As a shy, quiet person, I had the occasional friends in school but not always in my neighborhood, so when classes changed and lunch periods changed and the kids around me changed, my friends changed as well.
Since I was verbally bullied for being different from the other kids (somehow weird), I was glad to have these friends, but I longed to have that one friend who would stick with me through life. Someone to be inseparable (but not lovers) with, like Bill & Ted or Anne & Diana or Frodo & Sam or Ofra Haza & Andrew Eldritch or Gus & Shawn.
I made good friends in college who became friends for life, but after college we moved away from each other–separate cities, separate states. It’s hard to maintain close friendships even when they live an hour away from you, so we’ve relied heavily on e-mail and now Facebook.
I did occasionally see friends who lived about an hour away, and occasionally did things in the SCA while Jeff was more involved in it for a while.
Male or female has never mattered to me. I have two brothers and no sisters, so I was just as comfortable hanging out with boys as with girls. Not the athletic type of boy who thinks burps are funny, no. I mean the smart, geeky ones who watch British TV and play role-playing games.
My husband and I both have had opposite-sex friends, some close, all through our marriage, with no jealousy.
But it had been years since I’d had a close friend who lived right there nearby, when Richard and I became close over the Net and the phone, having met on a forum while I was searching for spiritual truth.
He was impressed by the theological section of my website, and wanted to befriend me. He said his wife wanted to befriend me too, but I rarely heard from her, no e-mails or phone calls, just a web chat one evening.
I was surprised at how easily I could talk to Richard on the phone, and for hours, because with most people I just can’t do that, preferring face-to-face or e-mail/letters even for my closest friends.
Also, I can only talk on and on with people I “click” with. That doesn’t happen with just anyone, either. Jeff, too, found him easy to talk to when I was unable to come to the phone right away.
In those days, Richard called when he said he would, except once–and that time, he apologized and explained later. (This all changed in 2008.) He led me into Orthodoxy, where I found my spiritual home, and that’s mostly what we talked about, as I had lots of questions. He seemed like a cool person. But he lived far away.
I began going to the local Greek Orthodox church in November 2006, though–deliberately taking my time to make such a huge decision–I didn’t join it officially until January 2009.
I did what I could to connect with people there during coffee hour, but had to deal not only with my shyness but with the language barrier: Most of the parishioners spoke English just fine, but many of them spoke and understood very little English. Also, most of them were much older than I was.
One morning during Divine Liturgy, in a fit of loneliness, I prayed that God would please send me a friend. Just a short time later–within a few months, I believe–Richard e-mailed me that he needed a new place to live, and I suggested my hometown. He hadn’t expected that, and was surprised to find how promising my hometown would be.
This was early fall 2007. His wife and children were thousands of miles away with her parents while he cleared out their house, from which they’d been evicted. He had no job, and hated the area. He had no hope and nowhere to go.
He was grateful to me because he actually felt happy now, hopeful. He checked out the links I sent him about my city, then later in person, and loved the town.
He asked to stay with us for a few days while looking for a job; he began calling at least once a day, talking my ear off so much that my ear actually began ringing.
I already felt bonded with him, that we had a close friendship, even though we never met, because he was the only person (besides my priest and Jeff) to whom I told all the details when my family was shaken up during Lent 2007.
It was a disturbing event, full of embarrassing details, things that had been hidden from me by my family for my entire life. He and my priest heard them all, but even my college friends didn’t hear them at first.
But he had never told me certain personal details about himself and his life, which now, in September 2007, he began telling me, things which just started pouring out without me prompting him. I worried a bit about his violent past, and was uncomfortable with some of the things he said, because I felt they should be kept private from most people.
But we’d been on the same forum for about two years, we’d been phone friends for maybe a year or so, Todd (the owner of the forum) had stayed with him twice for a month each time, Richard’s wife was on the same forum, and another poster had been his phone friend for several years and had glowing praises for him, so I figured–hoped–he was safe. And hoped that he would arrive while Jeff was around, which he did. The day he arrived was, I believe, around October 5, 2007.
Despite pouring out my soul to a forum friend online, in person for the first time, he or she seems a complete stranger. So I turn into a turtle, hiding in my shell.
It took me a bit to get used to Richard’s physical presence, to connect the forum guy and the voice on the phone with this hulking stranger in my living room. We had shared so many things already, I had confided things in him, called him when my family went through a terrible upset–but now he was like a stranger.
He was happy to meet me, but after waiting anxiously for him all day long, now I wanted to run away from him. Until one afternoon when we started chatting about music, the conversation began to flow, and then we just looked at each other all of a sudden like, “Whoa!”
Everything began coming together and falling into place. Despite Tracy’s aggressive personality–which he had been telling me about and which I soon began seeing for myself–our families seemed to be blessings and helps for each other over the coming years.
