Dear E. Jean, I'll be blunt: I am afraid I have been channeling Edward Casaubon for much of my life. Channeling a postmodern E Casaubon, that is. My reasons: (1) I am in my third year out of coursework and have yet to produce a viable chapter; (2) I am dating a man as virtuous, lovely, and great-spirited as Dorothea; (3) I am convinced that I am incapable of enduring friendship. The first two worry me least (the man is not a worry at all, in fact). The third, however, is dispiriting! As a good postmodernist/Kierkegaardian/Some things have changed in the interim: I have produced almost and nearly viable chapters. The current draft of chapter one my dissertation director has in his hands may indeed be viable. I do now worry whether the man and I will be able to forge a relationship that endures into the future. What hasn't changed is my fear of forcing myself on others. I feel I speak the language of friendship brokenly, with insufficient vocabulary and no grasp of verb tenses.
existentialist (circle one), I am well aware that I cannot deserve any friendship: friendship is a daily offering of generosity, not a professional contract. Etc. But how do people do it? Let me state in my own partial defense that I am not entirely a social cretin. I can be charming and rather humorous company. I enjoy being around others about as much as I enjoy solitude. Still, I marvel at the friendships my friends experience with others. They endure over the course of many years—decades, even. They may ebb and flow, but there are phone calls, visits, emails—communication—across all sorts of distances. This is not my experience. Once a friend has left my zip code, friendship, like an unwatered plant, loses its bloom. Ah, my would-be Philoctetes, you say, why not call up these pals, send them emails, letters, flowers plan visits? I do... Perhaps not as much as I ought to do, but I have such a sense of intruding on their lives, taking up their free time or of insisting that they talk to me, now! that it is difficult to sustain the effort. If this had happened once or twice, I should think nothing of it—not all friendships are of the life-long or even years-long nature. But this has become such a regular pattern for me that I am faced with the strong possibility that there is some relationship between this incapacity for friendship and my own character. How can I overcome the limitations of my own character and learn to have lasting friendships?
I suppose the answer is in the metaphor I just wrote: If I wish to become more fluent in friendship, then I must devote much more time to it.