Yes, this post will contain a hefty helping of my ruminations on friendship. But as is usual with me, it will not merely deliver a paean of praises to how wonderful friendship is (even though it can be, and often is). Instead, I will look at this most important force in our lives from all angles, discussing it as the 3-dimensional social phenomenon that it tends to be. As opposed, of course, to the usual saccharine sermons given to it on TV shows and books geared towards children (for whom our culture feels the need to simplistically dumb down whatever info we allow them access to, but that’s a subject for another post).
It’s quite clear that different people make friendships to different degrees than others over the course of their lives, and view them through a variety of personal interpretive lenses. Some people have naturally charismatic and colorful personalities, and these individuals tend to attract large numbers of people with friendly intentions and admirable feelings towards them. Others have colorful personalities of a different sort, and tend to be much more of an acquired taste than the previous category; they will tend to attract the ire or ridicule of large numbers of people–who tend to feed off of each others’ peer-and-culturally-influenced attitudes towards the individual category in question–but also a small number of people who are drawn to them with friendly feelings of kindred spirit and shared experience. Some people harbor a fairly large number of people they consider “true” friends and hang out in big groups on a regular basis, enjoying the company of many whom they get along with. Others keep their close friendships very modest in number, as they may be of a personality type that doesn’t do well with crowds of people, particularly those whom they do not know well and whose reactions to their type of eccentric personality may be unpredictable, at best. Different life experiences and the number of successes and disappointments any given individual may have in this area will obviously affect the number of people they are willing to trust, and how long it takes to earn their trust.
One’s individual level of social skills and natural talent at charming or getting on people’s good side plays a large role in this too, though not everyone who has these skills have good intentions, and not everyone who lacks them have no positive qualities, of course.
Also, let’s face it, with the sometimes shallow and sordid values our culture promotes, social popularity often has a lot to do with how many people will go out of their way to form friendships with you and to get on your good side. This popularity sometimes only exists because of a person’s individual degree of wealth, social standing, athletic ability, physical attractiveness, physical prowess at dispensing retribution, or often a combination thereof–or influenced in the opposite fashion by the lack of any or all of these things.
Of course, genuine friendship must be built on real respect, not fear or simple gratitude. Any seemingly good feelings or bonds built on the latter two things tend to result in “friends” who are largely opportunists, sycophants, and lackeys, and they may secretly harbor great feelings of jealousy, resentment, rivalry, and even hatred towards you. If this is the case, a person whose circle of friends is largely or mostly built on social popularity for the above reasons (i.e., relating to fear or being “bought”) can seriously backfire on them if that person should ever suffer even a temporary loss of their great advantages (this is why having people fear you without also respecting you is not a good idea, contrary to the legendary mob ideology). Such individuals may even be secretly and subtly working behind your back to oust you from your advantaged position, or at least hurt you in various ways for entirely vindictive reasons, in the manner that Iago dished out to Othello while pretending to be a very close friend who was looking out for his best interests (as a good example of the timelessness of the themes tackled by Shakespeare in his awesome tragedies, make a point to rent or watch the 2001 film O starring Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett to see the powerful themes of Othello played out in a contemporary college setting).
A major point about friendship to observe is that our close friends, like our family and significant others, are not only a frequent source of good times and joyous moments, but also of painful disagreements and personality clashes. Like romantic relationships where one person has a level of love that the other does not share, it’s possible for a similar dynamic to be at work in close platonic friendships. Simply put, one person may have a degree of respect for their friend which the latter does not share in equal magnitude with the former. Just as lovers may grow apart in time, so do some friendships, and when one is content with the drift and the other is not, it can lead to some heartbreak and hurt feelings, including feelings of betrayal.
This should not be seen as surprising, nor in any way an attempt to disparage friendship any more than I would attempt to dismiss the power and importance of the bonds naturally formed between family members, or romantic bonds. Plain and simply, those who are close to us not only tend to bring us the best moments of our lives, but also some of the worst. Strangers rarely bring such highs and lows to us, because they obviously do not spend enough time around us to effect us too dramatically for either good or ill (yes, there are exceptions, of course, but I’m talking about the rule here).
