthcoming.

Our New Year's Eve plan involves going to Kingston, as we always do, and trying to stay warm until the ball drops and we can get midnight breakfast at Duo. I am not certain that Daniel will be joining us. He may not even be in the area on New Year's Eve. Either way, it does not seem like an optimal locale for the acquisition of new talent to our menagerie.

We've spoken with people at a few parties, but we did not end up staying in contact with any. Perhaps it was that we had Daniel and he was superbly our sort of person, so what was the point in befriending someone who was just nice enough? Maybe we were naďve, as though nothing could ever wrench him from our grasp.

Conclusion

We are going to enjoy the time we have left with Daniel, however long that ends of being. I, and I alone, will keep an eye out.

Soon in Xenology: Faces.

last watched: Deadgirl
reading: Trigger Warning
listening: Tori Amos

Bryan's Engagement | 2016 |

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush