10 February

When Friendship Fails. The Sting Of Authenticity, The Drama Of Men

by Jon Katz
When Friendship Fails

A few months ago, I wrote that a man who was once a very close friend of mine, a mentor, guide and inspiration, had been singled out by the me.too movement sweeping the country.

He was one of the most moral, ethical and responsible journalists I had known, and I modeled myself after him in many ways.

Journalism always had a moral purpose for me, it was never about the left or the right, and my friend – we spent so many good and long hours talking to one another – encouraged and  uplifted me.

He has admitted to sexually harassing several young women who applied to him for work, or who did work with him. He touched them inappropriately, frightened them, stuck his tongue in their mouths, grossly abused his authority. We haven’t been in touch for some years, we did talk to each other from time to time. It always felt good and nourishing and ennobling.

I have been struggling all this time to figure out how to talk to him, to support him without enabling or endorsing him.

I would never walk away from a true friend, or so I thought. I have, somewhat to my shame, walked away from him

I know enough about men to believe women when they talk about suffering harassment and abuse.

And my friend never denied what he had done, he acknowledged that the women who spoke up about him  were telling the truth, he apologized to them and to his colleagues and  resigned and vanished into the ether. No one had heard from him or talked to him, including me.

I do know he lost everything he had worked so hard for his whole life, his wife, his family, his work, his future, even his home. He doubts he will ever get a job again. Every friend he had has abandoned him, none of his former colleagues have attempted to contact him, no college would speak with him.

I know this because I finally got focused and called him up. We talked for a good long time and I asked him if he wished to speak about what has happened to him. He did speak of it, but the truth is, he said, he doesn’t really know how he could have sacrificed everything he loved in the world in order to abuse and mistreat those women.

He doesn’t know, he can’t say, he has no excuse to make or explanation to offer. He will, he said, spent the rest of his life trying to understand why he destroyed his life doing things he knew then and knows now were wrong.

I can’t say it wasn’t good talking with him, or that it was. It was sad and painful. It brought me down.

I also know we will almost certainly never speak to one another again. The person I know, the friendship we had, no longer seems to be there, is either no longer relevant, or has failed in some profound  way.

For me, authenticity comes when I can see and accept and acknowledge the worst parts of myself. In our world, there are always long lines of people waiting to tell us what we are doing, saying and thinking that is wrong. It is how we judge ourselves that matters.

I just can’t fathom what happened to my friend, how I person I was so close to and  knew to be so moral and grounded was neither. I am no waif, I know good people can do bad things, but I still can’t get a grip on it and perhaps never will. I can’t help thinking if the friendship was real, he would have come to me for help, or I would have known he was in such trouble, or at the very least comforted him in some personal way when his life fell apart.

I mean, what is a friendship worth it if is marked by so many failures?

I am still getting to know me, still getting to like me. I have said this before, but I have pretty much given up on the idea of friendship, at least  with men. I had no friends when I was very young, I have since avoided friendship and given up or lost on the friendships I have formed as an adult. I don’t know why, I’m sure it’s a black hole in me, my  therapists  have never put a finger on it, except to wonder if I just wasn’t comfortable with intimacy, a common enough symptom for people with my history.

Maria has surely broken through the moat, but I think it’s still there, at this point in my life, this need for some distance.  I’m learning to accept myself.

What I feel in this case is a profound failure of friendship, the kind of failure that persuades me to back off on the idea of friendship, to look elsewhere in my life for what I need. I know I tend to make people uncomfortable, and why do that? The truth is, I am happy with life, and busy and fulfilled, and friendship may just not be something I need.

I admit that I am still somewhat haunted by another failure of friendship, the suicide of my friend Paul, who sat with me in this farmhouse talking for hours just a short time before he went out into the night and hung himself on a giant pine tree.

I waited, as did everyone else, for a note, and have never received one. Either he loved me too much to talk to me, or he didn’t love me enough to talk to me.

But i can’t quite imagine a more spectacular failure of friendship than that. Every one say it had nothing to do with me, and that’s fair enough, but am I really so blind as to have missed any signal or sign?

I will never know.

I think I have learned that men are broken in many ways that neither they nor the culture around them every reall acknowledge. The industrial revolution cut them off from their families,  and made them slaves. The women’s revolution has called them out for their eternal sings and crimes. The hoary old ideas of power and dominance are being rejected all over the world.

They seem to be destroying the planet, and one another in the endless was, genocides, persecutions, greed, power trips and ignorance that now literally threatens the earth.

I don’t mean to seem gloomy, I have, in fact, never been happier. And I do have some very good friends, a couple of men and some remarkable women.

But I think it’s time to let the old idea of friendship go, perhaps I will find another way to do the same thing. This way doesn’t seem to work for me


  1. Relationships can be complicated, and few things are worse than discovering that someone you cared for has a size you never knew about at all. I’m sorry this happened to you, and hope that you do find another way to be friends. I still believe friendships are important, although perhaps not in the way we hope.

  2. The thing about your friend that lost everything: Perhaps you should tell him that once you lost everything too for a different reason and you rose from the ashes and recreated yourself. He can too.

    What he did was wrong but Surely he doesn’t have to wring every drop of joy from his life to make amends. Even God doesn’t ask that.

    1. Good message, but I think he has to figure out how to save himself, I have no real advice to give him, I’m not a therapist. If he wants to reclaim his life, he can, he has the tools.

  3. I think often about how hard it is to have real, deep, sustaining friendships between men. As you say, we are often broken in different ways. I am glad you have a few, and I am more glad that you still leave yourself open to them. Powerful writing, and timely.

  4. Don’t believe people who say they “don’t know why” they did certain things or behaved in certain ways. Anyone with an ounce of self-reflection knows why they do things. They just don’t want to tell you.

    1. I have no idea what people know or don’t know about themselves. I’m not a psychiatrist. And it’s not really my business.

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