It’s always difficult to deal with when a friendship we value so strongly, possibly over a long period of time, begins to unravel. I’ve certainly experienced long-time friendships where I considered the friend in question to be akin to a surrogate sibling, and I continue to have such friendships today. As such, I know how hard on the heart and soul it can be when such a long-term close friend gradually changes in a way that you don’t–though not necessarily “growing” in the sense of changing for the better–where they slowly but surely evolve (or arguably, devolve) into a different type of person who is not as fond of your various quirks and idiosyncrasies that they once may have found endearing in the past, or not as tolerant of such aspects of yours that they may have usually tolerated much more easily back during the “good old days.” They may change in such a way where they, unlike you, dispense with various principles and ideologies of life that you both once held dear together, thus severing a large part of the bond that you two (or more of you) once shared, and even brought you together in the first place. As time passes, you may find them exponentially diminishing in the number of times they seek your company per month; or your shoulder when they need to lean on someone; or their willingness to take the time to call you on your phone as opposed to just communicating via text messages on your cell or Facebook, with a similar dissolution of the frequency of your online convos on whatever chat program of choice you both prefer. (or preferred) You may suddenly begin noticing less replies by them to the various comments you leave on the wall of your Facebook page (“Damn, it’s not like him to avoid replying to one of my posts concerning my cat’s problem with hair balls, or my kid’s habit of emptying all my bottles of wine on the floor”); less comments left to your blog posts (“Shit, she always used to have a reaction when I mentioned our old Gone With the Wind marathons!”); and less interaction with you on whatever online massive-multi-player-role-playing games (or whatever they call them this year) you may have once enjoyed a regular routine of making the simulated lives of orcs miserable together (“I dunno, knight_in_hot_pink_armour, I haven’t seen him join us on 1 of our raides on the orc nurseries in about 4 months now, itz not likke him, I think maybee his knew gf has him wippped or somethin…”).
As time presses on, your protestations of concern may be dismissed with typical, “I don’t have as much time as I used to since […]” retorts, which you know are largely, if not entirely, bogus since you are well aware that if someone truly wants to do something, they often (if not usually) make the time to do it. You know you are being demoted on that person’s priority list, a place you may have once held an important spot on, and this can be quite painful to deal with if the growing apart is mostly or entirely one-sided.
This is just one of the aspects of life we need to develop the strength to deal with and, if need be, move on from when it happens, sort of like death, illness, and debt (for the likely foreseeable future regarding the latter, that is). It’s not something that should be seen as “good” just because it’s natural (*flips the bird to the Luddites*) or built into the system, but it is something that is nevertheless part of the truth of our existence (as Captain Jean-Luc Picard but it regarding death in Star Trek: Generations). As such, we need to accept that it does happen, and if it does, we need to accept it, pick up the pieces, and move forward with our lives, as we do with every disappointment or loss we may experience. Life never ceases to move forward or lose its meaning or purpose, and we must always be willing to get back up and move in accordance with it no matter how many times we get knocked down–or at least shoved off-balance.
I have certainly had my share of long-time friendships that I hold very fond memories of, where I attempted to keep the friendship going indefinitely, or re-establish it in later years, but the other person lost interest and felt the need to move on after awhile, or not re-establish anything resembling what we once had. This wasn’t always due to a disagreement or falling out, but sometimes just due to the fact that they evidently came to view our friendship as an aspect of their past that they eventually came to outgrow, no matter how fondly they may remember it, just like they may outgrow a certain hair style or childhood hobby. The dreams you may have mutually shared in childhood of a “friendship for life” sort of deal may possibly have went the way of various other dreams you once held most strongly (e.g., becoming crime-fighters together, traveling to the Orient and exploring its ancient mysteries side-by-side, teaming up and beating down that bully that always bothered the two of you in fourth grade, etc.). What can you do in such a case? Nothing, save for moving on yourself and respecting the decision of the other person to do so, even if you don’t like it (and you have every reason not to).
This is no different than what amounts to your only option if a significant other eventually or suddenly falls out of love with you and similarly chooses to move on. It may possibly be the ending of a certain chapter of your life, but it’s never going to be the end of the world for you, because we all know that a new beginning inevitably comes with every type of ending (I always liked that expression, because cliche’ or not, it really does hold true).
Sometimes, in a worst case scenario–which I also speak from unfortunate experience on–a friend you may have held in high esteem for a fairly long period suddenly turns on you (whether justified or not), and suddenly displays an attitude towards you that is far removed from the one they put on during the heyday of the friendship, when it was strong. This could be something you saw brewing over time and thought you could handle and mitigate its progression the platonic version of TLC (no, I don’t mean The Learning Channel, people!), but ultimately failed to stop from coming to a proverbial head; or, it may be something that happens rather suddenly, and really takes you by surprise.
This next bit of advice may sound odd and counter-productive, but I can assure you it isn’t: Every once in a while, it can actually be useful, if not ever really desirable, to have a friend get angry at you, especially if they have imbibed some spirits beforehand and thus had their inhibitions crippled. Why? Because you would be surprised but also drearily enlightened to hear what your friend may continue to hold against you–including from incidents that you thought you two had moved past and considered “water under the bridge” many years past–or things about you that they may greatly dislike or disagree with you about, but held back from letting you know until they got very angry and/or inebriated. Such an instance, however unpleasant and disheartening, can show you where you actually stand with them, and what resentments may be festering beneath the surface waiting for the “right” opportunity to boil and burst from their metaphorical mantle like a volcanic eruption when you least expect it–or when you least need it to happen.
