Personal Archaeology 22: On College, Philosophy, Love, Friendship, and Acceptance

So I have been part of a listserv for My So-Called Life fandom for 20 years. The emails flowed from a trickle to a complete stop years ago when a number of us shifted over to social media or moved on altogether, but back in October, it sprang to life again for a little while. We shared updates on ourselves, our relationships, our kids, and our work, and for a moment it felt like we were back in the early 2000s responding to email after email. Around this time, I was also writing blog posts about an old girlfriend and searching through old journals for material on a now-abandoned essay that I was writing about my friends from high school, which centered around a quote that is supposedly from Aristotle:

What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.

I first saw this at some point during my freshman year of college when someone shared it in some e-mail forward (probably one of those sappy “I love all my friends” forwards that went around in 1995-1996), but I was never able to verify that Aristotle actually said that. Well, it wasn’t written in Nicomachean Ethics or The Politics, which were the two books by Aristotle that were sitting on my dorm room shelf at the time. According to the Internet, though, it is quoted as saying this in “The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers” by Diogenes Laertius, a Third Century writer whose accuracy (and therefore the veracity of his works) is debated. So I’m not exactly sure that Aristotle actually said this, but I will say that it wound up on my freshman year quote wall.

I’ve been looking through my MS Word journal archive and trying to piece together some narrative of my college years and early twenties, at least one that I haven’t already mentioned or pondered. My four years at Loyola still bring up a massive amount of mixed emotions, especially when I think of my social life, and while part of me thinks that I need to revisit everything I wrote during this era, another part of me is sick of relitigating all of the relationships–both toxic and healthy–of that period. And yet not doing so makes me feel as if I am denying it.

So since accessing those old journals only requires a few clicks and disposing of them doesn’t require a paper shredder, I sifted through the six years of entries I typed out even though they were written pretty sporadically. Moreover, while a number of them were typical journal entries, many were first drafts of full-blown essays, some of which became used in my writing classes or for my newspaper column. The others were reflections on what was going on in my life at that point but were clearly written in essay form.

The topics varied, and there are entries where I wrote about working or about entering some new phase in life, like college or moving away from home. Two, which I printed out and stuck in the back of an old yearbook, were about the suicide of a friend from high school. But most of them dealt with relationships, both platonic and romantic. My musings on my romantic relationships are not surprising considering I spent so much of junior high and high school pining for various girls. And much like those journals, these can be just as embarrassing. I’ve mentioned before that I was way too immature for college at 18, and some of the entries sound like someone who wasn’t ready to leave high school. Granted, during my freshman year of college, I was still dating a girl who was in high school and it wouldn’t be until my second year when I would meet the person I’d eventually marry.

Both were long-distance relationships and I suppose there is something to be said about writing about them, especially since one worked out and the other one crashed and burned. But this all took place so long ago that even though I feel embarrassed by the more, well, embarrassing parts of them, even though they were due to immaturity and youth. So when I ponder the idea of writing about them some more, I shrug. Yes, they were definitely formative, but are they really work dragging out for the sake of blog material?

The entries I wrote about friendships are the same way. There’s a lot of sturm and drang in the journal about the people I was living with in college and how I was being treated, mixed in with recaps of the fun times we were having. It’s such a mixed bag, but the anxiety that came from maintaining those relationships for years after graduation is probably not worth yet another trip down that road. Like I said earlier, why would I want to re-litigate that part of my past when I should be uncollecting it like my comic books? Why do I need to remember any of it as if it is going to be important later, like there will be a quiz or something? Yeah, I don’t know either, although I can say that re-reading some of those entries validates the efforts I have made to move on, realizing that friendships can have expiration dates.

You know, when I reread that sentence, it seems kind of cruel. Friendship isn’t a product you can buy or a transaction that’s made. But when you get to be old enough and you begin to live life beyond the confines of your schooling, you begin to see where your time with people is going to ebb and flow. For some, that is going to be very minor because they are the type who thrive on interaction and are always in touch with everyone; people like me, on the other hand, can suck at keeping in touch with others, so many of them come and go. When some of those people come back, it’s actually a chore to re-engage because while the interactions are cordial, the conversation is weighed down with the baggage of the past.

But then there are the old friends with whom you have a lot of memories that don’t feel like baggage, and you don’t wind up rehashing the past at all but instead talk about the things of everyday life that kept you out of touch from one another for a while–relationships, kids, work. They’ve come back and the patterns of your conversation are so familiar, it’s like they never left and you’re sitting across the same diner table from when you were eighteen. They fit exactly the same way they always did, and in those moments you realize what Aristotle meant about the same soul in two bodies, especially since even if that part of the soul doesn’t stay for very long, you’re so happy when it does.

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