A friend I’m not often in touch with emailed recently, leading to an exchange in which she repeatedly called me dog. (“Dog, I owe you an email,” etc.) She’s from Fresno. No one in Cohasset calls me dog. Actually, no one else in Fresno calls me dog, either, and I didn’t know what I was missing until she emailed. Dog. It made me feel loved, like I’d earned special ranking in her life. She probably didn’t give it a thought – she was writing like she speaks, which apparently now involves calling some of us dog.
We’ve been friends since college; now we might go many months without communicating, then have an intense personal exchange, no small talk or pleasantries to ease into it. We can say anything at any time in any context. It’s so comfortable.
Most of us have a cherished few such people in our lives, and they are gifts, more joy-sparking than earrings or scarves – although those are great too. They’re friends who can’t shock you, and whom you can’t shock.
In addition to hemorrhaging money and consuming champagne and cookie dough, I’m celebrating unshockable friends this season.
Thank you, unshockables: The more harried and existentially worn out I get, the more I treasure you for being easy. You possess many delightful qualities, but the best is that you are virtually no work at all. Thank God. You require little maintenance and no self-censoring, hesitation or forethought. You take me as I am and when we do connect. you require no mental checklist of this sort:
- Did I talk too much?
- Did I ask the right questions?
- Did I somehow offend?
- Too much cussing?
- Was I judgmental?
- Did I brag?
- Was I insensitive?
- Political views too strident? (Perhaps.)
- Other views too strident? (Probably.)
- Did I seem like a freak?
- Insert a few dozen more variations here
And I’m not the only one. At the library recently, I chatted with a woman I know slightly. She apparently dropped an F-bomb, which I didn’t notice, but she emailed me the next day and apologized. (She is clearly not from Fresno.) I replied to her something about being sorry to have missed it. Clearly we all have a checklist, at least sometimes.
Making such a list (consciously or subconsciously), and checking it twice (or more), is exhausting. It’s part of manners in a civilized society, true, but holy cow it gets out of control. The time and energy spent fretting and hiding our true selves!
Unshockable friendships use roadmaps instead of checklists.
A friend in Arizona I’ve known since early high school calls me during her morning commute every few months. We have an unusual format wherein we each speak for about 15-20 minutes. We deliver monologues (the listener making understanding noises/reactions). If one of us has extra news and the other doesn’t get her turn, no guilt! The other person goes first next time. We never hang up thinking the other person talked too much. I love how we each take the stage when we talk, without worrying about politely ping-ponging the conversation. We’re happily ill-mannered together. I don’t do this with anyone else…now I’m wondering if she does.
My super-strident, very loud, unshockable friend in Los Angeles, when she reads this, will shout “YES I AM FUCKING STRIDENT BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT THIS WORLD AND EVERYBODY ELSE SHOULD CARE TOO, GODDAMNIT!” Or something like that. We met in high school. She was a year ahead of the rest of us and everyone was awed by her. Even back then she was so confidently, unequivocally herself, the most colorful and opinionated people in any room. I’m my loudest self around her, just to be heard, and it’s pretty glorious.
Growing up, lots of people I thought were cool were loud – not just loudly speaking, but loudly being. Making music, making art, writing, acting, singing, protesting. Speaking up. Taking risks ranging from modest (edgy fashion choices) to extreme (leaving family and friends to move all over the world). They were emotionally brave. I didn’t feel brave, but I wanted to, and they set passionate examples.
It usually takes some time before a friend becomes unshockable. What a gift from the universe, then, when new people come along and sign up for the no-holds-barred channel. It’s rarer these days; we get more guarded as life tosses us around, which makes it hard to get to know people. The open books among us stand out.
I sat next to a woman at a writing conference years ago and we started chatting; the floodgates that opened and her comic-yet-seething diatribe about a literary agent who had pissed her off were divine. She’s still in my life. I wasn’t letting her flounce away indignantly without me. I like bitching bitterly about the publishing industry with her. We could never be too dark for each other.
My newish neighbor moved here from Amsterdam, and could teach workshops on creatively speaking one’s mind. She’ll text that “the weather is an asshole,” or she’ll call people she doesn’t know ‘cunts,’’ which I guess isn’t as awful to say across the pond. She’s fond of it in adjectival form as well, and also elongates its noun form as a synonym for snobby. It makes snobbery more comical than it already is when you call it “cuntiness.” It’s gender-neutral. Give it a try! The way she puts things together and serves them up is wonderful.
Another instant-unshockable came over for the first time and had so much fun that her husband literally carried her out the door over his shoulder later while she howled loud, profane protests about leaving. Those are some hard core moves to bust on your first visit to my house, I thought. Way to make an exit! She seemed like my kind of gal, and eight years have borne that out.
These people let you know right away who they are. Take it or leave it, their language and behavior say. This is what I got for you. The implication is that we’re free to do the same.
These examples sound anti-quiet person. Loud people can be easier to read, for sure, but quiet people get their vibes across too. Quiet people being themselves are distinct from quiet people busily performing calculus in their heads about whatever it is they’re calculating. The latter come across as wannabe political operatives, angling for approval ratings and power.
Whereas quiet unshockables are very zen. A friend and I once walked the Boston Marathon together (the entire thing, yes) to raise money for Dana Farber. We talked some but also walked in silence for long stretches, sharing an iPod to listen to music, each of us using one earbud. Comfortable silence is a treasure too.
I also sound pro-cursing, and indeed cursing is a beloved hobby, but it’s not like you have to curse, like we’re in high school and you have to smoke cloves or you’re not cool. It’s the unguardedness that’s the fun part. Curse or don’t, but let’s try getting by without our checklists as often as possible. We’ll be entertained and learn more from each other.