Dear Enemies?

Lately, I’ve been wondering what box I’ve been living in all these years. I mean, why did it take a lifetime for me to hear about the ‘dear enemy’ effect? Uhmm, for those of you who might be peeking out of a similar box, the ‘dear enemy’ effect is knowing the relative threat posed by your neighbours versus the greater threat often posed by strangers. I first read about it in a short essay on squirrel calls (don’t ask) and was intrigued by the concept.[i] Well, if I’m perfectly honest, what first attracted me to the article was the picture of a cute little squirrel at the top. It reminded me a dog I’d had as a kid.

Of course, nowadays glib cognoscenti also often refer to those in the category as frenemies, but I think that’s a little too contrived; I think we all recognize the category without naming it. Perhaps the world really is loaded with the enemies of my enemies, one of which therefore becomes my friend by default, although that one seems more of a marriage of convenience than abiding trust, or mutual respect.

But, the reason I am waffling about the subject is because I’m not aware of anybody I would class as an enemy. What is an enemy anyway? There may be people I dislike -although that usually changes when I get to know them; there may be those who have done something I consider unfair, or unkind to me, and yet even those issues I find resolvable if I’m able to discuss it with them; and of course there are those I’m told I should regard as my enemy because of something they’ve done to somebody else -and therefore indirectly, to me. Still, these are malleable categories, and I’ve found that over time, things change. The older I get, the less I feel I can fit people (or nations, for that matter) into rigid slots.

Take Lars and his friends, for example.

“I figured I could rely on him,” Lars said with a shrug and an impatient shake of his head.

Lars had been a good friend of mine a few years ago when we were both single, but he had gradually faded from my life when I became involved with a woman named Simone who I’d met at work. Not that Lars hadn’t also found a partner, but more that the one I’d found didn’t like him. Didn’t trust him, when she found out he was gay, as if even having him as a friend might make him a rival for my affections, or something.  And although Simone and I parted company soon after, Lars had already moved away and we lost touch with each other.

Then one day, a year or so later, he phoned and suggested we meet at the Starbucks we used to visit downtown. Except for looking a bit heavier and having much less hair to comb, I recognized him immediately: same table in the corner, same sausage-cheddar-and-egg bagel, same arrangement of napkins on the table (one under the bagel, one under the coffee cup, one on either side of them, and one on his lap); it was like old times.

Although he seemed quite excited to see me, I could tell he was troubled about something. He’d always been a person who liked to get right to the point, so shortly after we’d traded a few memories and I’d confessed I hadn’t been with Simone for months, he leaned forward across the table and sighed heavily -a classic Lars maneuver I’d forgotten.

“Yeah, there must be an epidemic, eh?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, and in a similarly classical response to ambiguity, I furrowed my brow.

“I mean I trusted him…”

“Who?” I said, and leaned forward as if he intended to divulge a terrible secret like in the old days.

“George -the guy who used to be my partner, remember?” Actually I’d forgotten. He used to call him his roommate in the those days, though. “Anyway, we broke up shortly after you started with Simone.”

“I’m sorry,” was all I could think of to say.

He shrugged as if it was all water under his bridge. “George was bi anyway, so I guess he was just tired of the flavours I offered….” He smiled and rolled his eyes as if he enjoyed his metaphor. “Anyway, that’s when he met Janine, I think.” He sighed loudly and had a bite of his bagel. “But,” he continued, “there were no hard feelings at the time, and we parted amicably, I thought.”

“You thought…?”

He nodded his head slowly. “Yah, we were friends as well as lovers and we had always trusted each other with our secrets.”

I smiled at that. Lars had always seemed to trust everybody.

“Everything was fine, you know, but after a few months of spending Friday and Saturday nights at home alone with the TV, I figured maybe it was time for a change anyway. Maybe everything had happened for a reason…”

Lars seemed suddenly uneasy at what he wanted to tell me, so I was silent and sipped my coffee to wait.

“Yah, I figured maybe George was on to something, you know. I mean I’m not at all bi, but the gay scene was getting a bit druggy for me, so I thought what the heck…”

I couldn’t help staring at him. “What the heck? You just suddenly decided to become bi…?” I shook my head in disbelief.

“Well, not become bi, just pretend a little so I’d have someone to talk to, eh?”

Quite frankly I didn’t know how to respond; Lars had been openly gay ever since I’d first met him. “So… I mean, how did that go, Lars?”

He smiled and then shrugged as if maybe he’d been comfortable with it. “Lois and I both seemed to get along well, and in fact, it turned out that she was a friend of George’s partner. Great, I figured maybe we could all get together at a restaurant, or something.”

Lars was amazing. He was obviously comfortable in both worlds; we’d always been respectful of each other’s choices, and in a burst of enthusiasm at meeting him again, I reminded him of that.

“It’s why I needed someone I trusted to talk to about it, G.” If anything, he leaned even further across the table. “I invited them all to dinner at that Italian restaurant on Commercial -remember the one we used to go to after hiking on the North Shore in the old days? No reservations needed, you just have to line up…”

I smiled at the memory. “And how did that work out?”

He sighed and shook his head. “Lois texted me a few days before we were to meet there, and said she didn’t want to go. George did the same. So I phoned Lois to see if maybe she was feeling unwell, or something, but she said she just thought our relationship was getting too serious and thought it would be better for both of us if she didn’t see me again. Then she hung up on me.

“So I phoned George to tell him Lois couldn’t make it and the line went silent. I knew he was still there because I could hear him breathing. ‘Janine told her,’ he finally said.”

Lars sat back in his chair shaking his head.

“Told her what, Lars…?”

“That I was gay.”

I was stunned that Lois had reacted that way. And I’m not really sure where to lay the blame in this case: George was Lars’ trusted friend, Janine had become George’s trusted friend, and Lois was Janine’s friend… So where is the weak link in the chain? Who was the dear enemy?

Was the whole adventure just an ethological aberration, or actually an ethnological one? Sometimes, I think there was a reason for staying in the same box I’d been living in for all those years…



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