A Periodic Fable of Elements

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Anyone who has ever been a girl scout knows that new friends are silver and old ones gold. This makes perfect sense. Both metals are highly malleable, strong, flexible, and of significant weight and substance. All friendships should have those qualities. But silver is also lighter, shinier, and a better conductor of heat and electricity; new things are always more exciting than old ones.

Relating friendships to metals is especially apt when you consider the properties of non-metals. Non-metals are not shiny, are generally poor conductors of energy, are brittle (if solid at all), and most tellingly become transparent when stretched thin (whereas metals remain opaque). We all have those people in our lives who seem like friends but suddenly disappear when the pressure is on. Many of them are also giant gas bags – or at the very least full of hot air.

So our friends are precious metals and the rest are not. But surely there are more types of friendship than just “new” and “old”. In my experience, the flavors of friendship are as distinctive and varied as the elements themselves.

Iron, for instance, has the most stable nucleus of all the metals, and that same configuration of electrons makes it highly magnetic. A stable core with a strong attraction? Sounds like a life-long best friend to me! Iron may not be as pretty or shiny as gold and silver, but it makes a hell of a lot better support beam.

Speaking of support, a friend recently commented to me that it is never fair to expect anyone to be supportive all the time, because no one person ever will be. Never mind that her argument was a blatant excuse for her refusal to be inconvenienced by rides to the airport or help with moves, she is wrong because I know personally those bonds do exist. These friends are platinum, which is rare and resists corrosion of any kind – even airport pickups. If you are lucky enough to have one, they are also the only accessory you need.

Long-distance friendships are copper; they can be stretched very thin and yet remain incredibly strong, and are excellent conductors of energy – as they have to be to sustain the necessary work. Still, we have to be careful. Copper can tarnish easily, probably because sarcasm doesn’t translate well over email. Emoji’s can only do so much – call your long-distance friends!

On the other end of the spectrum are titanium friendships, which conduct very little electricity or heat but have a high strength-to-weight ratio. These are our acquaintances or “outer circle” – people we don’t actively seek out, but always enjoy when we find ourselves in their company. The majority of friendships are titanium, which may sound cynical but isn’t. Titanium can be just as attractive as silver or gold, and if everything we had was a heavy metal nothing would have any relative value.

It is the “Facebook friendships” that are cheap aluminum. Aluminum is the most abundant metal on the planet, which is how that jackass from high school can have several thousand Twitter followers, and it resists corrosion – something far easier to do when you can just “hide” a person any time they get a little unpleasant. Much like any online comments section, aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat, and its extreme malleability is why we can crumple it up and toss it as soon as it has served its purpose. The internet: best for baking corn and potato heads.

Beware of lead friends, who do nothing but weigh you down, and of “frenemies”, who are made of whatever Sauron used for the One Ring. But do take up tin friendships; gay-straight bonds are tin not just because the Tin Man was totally effeminate, but because tin is immensely useful and valuable (especially during wartime) while still presenting some potential hazards. For one, tin can be polished to a shine much greater than its natural state, and it is also often used as a protective coating over other metals. There is a reason it took Will and Grace eight years to find other relationships.

Which brings us to friendships that have to deal with extra attraction between the two parties. Harry and Sally demonstrated quite clearly that men and women can be friends, but it is also true that romantic attractions complicate things a bit.

Mercury relationships are when the attraction is one sided and nothing ever progresses beyond friendship. Mercury is not a good conductor of heat (though certainly of electricity), is liquid, and is slippery – and navigating such an imbalance can be quite tricky. Also like mercury, an over-abundance of these friendships in your diet can be toxic.

The flip side is two people who were once romantically involved but are no longer. If the relationship ran its course for both parties, an incredibly strong bond can result. These friendships are tungsten, which is rare and extremely hard. Tungsten has the highest melting point of all the metals, but can also be brittle – especially if someone’s new partner is a jealous crazy person.

But if the relationship ended before one party was ready, that’s where we move away from metals into metalloids. These relationships can be mistaken for friendships, but are not really. Trying to be friends with an ex who broke your heart may seem essential, may even be prescribed as a bit of healthy medicine, but in truth is a situation that is brittle, toxic, and easily fatal. Like arsenic. Which, not coincidentally, is an element commonly used in pyrotechnics. Sparks fly; people cry.

There is some hope, though. When arsenic is added to copper (distance), the result can turn out to be bronze – a strong, hard metal from which great art can be cast. So the next time you need help not texting that person who recently left you broken, just go to an art museum and admire the bronzes.

When Sally Didn’t Meet Harry (or, why Facebook is evil)

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Art often imitates life, as well it should, so we can relate. More disconcerting is when life imitates art. As much as I would like to believe in the romanticism of Kermit’s closing lines to The Muppet Movie (“Life’s like a movie, write your own ending…”), in reality we don’t get to choose which movie/song/story to live – and it’s almost never the one we would prefer. I am an unashamed Taylor Swift fan because, yes, I have spent much of my life in T-shirts sitting on the proverbial bleachers watching my guy friends chase after the short-skirted cheerleader, and yes, some days I DO feel twenty two, and I totally knew that the last guy I dated was trouble when he walked in. (He was a self-described “serial monogamist”, which we all know is a euphemism for “unable to sustain a healthy relationship but too selfish and insecure to be alone for even a week,” but he was smart and cute and funny, so I dated him anyway. Going forward, I resolve to add “not an emotional child” to my criteria.) As much fun as it is to have a Swiftian soundtrack to my life, I would much prefer to live a Beyonce song now and then, or maybe Pink so at least I would be badass. Instead, I live in perpetual country-pop high school.

