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personal life philosophy rambling reflections vegan

With Distance We Make Friends

It’s easy to be friendly. But some people assume friendliness should mean unbridled openness. Far too often I’ve seen how some people would lovebomb strangers in the hope that they will win their trust and friendship.

I think true friendship takes time.

My vegan friends and I used to meet regularly for sleepovers and picnics, but when the pandemic brought the lockdowns, we adjusted to the situation just like everybody else. We created a Signal chat group where we updated each other with random news and new discoveries. These broke the monotony of my life being cooped in my studio, especially during the start when people were barely allowed to come out.

Since we both lived in the Makati central business district, Nancy and I would meet each other at Landmark, synching our grocery schedules. We made the most of these trips by taking our time inside the supermarket, sometimes making a detour at Healthy Options in Glorietta 3. We would then walk home with our haul, parting ways at the Paseo de Roxas intersection, where we’d jokingly say goodbye by saying “Under His Eye” and “Blessed be the Fruit”, a nod to “The Handmaid’s Tale”, a series we both avidly followed.

The pandemic kickstarted Andrew’s vegan spreads brand Nunó, a business he has been dreaming of launching for some time. One good thing that happened during COVID is how his venture just boomed the past year—so much that he managed to rent a decent-sized kitchen, producing enough to send out to distributors across the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Ali found a new hobby: biking. Like a lot of our peers, she had turned to baking at the start of the lockdowns. She had been baking even before COVID so it only seemed natural that she’d restart this passion, especially that she was great at it. (We desperately tried to get her to sell her vegan doughnuts.) The “Ali who’s into fitness” though is a wholly different character I’m starting to know. On Instagram, she would story her biking adventures with her partner Jeiel, braving the roads that were carefully designed to murder bikers, pedestrians, and all car-less folk.

I remember the first time we all met: at a volunteer night for an animal rights organization, where we’d write letters to politicians and celebrities, and packed pamphlets and posters for street activists. During the time, the vegan movement in the Philippines was still nascent, and this was as much of a community we could find.

Through the years, we kept each other accountable while encouraging one another to keep fighting for the one thing all of us strongly believed in. Some of my friendships have come and gone, but our group endured and thrived, becoming the safe space we all needed.

These days I look at their lives from my phone, watching excitedly from a distance the little transformations that continue to happen in their lives.

The philosopher Aristotle said that there exist three kinds of friendship: a useful one, a pleasurable one, and a virtuous one. Among those three, it is the last that is the best.

In the Nichomachean Ethics, he explains:

“Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves.

“Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good—and goodness is an enduring thing.

“And each is good without qualification and to his friend, for the good are both good without qualification and useful to each other. So too they are pleasant; for the good are pleasant both without qualification and to each other, since to each his own activities and others like them are pleasurable, and the actions of the good are the same or like.

“And such a friendship is as might be expected permanent, since there meet in it all the qualities that friends should have.”

***

One of the things I miss most, now that I’m thousands of miles away from Manila, is the spontaneity of meeting up with friends. When before I could just message my friend Gretch (who lived a few blocks away from my condo in Salcedo) so we can hang out at the park or at Habitual Coffee nearby, or Norman to catch a movie at Glorietta or Powerplant, now I can barely catch up with the conversations that happen across timezones. I would wake up in the morning and struggle to decipher the deluge of messages that have been sent in our group chats while I was sleeping.

As an introvert (although I remember an acquaintance saying I was really an extrovert who takes a bit of time to warm up), I often tell people that I enjoy being alone. And it’s true. Just today I strolled by myself around Edinburgh, going to museums and admiring the architecture of the city.

But the thing which I don’t get to say is that while I like my own company, I thrive being alone while surrounded by other people. I love the energy of people around me, of people I know, even when I don’t engage in conversations all the time.

Specifically: I like the promise and accessibility of conversations, the way you can turn to someone beside you and talk to them (and them to you.)

Nowadays I go on with my daily life and see a little detail, then remember a friend who’d probably like it. Autumn is at its peak and I think about that trip I had with Gretch in Amsterdam two years ago, when we’d walk by the canals and look at the ducks. It’s such an ordinary memory, but for some reason, it’s one that has stuck the most in my head.

***

I’d like to think I’m a friendly person. I know there will be people who will disagree with this. One of my closest friends, Mela, would often tell our mutual friends how I snubbed her the first time we met. (My version of the story is different: that night we were introduced to each other during the SOGIE Equality Bill rally at the People Power Monument, my late friend Brian suddenly asked me to join some advocates on stage, which triggered a bit of stage fright. Anxiety isn’t the best state to be in when you’re meeting new people.)

It’s easy to be friendly. But some people assume friendliness should mean unbridled openness. There are people who would spill their guts out the first time they meet you, thinking that sharing their quirks and flaws automatically generates trust among people around them. For some, this technique works.

Far too often I’ve seen how some people would lovebomb strangers from the very start, in the hope that they will quickly win their trust and friendship.

Not to dismiss those who are genuinely over-comfortable even among people they don’t know, but I think true friendship takes time. First impressions can be deceiving, and shouldn’t be the only gauge we use to decide who ends up as our friends.

In the beautiful essay “How To Be Polite“, the writer Paul Ford succinctly captures my feelings about this:

“This is not a world where you can simply express love for other people, where you can praise them. Perhaps it should be. But it’s not. I’ve found that people will fear your enthusiasm and warmth, and wait to hear the price. Which is fair. We’ve all been drawn into someone’s love only to find out that we couldn’t afford it. A little distance buys everyone time.”

With every friendship, that little distance at the beginning—where you dance that dance of social graces—can be scary and awkward. It can leave you breathless and out of balance, until slowly you find a rhythm—which will only happen if both of you keep trying.

(As someone who in real life dances like a sack of potatoes, me using dancing as a metaphor for making friends may not be the best. But I like the idea anyway, so I’ll leave it and let my friends chuckle as they remember me dancing.)

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