Sitting in the basement of an old haunt, I felt the familiar tug of the Four Beer Blues.
You know what I'm talking about. That sudden sweep of melancholy that hits out of nowhere after a few drinks, not exactly sobering you up but definitely pulling you down. Everyone's symptoms are slightly different, but we all are stricken from time to time. Me, I stare off into space thinking about things that have no business being thought about at a bar (do I need to buy more paper towels, what am I going to do with my life when I finish school, would it be rude or kind if I let the unfortunate girl by the bar know that I can see both her ass crack and the hem of her granny panties, etc.), prompting friends to occasionally poke me and ask "EJ? You still there?" Things move a little more slowly during the Blues, and it seems to take an inordinately long time for me to smile and nod and answer "Of course!!" just a little too brightly.
Though the Four Beer Blues can mercilessly strike unsuspecting revelers, there are often warning signs. Someone selects "High and Dry," or anything by Death Cab for Cutie on the jukebox. I find rallying for Friday nights a challenge, and the Blues are far more likely to hit at the end of a long day. The forced sobriety of a cab ride in the middle of the evening dramatically increases the likelihood of an attack, as does the sudden, unexpected appearance of an ex or an old mistake.
You can try to fight away the Four Beer Blues, to order a round of shots for your group, change the music, flirt with someone new. Sometimes it works, but only if all the elements align to distract from what triggered the Blues in the first place. More often than not, there's no going back and the evening is best ended quietly and quickly, before someone picks a fight or worse, orders and consumes an entire pizza at 4 AM. Surrender to the Four Beer Blues and no one gets hurt.
In the cab home from my latest bout with the Blues, I pondered the trigger for that night's attack. "Friendship evolution," one might call it. The natural selection process in full effect, weeding out the weaker connections that are not easily sustained to make room for new growth, new people, new possibilities. Not that they're gone forever, because you still love the old friends and have fantastic memories of time spent with them, but the paradigm has tangibly shifted. Room has been made for the new at the expense of the old.
I used to worry that instead of natural selection, I was just getting lazy and careless. That I was taking old friends for granted and sloughing them off when I got restless. But it's not that at all, something made transparently clear the next night when I spent time with much older friends, people I've known for years but hadn't seen for weeks, and didn't miss a beat with them. When you meet as many people as I do and approach life with the attitude that a stranger is a friend until they prove otherwise, you accumulate a lot of potential connections. Some will take, some will wither and die on the vine, some will seem to be going along strongly and then abruptly vanish for seemingly no reason. People will surprise you in ways good and bad, and people will live up to and down to your expectations.
I used to feel guilty about falling out of touch with people, like I'd done something negligent by not making one person or group my top priority. This has become really difficult over the last couple of years because I've found myself becoming a member of several distinct groups of friends, some overlapping one another and some completely distinct. They're all friendly people, and I wouldn't hang out with them if they weren't hilarious and kind and welcoming, but they are each very much their own clique and no matter how much I love the time I spend with them, balancing these various groups is getting exhausting. I've been out almost every night I've been in DC since school ended in May, and can't tell you how many times I've heard the phrase "EJ! I haven't seen you in forever!" since then.
Hurtling towards home and bed in the cab, I thought about the people I'd just left and how little I'd seen them lately, feeling a little guilty and a little angry at the chilly reception that had been waiting for me and the empty air left hanging after the initial squeals and hugs.
And for the first time in a long time, I kicked the Four Beer Blues with one very simple conclusion: "It is not my sole responsibility to maintain a relationship."