The plans had been made weeks before. My friend and I were going to do something for New Year's Eve.
Initially it was to fly to Budapest and explore the candle-lit catacombs, but a cash-flow problem shelved that idea. Instead, we would travel closer to home or celebrate quietly in his front room.
Now there was a second factor. He had fallen in love. I spoke to him shortly before we were due to meet to see what he wanted me to bring. He gasped, "But I'm going out with my boyfriend!"
It was said so virulently, so violently, that I immediately backed away. I was shocked, but I was blaming myself. I should have seen this coming! Though, in my defense, the romance was only a few days old.
He softened, though there was still a note of censure, "I can't even remember saying I'd come out with you." My memory flashed through Hungarian brochures and the resigned sigh, as we realized we weren't going. "Are you sure we did?"
I'd already lost. The whole weight of societal expectation was against me. No-one was going to support my feelings of rejection. It was a mere friendship against the enormity of romantic love. I have been here a dozen times or more with various people over the years.
Starting a relationship seems to bestow a license for behavior that would be deemed unacceptable in any other context. All bets are off. Long-standing arrangements, such as meeting up on a certain night every week or holidaying together, should be cancelled until further notice. Close friends are suddenly only in your presence under duress. They are not with you in mind or spirit. Their conversation is totally encapsulated in their sweetheart. There is no room in this scenario to hear about your concerns, your day, your issues.
Friends are there beforehand; and they will be the ones expected to pick up the pieces, should the romance all go wrong. In the meantime, they have to accept that, through no choice of their own, their whole lives have to change. There is a gap, which was once filled by the individual now in love. The result is a kind of mourning, yet it is a grief with sharper edges than usual.
They have to survive it vilified or in silence. Their friend's world view is now so restricted to thoughts and cravings for their lover, that nothing else remains. Prior conversations are lost to the ether. Attempting to remind them of anything pre-partner will elicit accusations of lying, misunderstanding, misconstruing what was really meant. In a very real way, it's the desperate tunnel vision of an addict securing their next fix.
Yet, unlike those reaching for heroin, this behavior is aided and abetted by cultural consent. Other friends might sympathize, family members might make the appropriate noises of consolation, but no-one will openly condemn the person falling in love. It's too cute. It's the natural way of the world. Expressing feelings of rejection or loss will merely hallmark you out as a child who doesn't understand these things.
There's only one permissible route to take, when confronted by the petty cruelties of those in love. That is to back away as quickly and politely as possible, then wait it out. The chemicals swilling through their bodies cannot last more than a year, before it levels out into a more sustainable emotion. Then they will be able to see again. Then they will be able to include others into their lives.
I swallowed my pride with my friend on the 'phone. I think I muttered something noncommittal like, "Yeah, maybe I did get it wrong." Then extricated myself from the conversation as quickly as possible.
I called my sister-in-law and asked if I could tag along with her party instead. She was confused and asked what had happened to my previous plans. "Oh! He's got Falling-in-Love-itis." I didn't have to say a single word in explanation. She grasped the whole situation simply from that.
So did everyone else. I never mentioned it again, because I learned my lessons well on that one, when I was just a child. But my sister-in-law was amused by the name that I'd given to the syndrome and shared it with those at the party. The sympathy came in little looks, brief smiles, the occasional gesture and hug, as well as the free drinks with a wink.
As long as the sharp end of the cruelties can be suffered in silence, then true love can be allowed to run its course. This love being, of course, the willingness to step back, forgive and be there to provide the shoulder to cry on, should the romance fall apart.