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Secret Base: A Retrospective on Lost Friends

April 15, 2015

Secret Base: A Retrospective on Lost Friends
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Last summer, at a cosplay photoshoot at Otakon, I met two cool girls who liked the same stuff as me (anime babes & cosplay primarily).

Through these girls, I was introduced to a huge social circle spanning the east coast. I was going to big parties, meeting up with big groups of people for fun activities on a weekly basis. The timing of entering this social circle was great – my failed engagement was in its final, dark days – and having new friends, potential romantic partners, and generally feeling popular really took the edge off. It gave me hope during the worst time of my life.

Aimee (my now-ex) was furious. With the Final End imminent, she began jealously competing with me for exclusive friendship with the two most-popular girls in the social circle. I naively insisted that friendship was not a zero-sum game: that we could both be friends with the girls, share friends as we always had. But she persisted in her competitive mindset. Tiring of the fights, and seeking to prolong our failed partnership, I agreed to “stop being friends” with the group. I left the group facebook chats, I told them that I wouldn’t be available and explained to a few close friends in the group that I wanted to give Aimee some friends she could call her own. Weeks passed, and boredom got the better of me – I found myself accepting invitations again. I missed my friends. Aimee was bitterly resentful. Add it to the resentments that had grown like weeds in our garden.

The Final End came. She moved in with her single male friend and co-worker of whom I had been paranoid and jealous of, a parting wound. But I had The Group. While she was still ostensibly mutual friends with them, I almost exclusively attended their parties and gatherings instead of her.

I became despondent. Loneliness onset alongside lengthening winter nights. I scrolled through hopeless hundreds of OKCupid profiles, churning out introductions and witty messages with grim determination. I went on a date with a homely girl on anti-depressants. She collects animal skeletons as a hobby in her room at her parent’s house and told me I seemed robotic.

But I didn’t give up. Doggedly, I sought out companionship. I stayed social within the group, and considered my romantic options within The Circle. There were three single girls with whom I regularly had contact:

Group Leader Girl X
DESCRIPTION: Highly sought-after by the overwhelmingly-male group members. Richmond/VAB-regional group leader. Despite some unique compatibilities with me, seemed disinterested in romance.
RATING: High Effort, Low Chance

Group Leader Girl L
DESCRIPTION: Fairfax/NoVA regional group organizer and controller. Had grown close with her, sharing some lengthy private conversations about life and shared struggles. She’s a lesbian in love with Group Leader Girl X and ex-fiance of Ex-Girlfriend Girl Z
RATING: Impossible due to sexual orientation

Ex-Girlfriend Girl Z
DESCRIPTION: Ex-Girlfriend of Girl L who remains friendly with Ex-Girlfriend L and the general Group following their recent breakup. Recently began online-dating seeking possible male partner.
RATING: Unknown, although seemed partially receptive to limited flirting.

All three Girls represented complex or insurmountable challenges. All three were long-shots, and Girl L, who I was closest with (and of course was rated@impossible), had claims on Girl X (who she was infatuated with) and Girl Z (who she was recently dumped by). By seeking either of the two non-les single girls within my social circle, I risked upsetting the principle Regional Group Leader, and a close friend.

Before risking any kind of public relationship that would upset The Balance of The Force, I needed to see if I even had a chance. I asked Girl Z out on a date. She declined. I asked her on a friendly lunch, she accepted conditionally on only being friends. I brought a rose (intentionally ironic, but secretly sincere), but she refused it. I snapped the rose into segments and put it into the restaurant trash bin while we waited for our orders. It was awkward. I felt embarrassed, rejected. My Ace shot at the most-likely possible romantic partner in my RL social circle was an unmitigated disaster.

I decided to give up on dating for a time and focus on playing table top miniature games. I ate 6 pints of Ben & Jerry’s in a week. Girl Z kept chatting with me, a heavenly body seeking to pull me into an orbital Friend Zone. I kept seeing her at social gatherings and parties, where she seemed to seek me out, a beautiful but tormenting friend.