It all seemed to be an answer to prayer, the moving of the Spirit, God’s will for Richard and I to be friends and help each other spiritually and materially.
Richard lived with us for two months, during which time we bonded even more, as I did with two of my college roommates. There’s just something about living with a person, day in day out, and them being there through all the things you deal with from day to day. We told each other everything.
Though it wasn’t supposed to drag on for so long, I didn’t mind. I finally had someone to watch TV with, since Jeff spent most evenings on the computer or watching other things. I was sure we would be friends for life. At long last, I had somebody outside of the family to talk to again.
Richard became my family, more like a twin brother moving in than a stranger. Jeff was not some Neanderthal macho man threatened by this. He, a far more enlightened being than that, usually spent evenings in the basement so Richard and I could talk.
He trusted us both so much that twice he went out of town overnight, once for work and once for a D&D game in the next county on the same day as a blizzard.
And we were careful not to see each other in undress, yelling out warnings when necessary, since we had no spare bedroom and had to stick him on the couch. I wore my robe over my nightgown; I wore a tank top under revealing shirts; I never wear low-waist pants or high-waist shirts.
I considered him my best and closest friend. He was the one I went to about religion. He’s the one I found to help light my way when I was searching for the True Church, the original doctrines. He had already found it before I did.
We had similar backgrounds, and similar views of the various churches. We could sympathize with each other about going through contemporary church services.
We could discuss Orthodox theology with a similar base knowledge and interest. We could discuss the meaning of original sin, or whether River of Fire is a good source of Orthodox doctrine. We could discuss what it means to experience the Holy Spirit.
I could ask him about various things, such as why the English translations of the Latin and Greek versions of the Nicene Creed are so different, even the parts that come from the original Ecumenical Council that produced them.
I could share with him Orthodox writings, and give him Orthodox books and icons for Christmas or birthdays. I could tell him what led me away from Western doctrines, without feeling judged for turning to “heresies.”
I simply don’t have another friend with whom I can discuss all these things, at least not from the same background, baseline knowledge, amount of interest and same denomination.
I asked him about difficult points of Orthodox doctrine or practices. I asked him how to forgive people who had hurt me years before. I lamented to him about Net Orthodoxy and its legalism.
In short, he was my spiritual mentor.
He was the one I always wrote to about interesting church meetings or services. Who else can I write these things to, who has the same level of interest? I wrote to him about my church because he was the one who led me there.
And these things led to sharing our life experiences and troubles. I told him my secrets, and he told me his. He was my counselor, as I poured out my heart to him about various issues I dealt with, how I’d been bullied growing up, and how I’d been used and abused by college exes.
This included private details which I did not normally tell anyone, because of their nature. I told him these things because I trusted him completely.
I told him funny stories of things that happened day-to-day, or dreams. I shared with him thoughts about movies I watched, books I read, life stories. We talked for hours at a time.
Since he lived with us for a time, he became like an adopted brother, so I could tell him things I didn’t tell other people. He became “Uncle Rich” to my son. We could joke back and forth with each other and play off each other so easily that one guy in an IRC chat room said, “I love it when you guys are here!”
We went on religious websites together and defended Orthodoxy. And we had similar tastes in music, both loving the obscure Goth genres, 80s, New Wave–yet knew some of the same Christian artists as well. He had actually been a Goth, while I was interested in Goth culture, and did as much “Gothyness” as I could do in a small city in the Midwest.
Because of our similar backgrounds, we both knew about the Thief in the Night series, Left Behind, and other such things. We were even the same age, so grew up with the same pop culture. We both liked watching EWTN. We were both interested in paranormal investigations.
It seems impossible to replace him. These elements of our friendship I found especially valuable and important, especially appealing, and these were the reasons I was so attached to his friendship.
I was quite certain, from how he acted and what he said every day, that the feeling was mutual, that we both felt bonded to each other in a special, lasting, close friendship. I wanted to be like his sister or cousin, to whom he was also this close.
I had no idea he was love-bombing me, bonding me to him emotionally with so much attention and praise that it became addictive. He must have seen how vulnerable I was, since I so badly needed a friend, so badly wanted that One True Friend.
Even though he lived in my house and I knew his gross and annoying habits, I was so devoted to his friendship that I could overlook this. He had such charisma that I saw the same bond and devotion in Todd and in Richard’s best friend from his hometown. I craved his good opinion, and felt devastated when he criticized me.
It wasn’t about a lover: I already had one. It was about that One True Friend, whom I had always dreamed of, and would think I had found, only one of us had to move away so things drifted off. I felt my life would not be complete without that One True Friend, that Frodo, in addition to my husband and child. I was a ready victim:
- Loneliness. If you’re lonely, your unmet social and emotional needs can create an opening for a psychopath to enter your life. Many lonely people are also bored, which elevates risk.
