I teetered on the hind legs of my cheap desk chair as I clicked the blue call button and waited through the modern-day dial tone. “Hey! Long time to see!”
I was twenty-two years old: insecure and invincible.
A few months shy of graduation, future options were limited only by my imagination; and yet, the creative stew of my mind had become stagnant. My university education had not prepared me for the real world.
“Hey!” I responded, with the feigned enthusiasm of someone who came of age when right of passage entailed duck-lip selfies. The conversation slinked between my god-awful classes, her sorority sisters, and observations about the 340 square-foot studio I shared with a roommate, occasionally punctuated by the pregnant silence of a dwindling friendship.
I’ve learned, with time and hardship, that friendship has nothing to do with history or duration, and everything to do with common denominators, and trust.
“I’m reading a book,” I informed my lifelong best friend. I was 600 pages into the 900-page 2666, the posthumous release from Roberto Bolaño, and I couldn’t help but share my thoughts of the poignant and intrusive novel with my favorite non-reader. “The story is basically about a bunch of women in Mexico being raped, murdered, and mutilated. It’s gruesome and disquieting, yet the writing is captivating—almost poetic.”
“You’re weird,” she responded, face scrunched up like a hungry rabbit. The conversation quickly wrapped up, and I logged out of Skype. I looked at the plastic tabs sticking out of that beloved brick of lexicon and metaphor, feeling like an emotional grenade had been tossed straight into my chest. I could not stop musing on the heinousness of the crimes, nor the explicit palpability of the characters’ emotions.
How simple we seem, or pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down. How paltry we are and how spectactularly we contort ourselves before our own eyes and the eyes of others. And all for what? To hide what? To make people believe what?
–Roberto Bolaño, “2666”
Within a year, my childhood best friend and I were estranged. After 15 years of daily updates, we both realized that we had grown apart. We had little in common, and she had violated my trust. The later is a hard thing to get past, especially with the person you trust the most in life.
Letting go of my best friend was a turning point in my life. I have always considered myself interminably loyal and it took courage to convince myself that she was a toxic influence, and to walk away. Looking back, it is one of the best decisions of my life. It made space for new friends—friends with whom I could discuss books, science, and the vast possibilities.
Perhaps even more importantly, parting ways from that friend gave me space to assess the relationship we shared. The distance—both physical and metaphorically—gave rise to a blatant display of all that she was: fun-loving and sweet, yet selfish and manipulative; social and supportive, yet dishonest and ignorant. With time came the realization that we were not, in fact, as close as I had imagined. She and I spent ample time together but had almost nothing in common. It was a relationship built on history and convenience.
Since reading Roberto Bolaño’s “2666” in 2011, I frequently think of the quote captured above—whether on social media, interacting with friends or family, or observing people on the street, it is becoming clear that insincerity and inauthenticity are the new standard. We spend hours painting on smiles to impress thousands of friends whom we will never actually meet, all while taking drugs to counteract feelings of inadequacy and depression.
I’ve been inactive on social media for several years now but am finally in the process of deleting my last remaining account. I took a step back to observe, as I did with my former friend, my relationship with site, my connections, and the media being presented. As my perspective became more objective and less emotion, I realized just how fake people’s presentations of themselves have become. I was friends with several high-achievers, successful entrepreneurs, great parents, and inspiring artists; yet, even the content shared by those I admire did not satisfy my desire for deep connection.
There is an emptiness in the world today; a plethora of content that is backed by nothing of substance. The internet gems of five and ten years ago have been buried by clickbait, and the search for anything meaningful has challenged.
Perhaps it’s time to revisit the habits of our parents and grandparents: meeting friends and romantic partners at a favorite local hangout, reading books for advice and inspiration, creating art simply for the joy of creating, eating and moving intuitively, and soliciting advice only from the closest family and friends.
There is currently an epidemic of young people with a distorted self-image, as well as the image they project out into the world. As I sit here today, swiveling at my desk chair and pursuing something that brings me joy–musing, writing, and simply being–I worry for the younger generation. I deeply hope that people begin to wake up to their true nature and fullest potential, yet I fear that self-awareness and autonomy are slowly dying with new generation. As I watch friends unravel at the edges and emotionally clock out of their lives, I imagine the implication of this spectacular contortion: growing inauthenticity and the reduction of true emotional connections.