The Intensity of Youth

I’ve never found it difficult to make friends. But it took me almost thirty years to figure out how to keep them.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. There are a lot of people I consider to be friends, and if you asked them about me they might say the same. Other than the fact that we haven’t seen each other since rugby pants were in fashion, we’re very close. That, and we have no idea how many times the other person has been married, how many kids they have, and what it is they do for a living. Minor details that would never stand in the way of something as precious as “friendship.”

The thing is, I made so many friends as a child and as a young adult that I simply couldn’t keep up with them all. Then I moved from Calgary to Vancouver in 1995, planning to stay a year on the coast (now 19 years and counting), and it became that much harder to stay in touch with people — or that much easier to stop trying. As the line goes in the Spirit of the West song, (Putting Up With) The Joneses: “The distance has its uses… close enough to make the effort… far enough to make excuses.” In fairness, whenever I return “home” to Calgary, I have a long list of family members to catch up with, and I don’t get there quite often enough to make it past (or even through) my core list of must-sees. But my list of lost friends includes a lot of people I met in Vancouver, too.

Not that I was ever Mr. Popular — with the exception of that brief period in Grade 6 when I was  a jerk to all but “The Gang,” as we called our exclusive group of self-centred bullies at Dalhousie Elementary (the downfall from which is fuelling another post). I was just a shy but extroverted kid who loved meeting and getting to know people. I have a tendency to like people, and I prefer to think I’m somewhat likeable myself… so with few exceptions, the bridges that represented my friendships along the way have not so much burned as eroded due to neglect. After all, many relationships are situational: people who have something in common for a particular period of time. Having moved through many different situations (jobs, schools, clubs, communities), staying just long enough in each to establish below-the-skin-but-not-quite-to-the-core relationships with a number of people, it makes sense that most of my relationships — beyond the large (and close) extended family that I have retained strong ties to — have faded away as I have shifted from one situation to the next.

Then there’s that little issue of intensity… and the reason for the title of this post. For despite my generally carefree and happy demeanour, a passion has always burned in my core. That passion has often surfaced as intensity, and whether or not that intensity was explicitly directed at people, many have felt its heat. I have no doubt that many of my friends, once they got to know more than the fun-loving layer that coats my personality, found me simply too intense, and too driven, to want to spend much time with. Whether on the hockey rink or in the boardroom, if I felt challenged in any way I often came out swinging. One of my life-long friends from Calgary, another of those people I have rarely seen over the past nineteen years, once told me that I was the epitome of “controlled intensity.” I liked the term, though at the time I was not so sure about the “controlled” part.

Somewhere around my sixth or seventh year (and early in my lifelong attempt to become more than an under-sized and under-skilled hockey player), I learned that people had a tendency to patronize or underestimate me. So I fought back and tried to prove to the world that I was bigger, better, smarter than they expected me to be. Of course that was all ego, and how I figured that out is another story altogether. What matters is that I did figure it out, eventually. Looking back on my earlier life, I realize that my intensity pushed a lot of people — a few of whom might have otherwise been great friends — away from me. Not that I would change who I was, for that is the person I had to be in order to become the person I am today. And hey, while I’m far from perfect, I’m pretty happy with this version of me.

Somewhere in my late twenties, I joined a band — The Lounge Cats — and also found a group of loveable crazies who called themselves “The Spirits of the West” (yes, we all share a love of Celtic rock music). These two small groups took me in — warts and all — and helped me to develop as a human being. Fast forward almost twenty years, and I still count both The Cats and The Spirits as dear friends, even though I only see them once or twice a year. I try not to overanalyze what made these friendships tick — and stick — more than others I developed earlier in life. I just enjoy the fact that I can be myself with these people, as I can with my own family and a handful of others, and know that I am in the company of lifelong friends.

Now, as Facebook allows me to reach back into the past and re-establish friendships that I lost (or lost track of) along the way, I find myself doing so effortlessly and without expectation. I like Facebook for its ability to connect people without burden, to make it easy for each of us to see a small glimpse into the lives of those people we care about, even if we can’t find the time or energy to communicate with them one-on-one. While I invest in maintaining deeper connections with family and a small group of friends, I also enjoy feeling more connected with others — in some cases across decades and thousands of miles — than I have ever felt before.

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