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I have this sentence:

Rebecca lived in the building and was one of my wife's closest friends. One of mine too, I supposed.

With "I supposed", I'm trying to convey that if you had asked the narrator, at the time the story takes place, whether Rebecca was one of his closest friends, he would have said, "I suppose." But the way I've written it makes it sound as though this was something he was actively thinking about at the time the events of the narration takes place.

Is there a shorter way of conveying this "if you had asked me" idea without resorting to the awkward "I supposed"?

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    perhaps. (Or perhaps not.) – DPT Feb 17 '18 at 2:09
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It depends on the more subtle meaning you wish to convey.

The obvious solution would be to combine it into one sentence:

Rebecca lived in the same building as my wife and I, and was one our closest friends.

However, this makes Rebecca a "joint" friend of you and your wife together, not necessarily a friend of each of you, that each of you might engage with separately.

This is a problem with the English language; 'friend' is a vague word.

In most marriages (I am aware of) both men and women have close friends that are friendly with, but not close friends with, their spouse. A "close" friend is generally somebody with whom we have a mutual understanding of more extreme aspects of our emotions and personality; that has seen us in love, joy, grief or anger, dejected or hurt, frightened or worried about something (like the health of themselves or their own family members). A close friend is a kind of platonic partner on the journey of life, so you can each see these details in each other and still want to hang out with each other.

I should also note, that while developing that kind of closeness with a friend takes time, time and frequency alone do not make a close friend; it requires this more raw exposure. Just because Rebecca comes to all your parties and you leave for work at the same time every day, does not make her a close friend; any more than your mailman or coworkers are all your close friends.

Which brings us back to Rebecca. Say your wife leaves town for some reason, to help her sister deal with putting their senile father in a retirement home. You are alone for a week, staying behind for your job. If Rebecca is a close friend, and next door, she knows this. In the non-sexual friend sense, can you invite her to split a pizza at the joint you all usually frequent? Can you go to her apartment and watch a movie together? Can you ask her to some activity you both enjoy, a concert or bowling or darts in a pub, or cooking together?

Do you two have anything to talk about besides your wife?

If any of that sounds like a weird ask, to you or Rebecca, she is not really one of your closest friends, she is a friend of some distance. In which case, "One of mine too, I suppose" is an odd sentence, it sounds like a guess, and whether or not somebody is one of your closest friends should not be a guess.

But if she is, I'd suggest something more definitive:

Rebecca lived in the building and was one of my wife's closest friends. And one of my own.

(Yes, I know it is a fragment, intentionally to emphasize Rebecca is separately your wife's close friend, and your close friend independent of your relationship with your wife; i.e. if you got divorced or your wife died, you would still consider Rebecca one of your closest friends).

Clarity first, brevity second!

As written, these relationships may not be exactly what you intended. The idea of "if asked, I would say" implies you have more clarity to offer and did not. If you are going to write that in as an introduction to this greater clarity, get rid of it, and just provide the greater clarity without waiting to be asked.

A narrator might conceal some things for plot purposes or narrator-character-building, but if you aren't going to conceal it for even one sentence, just make it clear from the start, because a convoluted approach is just filler and confusing to unravel. You want your readers in suspense, perhaps not knowing what comes next, but not actually confused by what the text on the page is supposed to mean. In this case, about the personal relationship between you and Rebecca.

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  • The sentence is supposed to reinforce the idea that the narrator is emotionally inept and out of touch with himself, to the point of not even knowing what a close friend is, since he's never really had one. This might be clearer in the broader context of the story, but your answer has made me realize that this is yet another instance of my perennial mistake of trying to cram too subtle a point into too few words. – Tyler Feb 17 '18 at 19:48
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    Just for fun: Rebecca lived in the building and was one of wife's closest friends. I know this because I've heard my wife say it. I've never been clear on what makes a friend 'close.' At times, when I've been alone for some hours, I have considered asking my wife if she and I are close friends. I always chicken out. I suspect I already know the truth of that, and there is no point in making her lie to me. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Feb 17 '18 at 20:39
  • @Amadeus Love this! – GGx Feb 19 '18 at 18:14
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I'm getting the impression that if you were to ask the narrator now, they would say that Rebecca was not, and had never been, much of a friend. If that's correct, you could try something like :

"... and at the time I believed she was one of mine."

though "supposed" is more subtle - my suggestion is a more obvious flag to something you might have wanted to introduce more gradually. If so, you could avoid the idea of doubt at that point to make subsequent events more dramatic :

"Rebecca lived in the same building, and was one of our closest friends."

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With "I supposed", I'm trying to convey that if you had asked the narrator, at the time the story takes place, whether Rebecca was one of his closest friends, he would have said, "I suppose." But the way I've written it makes it sound as though this was something he was actively thinking about at the time the narration takes place.

I'm not sure I agree. The narrator is in the present, discussing events that took place in the past.

If the narrator said:

Rebecca lived in the building and was one of my wife's closest friends. One of mine too, I suppose.

That would be him actively thinking about it now, at the time the narration takes place.

But, the fact that you've used the past tense of the verb, shows the reader that you mean, the narrator supposed at the time that they were friends.

I like it as it is. It creates an element of intrigue. It makes me think that the narrator thought they were friends back then, but this very exciting narrative is about to explain what changed his mind.

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  • I'm an idiot, and I made a mistake in phrasing my question. What I meant was "at the time the events of the narration take place". But if you say you like it, that's a good sign. – Tyler Feb 17 '18 at 19:50
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    @Tyler in which case you may need to change the tense in my suggestion. The thing about 'I suppose' is, it feels natural to say it. Conversational. Having a conversational narrator can draw a reader in, make them feel like they're being confided in with your story. And it does have that element of suspense, if that's what you're aiming for. Just two little well-placed words to get a reader thinking. That's great. – GGx Feb 18 '18 at 7:21
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I know this isn't exactly answering the question, but that second sentence is already fairly short. I would actually write ``Thinking about it, she is one of my freind's as well."

Do know, however, that I tend to use more words than are absolutely necessary, preferring a more languid flow to my prose, than perhaps most. This is my personal, subjective opinion, and nothing more.

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