According to Brown, some victims don’t even know they’re lonely, bored, or living a small, confined life, but the psychopath knows. –Psychopaths & Love, Traits of the Psychopath’s Victim
In this part, I explain about Richard’s claim to have hypnotized me. I knew nothing of this until 2009, when he told me he used conversational hypnotism to get me to open up with him while he lived here.
He told me Americans are far too reserved, so he gets upset whenever people say Frodo and Sam are gay lovers. He said it used to be seen as perfectly normal and NOT sexual to hug or hold hands or whatever with friends as well as family members or spouses.
I told him that in the book Two Towers, second in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo and Sam held hands, fell asleep cuddled up with each other, and the like, and that’s why I joked about them being lovers.
But he said the fuss in America over Frodo and Sam’s supposed homosexual relationship was silly, that no one would have dreamed they were homosexuals back when the book was written.
Which is true, but also made me more susceptible to Richard breaking down my own physical reserve. It took me a while just to hug him.
I don’t have a problem with opposite-sex friends innocently flirting: My husband does it, I do it, my geek friends do it, my SCA friends do it, my old co-workers did it. In time I learned that Richard did it, too, with everybody, including male friends! My husband and friends also consider it perfectly natural to get crushes now and then, as long as you don’t act on them.
At first, Richard behaved like a prude about innocent flirting, but then he got freer. One Sunday morning, we visited the brand-new Catholic church building–and he put his head on my shoulder right there in the middle of Mass. He muttered a playful “sorry” and sat back up.
Then he went in the opposite direction of “prude” one night all of a sudden, after Jeff went to bed.
He didn’t put hands in forbidden zones or try to kiss me or profess undying passion, no, nothing like that. But he confused me greatly by putting his head in my lap, then on my shoulder.
I was used to flirting with words, such as the occasional double entendre. Or Richard calling up a female friend right after calling his wife and saying, “Hey, what are you wearing?” He demonstrated it was all meant in fun.
But this–What was this? He had also started giving me long, affectionate hugs good-night.
The alarm bells went off. I wanted a platonic friendship, not an affair; we were getting in too deep! I finally fled to my room to go to bed and get away from this.
Then the next day and night he went about life like nothing happened, talking about his wife and kids coming to town in a couple of days, etc.
Then the following night he did these things again, making me think, What the heck is going on here?
Then the next day he acted normally again. I also felt like the scum of the earth for letting him do these things.
So that night I found a way to bring up the “cuddling and flirting,” to confront him about it, get the truth out of him of what the heck he was up to.
But he said, No, it wasn’t cuddling, cuddling is something else, my family/relatives put our heads on each other’s shoulders, I was sleepy, and the teasing wasn’t flirting, it was “playful banter.”
Now I see him as using me for affection after a long, tumultuous period with his wife, but holding back just enough that he could feign innocence when I called him on it later…when he realized I thought he was making moves on me, told him they were freaking me out.
I see him as manipulating me through his covert hypnotism and the trust he gained with me, doing these things when Jeff was not there, preying on my NVLD gullibility–which has also made me susceptible to elaborate hoaxes played on me by exes. But at the time, I just saw him as a well-meaning bumbler.
But now that I called him out, it was time for him to backtrack: I’m sorry if I violated your boundaries. No, no, I do those things with my sisters-in-law! cousins! sister! They’re gestures of friendship and caring! And those things I said–that was just “playful banter,” not even flirting. No, we did nothing wrong. You can look your husband in the eye. And no, we don’t have to stop doing these things…..
I never would’ve thought of doing these things, with my American and possibly Asperger-ish reserve, if it had not been for Richard mentoring me on how they’re perfectly fine for platonic friends to do.
I was never quite as comfortable with it as he was, but he taught me there was nothing to worry about, and made me feel silly for ever thinking he meant anything more than friendship. Then I began advocating such things myself. I discovered the Cuddle Party website:
One problem with finding comforting touch is that if you believe that touch is about sex, then either you are afraid it might lead to sex, or you are afraid it might not lead to sex. Not so helpful.
We humans need touch and affection. It’s no longer a question. Nurturing, welcome consensual touch is good for you.
Good for your body, heart and spirit. Good for your blood pressure, your nervous system, your emotional health, your ability to connect with and trust people, your ability to respect and care for yourself, your creativity, sense of safety and comfort and belonging.
Infants who are deprived of touch fail to thrive; we never outgrow the need.
Why is it so hard to find? Because for the most part, we think it has to do with sexual relationship, or at least romance, hooking up or ‘attraction’.
What if it just has do with being a human being who cares about other human beings? Kindness, compassion, comfort and nourishment.
