Surviving the Bermuda Zone

If I were to fire a gun in a busy street and kill someone today, I’d go to jail, even if it was an accident. We’re adults that way. We understand unintended consequences and collateral damage, and we own it with our big boy pants on. We face the music, even if we don’t always call the tune. But I’ll get back to unintended consequences in a moment. What I actually want to explore is this thing with friendships that’s so hard to define. I call it the Bermuda Zone. And it’s not a triangle, so put away your Google.

Flotsam and jetsam

The problem with friendships is that we drift into them almost accidentally. The borders around friendships are barely delineated. Where and when do they start? Where do you find them? How far do they stretch? They’re not like marriages, which begin with a clear proposal, a glitzy wedding, a stark contract … and end in either court or death, whichever comes first. Marriage is defined, whether comfortably or uncomfortably, and ruled by a set of negotiated terms and conditions. It’s finite.

Friendships? Not so much. Friendship rings are not for adults, they’re silly, and we don’t sign any papers when we bond in this way. Vague and nebulous, friendships are governed by unwritten contracts and unspoken rules, vulnerably adrift on the tides of social happenstance. We bob along with them like flotsam and jetsam, and not always by choice.

There may be horrific moments in our lives when we stand back and realise we’ve inadvertently drifted into sewerage along with those we have no business fraternising with. We feel trapped, dirty, and a little scared, looking for escape routes and excuses to get away. Friendships can get messy, too, just like divorce. But other times we cruise apart just as lazily as we’ve floated together, no harm done, no hard feelings, and such is life. If you’re like me, there are only very few occasions in life when you can look back on certain friendships and go, my God, we have weathered a few storms together, the two of us, now haven’t we? Those are the best.

It’s not a triangle

But here’s the deal. At some point or another, drifting along on our little life rafts across the social open ocean, we enter the Bermuda Zone. Nobody knows when or where that is, or even why we get there with some friendships and not with others. The lines of the Zone aren’t clearly mapped and that’s why it’s not strictly speaking a triangle. It’s a magical space; not ominous at all. It’s somewhere in the middle of everywhere and it feels a bit like the eye of a storm. The skies are suddenly clear, the water is weirdly calm, and there’s an easy feeling of lightness and air all around you. Some friends take years before they reach the Zone, and then they never leave; others enter almost directly after meeting; most never get there.

Some friends don’t even realise they’re in the Zone, or maybe they don’t care. For those happy souls, every bit of ocean is as good as any and long may they live in perpetual bliss. But for people more prone to neurotic self-analysis and reflection like me, there’s a simple test to plumb the depths and triangulate your position in a friendship. Ask yourself this: does it still feel like you need to protect yourself  and constantly watch what you say or do when you’re together? Or can you truly let your hair down, take all your clothes off without shame or fear for who you truly are, and bask in the beautiful sun together, no matter how ugly your flaws? Can you forget for a moment about the circling sharks and offer yourselves to the sky?

The gathering storm

If the answer is yes, congratulations! You’ve arrived. You’ve reached the Bermuda Zone and the weather is everything today. It’s a special, beautiful place and you’re terribly lucky to be there, so enjoy it. If not, don’t worry too much, you’ve probably still got a bit of drifting to do. Or maybe you’ll never get there and that’s also cool. But few things on this blue planet of ours come close to being as utterly mortifying as trusting invisible, uncharted borders and getting duped.

Suddenly you’re exposed to the elements.

Suddenly you’re alone on your rickety little raft, victim to an unforgiving sea, stark naked and icy cold. You’ve entered what you thought was a beautiful utopia, but you were wrong. While you were dozing off in the sun, forgetting yourself, you drifted away from the unwritten rules, from the invisible protection you thought you’d enjoyed. Either the dome of unspoken confidentiality disappeared as silently as it arose out of nothing. Or worse. It was never there to begin with.

And there you are. Out on a limb. And you can’t blame anybody but yourself, really. The Bermuda Zone did a dirty on you and there’s nowhere left to hide. It’s time to put on your big boy pants again, Sunshine. It’s time stare down the shit storm of unintended consequences now heading your way. And nobody cares that you’re sun stroked and a little crisp.

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