Former Friends and Appreciating Art 

Former Friends and Appreciating Art 

Do you ever strongly associate a book or a film with a particular person? And then find that because you have negative associations with that person, you now have negative feelings about the book or film? 

For example, it took me years to get around to reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, because all I knew about it was that a former friend of mine had been reading it when I knew him, and so it was all tied up in my negative feelings about that person. When I eventually picked it up, I loved the book, and was frustrated that someone I hadn’t spoken to in ages had delayed me reading it. 

(I’m reasonably sure that the copy I now own is his. I bought it in a charity shop the same day I bought some books that I know for certain were his, because they were signed; the Gift Aid number was the same. So that’s… weird.) 

That was quite an indirect association though, and I’ve managed to largely disconnect them in my head. It’s harder when the person in question introduced me to the book, or was the reason I heard about it. Another former friend of mine (these are the only two friends I’ve lost so completely, in case you’re thinking I fall out with a lot of people) was the one to introduce me to the Skulduggery Pleasant series, and while I’ll be damned if I’m going to let her ruin it for me, it’s sometimes hard to stop associating it with her. 

I was reminded of this because this evening I finally watched Carol, which she also really liked. I knew if I watched it alone in my room I’d never stop connecting it with her, so I forced myself to go to a college LGBT+ film night, figuring it was my best chance to start associating the film with other people and with positive memories.

It sort of worked. I spent the time before and after the film knitting; I had a bunch of great conversations; the after-film chat somehow turned into an impromptu self defence class, and so on. Those are probably the things I’ll now connect to that film. 

But the whole way through I couldn’t help thinking about that former friend of mine who really liked it, because she was the reason I heard about the film and originally became interested in it. 

And I don’t know if that’s why I didn’t love it. Maybe I never would have done — while I found it engaging enough, the cinematography was actually a negative for me because I found it difficult to process on a sensory level, and often felt vaguely like I was dissociating because of the way different settings were layered. I also kept getting confused between the present and the flashbacks. I recognise the importance of the story and the fact that the book was groundbreaking for its time (one day I’ll get around to reading it), but I couldn’t fully enjoy the film. 

And like I said, maybe I never would have done. Or maybe my negative associations ruined it for me before I even started watching. 

It’s frustrating when this happens. I want to be able to enjoy art without a load of emotional baggage that has nothing to do with it infringing on my experience. I mean, we all have baggage; a book that touches on personal issues is obviously going to cause a different reaction in me than in someone who hasn’t got those issues. But I hate thinking a silly falling out can have an ongoing impact on my ability to enjoy things, months later. 

I recently went through and deleted a ton of Goodreads recommendations from one of these friends. I tried not to look at them before deleting them, because I didn’t want to know what books they thought I should read. Some of them did interest me, but I didn’t want to start associating them in my head with that person. I didn’t want to potentially influence my reading of them, so I did my best to forget which books they thought I’d enjoy, in order to be objective about it. 

There are still books I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read without associating with people, though. And without bringing along for the ride all the hurt they caused me. 

Then there are the books I’ve felt the need to reclaim: books I read before those people, that somehow ended up tangled up in those memories, and had to be extricated. That’s easier, because somewhere below the surface there’s the me that read it BTF: Before That Friendship. Like some of Maggie Stiefvater’s books. One of the turning points in one of the friendships mentioned above happened with Lament and Ballad on the floor between us; I’d called by their house to pick up the former and lend them the latter. But I loved those books before that person caused me pain, and I wasn’t going to let them take that from me. 

It’s weird how these things happen. There’s a line in one of the Inkheart books that says memories stick to books like flypaper, and I guess that’s true. They stick to films, too. Sometimes these are positive associations, but more often it’s the negative ones I remember. I don’t know whether I’ll ever not associate The Matrix or Batman Begins with one particular person, and thus whether I’ll ever be able to watch them again — not because my experience of either film was especially negative, but because that friendship turned toxic and has been over for four years. 

There are really only two people about whom I feel this way, but I’m sure if I dug deeper there’d be more. (I don’t want to dig deeper; I don’t want to ruin any more books for myself.) As time passes, it gets easier and easier to separate art from the people I associate it with. But it hasn’t become easy yet. I don’t know if it ever will. 

So I guess that’s my question for you: how long does it take for it to become easy again? How many years after you stop missing a person do you forget which books they loved? How long after you get over the pain they caused you is it possible to rewatch films you watched with them? 

Wow, this got… kind of depressing. Sorry. I guess I’m still kind of maudlin about the whole thing of losing friends, even if I haven’t spoken to one of the people I’m talking about since late 2013 and am generally much better off because of it. Sometimes these things just take a while to fade. 

Anyway. Tell me about the books you associate with former friends and current enemies and people you’ve lost. Tell me how you learned to separate them so you could enjoy them again. I’d really, really like to know. 

Because damn it, people don’t get to take good books with them when they leave. 

4 thoughts on “Former Friends and Appreciating Art 

  1. My experience has been, example, if a toxic friendship lasts five years, it takes me five years to rid myself of feelings connected to that friendship. I never forget the association of the particular person to the book or movie in question, but the negativity of the association turns into neutrality. Hope this helps.

    1. That’s interesting. The first friend I mentioned in this post, we were only really friends for two and a half years, and it’s been nearly four years since we stopped talking, but I think there was more going on there than just a toxic friendship, so maybe that’s why it’s taken longer. The other is harder to quantify, having been online and more nebulous in when it started and ended. But I’m glad to know these things do get more neutral eventually. I’ll keep waiting.

  2. I wish I knew the answer. I do know just enough to avoid trying to power through it and read it anyway. Just like when i eat something and it makes me sick and I can’t touch it again, I wait until I really feel free of that association. For one book in particular, it’s been years and years, and I think I finally might be ready to touch it… but I have to try first. It’s tough, but completely understandable. I do want to say though, like the commenter above, that eventually that negativity will go away, at least from my experience. Even most of my worst associations have lost their power. Just sometimes they take a little longer than others.

    1. Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s hard to strike a balance between “I need to form new associations with this thing and can’t do so unless I engage with it” and “if I force myself to engage with this despite negative associations I’ll never be able to enjoy it”.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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