Last night, I found myself living a scene from my favorite romantic comedy. Which sounds awesome, right? I mean, if someone asked, “How would you like to live a scene from one of your favorite movies?” you’d think, “Hell, yeah! I’m gonna be flying an alien spaceship and saving all humanity!” Or, “I’m going to make a really stupid romantic choice and have him turn out to be the EXACT RIGHT GUY for me!” But this is a Faustian offer, because while you get to live a scene from your favorite movie, nobody said anything about it being one of your favorite scenes. Before you know it you’re Jodi Foster getting semen sprayed on a glass window in front of your face, or Vincent D’Onofrio making out with an M14. Last night I lived the scene from When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan finds out about Joe’s new life – except my Harry is actually two Hairy cats with limited comprehension skills, and I didn’t get to have sex with anyone.

Quick back story: about two and a half years ago, I met a guy at a party, which isn’t a big deal. Except a couple of months later we started dating, which was a big deal because I had been single for a lo-o-o-ong time. And a month into the relationship, I wanted him to be my boyfriend, which was a very big deal as it had been four years since I had wanted anyone to have that title. Heartbreak had made me cautious, to say the least. Fortunately, he was crazy about me, and even though I was reluctant to let my walls down, I was smart enough to know a great guy when I saw one and I let him woo me. Boy, did he woo me. We went on trips, stayed in nice hotels (always using AmEx points and travel deals – frugality is super sexy), went to concerts, ate great food – basically had a blast. He was fun, and funny, attractive, and open; it was a wonderful romance. So finally, after eight months of keeping a slight layer of protective padding around my wounded heart, I let it all go and admitted I was in love with him. That was of course the beginning of the end.

We’ve all seen relationships unravel so I won’t re-hash the details; I grew more attached, he grew more distant; I introduced him to my family; he introduced me to his desire to be alone. I won’t say I blame my family for scaring him off (even though we are a little Stepford close in a matching-T-shirts-on-vacation kind of way, we are also lovely people), but I do know that meeting them was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am all about family, and he was absolutely not. We had talked about how he didn’t want kids, and I was okay with that (or at least was able to convince myself I was), and I knew that he wasn’t very close with his parents or sister or niblings (the collective noun for nieces and nephews – awesome, right?). But now he didn’t really want a committed partner either, so that was that. He walked out and I moved on; it wasn’t meant to be.

That was a year and a half ago, and last night, I did the dumbest thing a person can do: I decided to check Facebook one last time before going to bed. One of the myriad reasons Facebook is evil is that while you can cut ties with an Ex, unless you are also willing to cut ties with everyone you both know… Right there, in the middle of my newsfeed was a shout out from a mutual friend wishing him and some girl a speedy delivery of their baby. Holy frak, Batman. I had no idea what to think, except that there was no way I was going to be well rested for my 7am hike.

After a fitful “sleep” and no morning hike, I still am not sure what I feel. Of course, my first reaction was very much Sally’s – devastation that less than a year after leaving me he did start a family, just with somebody else. (Oh, Nora Ephron, you are missed.) Maybe it really is as simple as, “he just didn’t want those things with me,” but the question of “what’s wrong with me?” is too depressing to think about; I’ve already cried about that question enough, and as I said, I don’t have a Harry to comfort me with sex, so I’m just going to let that emotion go sit in the corner and think about itself for a while. Besides, I don’t know that he chose commitment, or that he actually wants to have a family. He could just as easily be banging his head against a wall somewhere thinking, “Why the hell did I leave Kate? At least she was organized and compulsive enough to remember her birth control pills every day.” Maybe he decided to be someone’s sperm donor, with the caveat that he had no responsibility beyond floating in every now and then like the Wizard of Oz with a bag full of gifts from some exotic land. Or maybe, as my best friend so wisely pointed out, he really did want kids but lied to me and left because he was afraid it would kill me (I have a heart defect – more on that later). Ridiculous, yes, but since I know no details (Facebook is EVIL), all theories are equally probable.

The part of me that is still a broken-hearted ex-girlfriend hopes that this man, this man who walked away from me in tears (his, not mine – I was angry by then) with the words, “I will be in touch; I am a man of my word” and then never was heard from again, that this man is currently living his own movie moment, preferably one emotionally akin to James Bond tied naked to a bottomless chair getting his balls smashed over and over. The part of me that is an egomaniac is mostly just annoyed that this pregnancy was a reality for nine months without my ever knowing about it. And the part of me that is a coward wishes I still didn’t know about it. But the part of me that is a good person (which is – I hope – the biggest part) hopes in the end that he really does want this baby, hopes that he is able to commit to it and to its mother, and hopes that he will be a good dad.

Of course I also hope it’s a boy, and that it pees in his face.