Like most people, I generally determine the value of my friends by the uncomfortable situations we’re willing to endure for each other. A few months ago, despite the ready availability of messaging apps, I agreed to a phone call with a friend. It lasted an hour, after which I understood how war unites veterans together for life. My conviction that experiencing discomfort is a critical part of any friendship also manifests – in those rare periods of self-clarity – in attempts to make up for forcibly strapping friends into the train wreck of my life via self-flagellation.
It’s not something new, like one of those dark and twisted things that come out in your 30s once you accept yourself for the person that you really are. Instead, it’s more similar to a mutation of prior tendencies to pair social activities with oxygen deprivation. Given that my aerobic capacity is currently capped at climbing a flight of stairs at a geriatric pace, I’ve managed to transfer the unique experience of bike rides that annihilate your self-esteem to sneaker lines.
It works like this: a notice is posted online, including, recently, a dress code, and my Saturday starts at an hour that makes my lack of Friday night social activities glaringly obvious. In the winter, I pull on a base layer and my Woolie Boolies and join the hundreds of other people who apparently have nothing better to do on a weekend morning. We’re all waiting in the cold for the same thing, except that I’m in line not to buy a pair for myself, or as a reseller, but on the hope that I’ll win a pair of size 10 shoes for a best friend.
To date, I have yet to pull out the winning ticket to a pair of anything special. My inability to absolve myself – at least, temporarily – necessitates more lining up for hours. Every time, I ask the universe to make me appear to be a better friend by gifting me a pair of atmos x Nike shoes. It never happens, which makes sense in a karmic way. Rather than bringing home the white whale of Nike collabs, I’m forced to learn how to be a less exhausting friend through the negative people I keep around in my life as cautionary tales.
“But I can’t,” they’ll usually say in those conversations I seek out, out of either a foolish sense of charity or as overdue karmic punishment, “I can’t get out of this situation that I’m choosing to stay in.”
Cornering myself into becoming a cheerleader for a more positive outlook, I advocate for looking on the bright side, arguing that it isn’t really as dismal as it seems. You could argue that playing the alternative role – of approving of marinating in extreme unhappiness – would be irresponsible. That the natural human response to a friend’s voluntarily relinquishment of agency is to firmly tell him or her to snap out of it, if only to exonerate yourself of responsibility for any consequent dive into even deeper depression. Yet, there is nothing more effective than a tantrum of hopeless despair to trigger a natural sense of sustained optimism.
I emerge from those conversations with a desperate sense of possibility. Like rides that crush your lungs and shatter your self-worth, I make a mental note of that fact that there is value in the effort of becoming a better friend, however vain. That your friends can’t let you win the race to the next telephone pole or the town line unless you drag your ass to the starting line of that group ride. That there’s slightly more shame to a DNS than a DNF.
I try to remember that as I wait in line, shivering, hands practically numb, for the next pair of hyped shoes.