Weeks after my humiliating crash and burn, once I had given up on her and given up on dating in general, she said she wanted to give me a shot. That we should try dating.

What.

I had spent weeks convincing myself that I wasn’t “really” interested in this girl who rejected me. I was just settling into my new life of perpetual gaming, binge-eating, and autoerotica. And now this sudden beam of sunlight is shining down into my hiding place?

I thought, “Well, ok. I guess I can come back. And jesus, this place is a mess. And I’m a mess. I don’t know why this broad even likes me, but I’m not going to argue with her.”

The issue of Group Leader Girl L, her ex, loomed ominously beyond our cheerful, sunny union. We both feared what a public relationship would do to our relationships with L (hers: tentative, mine: close) – and what her disapproval could mean for our Social Standing within the Group.

We each spoke with her privately, expressing our mutual romantic interest, and seeking her explicit blessing before continuing with our plans. For my part, I spoke from the heart about how important her friendship was to me and told her that if she forbade the relationship, that I would rather remain friends with her than lose her friendship. She quickly agreed to our proposed relationship. I had expected a night-long conversation, I was prepared to discuss things. She drove all the way from across town to my house, presumably for a lengthy talk – but she quickly and simply said, “I think it will be awkward for a while, but I will deal with it.” I was skeptical, but we went on to talk about favorite personal topics, about our hopes and struggles. It was a good talk, “real talk” as she called it, something we both agreed was all-too rare among our friends. I left feeling hopeful. I would get to have my cake and eat it too.

The next day began a 3-day party. My new girlfriend and I revealed our new relationship. While things were awkward, I had fun, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Leader Girl L (my girlfriend’s ex), drank herself blackout-sick on the first night and spent most of the 2nd day and night recovering and vomiting – behavior that had become common for her over the past few months, despite my private admonishments.

All was not well. My elation at finally finding a worthy girlfriend and a large measure of wishful thinking kept me busy while unseen forces aligned against us, planning our (social) doom.

Within days of the party, Leader L – scorned, dumped, and feeling-betrayed Leader L – arranged for a private audience at her house with Aimee, my excluded, jealous ex. It was a volatile combination. Their jealousy aligned perfectly, naturally. My blooming romance cast a deep shadow. And in that shadow grew a new alliance.

Following this meeting, my new girlfriend and I were never again invited to a gathering, party, or meal. We were unceremoniously and permanently exiled. We were personae non gratae.

For the first few weeks, we told ourselves”Let’s give them some space. They probably need time to adjust to the new arrangement. This will blow over.” But as the weeks grew, the ACTUAL new arrangement dawned on us: We were disappeared entirely, and not missed.

Impossible.

But, no.

The group endorsed our exile with enthusiasm. Gossip ensued. We begged friends to stick up for us. They explained that, regretfully, their hands are tied. But that they still value our friendship, and hope to see us soon! Our friendships unraveled. My girlfriend cried. She had been friends for years with many who now turned their back on her.

First anger, then acceptance – and cold resentment.

We tried to make sense of what happened: It seemed like highschool drama – Rumors, gossip, jealous ex-lovers. But we were adults, almost 30 years old.

It WAS high school again, but not in the sense that our exes were being childish. We were back in high school because we were in a large social circle of mostly single humans. And under those circumstances, you naturally have fierce competition for romantic partners – and the weapons used are usually gossip and cliques. Which is better than the alternatives of tooth and nail.

Upon reflection, my resentment seems unfounded. I don’t see how any other outcome could have been possible, unless Leader L was a Saint able to turn the other cheek when faced with two big reminders of her loneliness and inadequacy.

Lesson: Dating the Leader’s Ex is a 100% scientifically proven way to commit social suicide.

It’s a law of nature. And I’m not certain I would behave any differently in her position.

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