Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Exes and The Perils of Having the Same Phone Number for Four+ Years

It may be time for a new phone number.

Periodically, I get random phone calls from homeless people I've lost touch with, old flings, and the occasional creep who has somehow pounced upon my digits. For the most part, these are people I haven't been in contact with for a very long time and for very good reasons.

This never happened in the States, which is probably due to the fact that I'm not particularly exotic there, making me easily forgettable, or perhaps because Americans are a lot better at giving up than Brazilians. Giving up friendships, giving up romances, giving up on relationships. This is not always a good thing, but it is occasionally necessary. For example, and I'm not saying these are personal anecdotes, but giving up should be practiced whenever someone says, "I don't want to see you again" and means it. Don't be a stalker! Give up if a boyfriend invites you over to play with gunpowder and make fireworks and isn't actually intending for that to be a double entendre. Give up if a friend is an unrepentant leech; when she throws a temper tantrum in the drugstore because you are unwilling to personally fund her toiletries expenses, you really can just walk away. (Okay, those last two actually happened. This is embarrassing. The boyfriend was in high school. It was a small town, there wasn't much to do...I am digging myself a deep hole. Will stop now.)

I remember someone once giving me a baffled look when I mentioned something about a certain ex-friend.
"How can someone be an ex-friend?" he wanted to know.

His confusion is a language issue. Once you've studied a foreign language in depth, if you're as nerdy as I am, you'll notice how the structure, word choices and grammar actually inform characteristics of that society, affecting the way we are able to think and shaping certain aspects of our cultures.

In Portuguese, the verb used with friendship is "ser," meaning "to be." Ela é minha amiga = She is my friend. There are two words for "to be": this one indicates a permanent, unchanging state. You are a friend in the same way you are your gender or your nationality. It might take a while to become a friend here, but once you are, it's for good.

In English, we have no such distinguishing verb. "To be" is fickle; it can be permanent or transient, temporary or long-lasting. You can "be" tired and rested, hungry and full, awake or asleep. And that same "be" is coherently used to describe almost-fixed qualities, such as our professions, addresses, or marital status, as well as all those fixed ones mentioned earlier. And of course, friendships.

I prefer the English definition on that one. In my book, a toxic person can and should be deleted from your close and personal circle. They lose the right to the "friend" designation. It doesn't mean you wish them ill. It doesn't mean they haven't been forgiven. But you don't keep ingesting poison in the hopes that one day it will magically become nourishing. Distance is acceptable.

So, I maintain, you can have ex-friends, just like you can have ex-boyfriends. And the ex is intentional. I don't want to answer my phone to a voice asking, in a failed attempt to be seductive or coy, "Do you know who this is?" If I don't, then they really shouldn't have called me. Confusion and disdain were probably not what those callers were hoping for, and I'm not the least bit apologetic. But I am seriously considering a new chip. Might be time.


Anonymous said...

Ooohhh ... I never heard the story about the "pyro" boyfriend. You really should consider writing a book. -Mom

--jenna said...

Oh, you do. Firstboyfriendever. :)