Cuddle Party is a movement to reclaim this option in our lives.
I discovered that other cultures and time periods have been freer than our own with nonsexual touch, discovered that I have SCA friends who are just as free with their friends as Richard is with his friends.
We set up some boundaries to stay out of trouble, “forbidden zones” and the like, and agreed that any “playful banter” would be done in platonic friendship only, that any gestures would be in platonic friendship only. I knew that if he ever tried to kiss me, I’d have to end the friendship right there and then. I thought that was that.
Oh, by the way (he said the day his wife moved in with us), don’t do these things when she’s around. She’s very jealous of other women.
Then, of course, when wifey finds out–I don’t know what he told her, but from the way she kept blaming me for everything, I get the impression he didn’t give her the full story, that he was the instigator telling me it was all innocent. So who gets in trouble? Me.
It makes me feel like such a naive, gullible fool, putting my trust in his words more than in his actions, which told me something other than what his words said, but for the sake of friendship I chose to believe him and trust him.
I now realize my own blame here was to not call him out on the discrepancies I noted even then (how one day he called it “flirting” then re-named it to “playful banter” when it was convenient for him). To fail to notice that he didn’t do these things in front of Jeff, that he told me not to do them around Tracy.
But I wanted to believe he was telling me the truth because I didn’t want to be some scumbag cheater. And you just don’t want to accuse your BFF of lying to you.
I wanted a One True Friend, not a lover, did not want to turn my beautiful friendship into a stinky, dirty, filthy affair. I did not want to be barred from the Eucharist through carnal relations with the one who led me to the Eucharist in the first place.
He was not sexually attractive, with his repulsive hygiene (bathing every two or three days) and morbid obesity. But we had a connection of the mind and spirit, a rare jewel of friendship, the Platonic ideal and philia.
Oscar Wilde also discusses this ideal in his Portrait of W.H. (pages 62-67 in this copy, near the end of part II of the full text). He explains that Renaissance thinkers resurrected the Platonic ideal of friendship, and used terms for their bosom friends that made Victorian readers think they were lovers, even though they were not.
The lack of Frodo/Sam-type friendships in modern American society is described here:
Why is The Lord of the Rings such a powerful myth? Why did the final installment earn almost half a billion dollars in its first eighteen days?
Because all of us want the fellowship illustrated in the films. Because we want relationships that last. Because we want to feel super-glued to family and friends, like the glue that bound Sam and Frodo. Because we want involvement. Because we want shared creativity and wonder, because we want loyalty and commitment.
And yet we don’t have this feeling. Oh, if we are lucky we have it in one relationship, maybe a spouse. But in general we don’t have it.
In general we tend to be atoms bouncing around the eternal void, occasionally bumping into another atom, exchanging a curse or a smile.
Ought we not create our own Fellowship of The Ring? Ought we not create relationships that will last a lifetime? Ought we not build delightful things, even at some risk to ourselves? Ought we not discover something with ourselves that demands eternal loyalty and commitment?
I thought Richard was that kind of friend for me.
I wanted to believe we were simply expressing caring for each other as just friends. I didn’t realize his instructions to not do them around Tracy gave them a dirty tinge. I believed him, and saw nothing wrong with giving him the same gestures that I would to my son.
I did not do to him gestures that I only do to my husband, did not do the kinds of cuddling I only do with my husband or son. No, for us “cuddling” meant sleeping on a shoulder, with arms folded only around yourself. Like in a recent viral Internet picture in which a man let a tired stranger sleep on his shoulder on a subway train. Or John sleeping on Jesus’ shoulder during the Last Supper (John 13:23-25).
It was sweet, innocent, a beautiful symbol of platonic friendship, which Americans could do well to adopt, instead of labeling it “gay” or “inappropriate.” We had distinct boundaries in place.
So I thought we were safe and everything would be fine. However, he needed to move out soon, before anything did happen.
But moving in his family was not the answer: No, he finally had a job now, and should have saved up a down payment, then moved out immediately after. You know, like we planned all along.
But then one day, he told me the plans had changed and his family was coming to stay at our little condo. !!!!
You may already have noted that I am much like Anne Shirley. I always identified with her inner life: full of romantic ideals and loyalty, expressive on paper even if (unlike Anne) I am not in speech, willing to tell my friends I love them and how much they mean to me, identifying kindred spirits and longing for a Bosom Friend.
One of my friends, Mike from my college memoirs, believes we should say “I love you” to anyone–friends, co-workers–without fear that it’s somehow “inappropriate.” I also identify with Marianne in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
While Tracy was always angry at somebody or something, always ready to fight. Whenever I picture her, her face is twisted in fury as she yells and screams or hits. Tracy does not understand people like me. She is not a kindred spirit.