I believe that many of us harbor secret or semi-secret fears that the foundation we hold even with people we think are close friends may not be as strong as we like to comfort ourselves by thinking, due to this or that incident several years ago, etc. The truth is, we are all human and will thus make mistakes and display quirks that even our closest friends are not going to like, and some of these mistakes will be big ones. This is why the ability to forgive and the willingness to apologize if warranted are essential ingredients to the longevity of a friendship, along with its chances of standing the test of time.
Some friendships, sadly, can mirror certain negative romantic or familial relationships and grow to be abusive in nature, where one person comes to view themselves as the “alpha” of the friendship and seeks a dominant relationship with their platonic chum (think of Moe Howard of the Three Stooges and his relationship with Larry and Curly–or Shemp or Joe, depending on the era of the film shorts you are watching–to get a good if somewhat extreme idea of this; or the likes of Ollie Hardy, Ralph Kramden, the onscreen Bud Abbott, and Fred Flintstone, and the nature of their relationships to their respective BFFs, Stan Laurel; Ed Norton; the onscreen Lou Costello; and Barney Rubble ).
Some of these relationships get so discordant that eventually, even if grudgingly and sadly, you (or your friend, if you were the “alpha”) have no choice but to cut your losses and move on. Sometimes forgiveness and second chances are given, and you find that the person either didn’t learn their lesson, or their personality and your personality appear to be naturally such that the same phenomenon tended to gradually occur all over, thus necessitating another, perhaps final, parting.
Some negative but close friendships can and do result if two (or more) people who formed a close and even seemingly symbiotic emotional bond eventually develop a competitive rivalry for one reason or another–either temporarily or permanently–that escalates to the point where it cannot be a “friendly” type of rivalry, and mutual respect and trust is eventually severed as a result. This may or may not lead to second chances in time, largely depending on whether or not either of the two genuinely learned their lesson from the experience, or whether or not the circumstances that resulted in the competitive rivalry are no longer a factor. The willingness to forgive is an important element of both character and compassion, I believe, but as the saying goes, sometimes what occurred can be forgiven but not forgotten, and things may not necessarily be the same again if the forgiveness leads to a reconciliation.
Regrettably, some friendships can take on a mutual type of co-dependency that is often to the detriment of both (or more) participants, just as certain familial and romantic relationships can, and often for similar reasons. This, of course, depends on the personality types of the people involved, the way the friendship begins or develops over the long haul, or the reasons that the bond in question was formed on both ends in the first place.
And of course, we have that final category that may be termed “questionable,” “mutable,” or “opportunistic” ‘friends,’ the type who feign friendship for various reasons, and may even be fun to hang out with and do things like watch films of mutual interest with (e.g., the typical guy porn marathon gatherings, so men can “prove” or confirm each others’ machismo and heterosexual credentials to each other, even though I hardly think porn serves well as group entertainment in the same sense that Marvel’s The Avengers or The Amazing Spider–Manwould for a gathering of comic book fans, but I digress…). These types of individuals view you more as “useful” than they do as a joy to be around, and some may simply consider you a last resort to hang with occasionally if more desirable or preferred company is not available.
Some of the individuals making up the previous category may be better defined as acquaintances rather than friends, which are basically low-tier associates who “hang” with you simply because they work with you, or are a friend of a friend, or attend classes or a Topps club with you–or a local Klan gathering, yanno what I mean–and may like your company in small to moderate doses, but do not form such a bond with you that they have any great desire to lend their shoulder to you or hang with you on a regular basis outside of the place or the company of the other person where or with whom they share this association with you.
These people may also form some fond memories with you, especially if they have endearing qualities that make a sometimes tedious experience more tolerable or fun, and for that reason it can be good to have a supply of them in your life. However, they are not the same type of people you develop a mutual feeling of going through thick and thin with out of complete choice, even if you become very used to them and feel a notable sense of loss if you or they leave the place or distance yourself from the person whom you share a mutual association with. If you will permit a rather technically crude analogy, these people are more comparable to a landline bonded to a certain place, as opposed to a cell phone, which is bonded to a specific person. Okay, not the best analogy one could think of, but I think you get the gist, so shut up, okay? 😉
So, to sum another of my long-winded ranty diatribes up, friendships can be a major mixed bag in life, even though very worth pursuing and maintaining in the scheme of things. The friendship needs of everyone are different, of course, but I think most–if not all–people have an emotional need for the self-validation that comes with receiving the respect of others (regardless of number) who become a part of our lives because they want to be, not because genetics or other circumstances have dictated that they have to be. Different people may need a different number of friends, or different degrees of closeness amongst these peer crowds, to achieve this emotional requirement, but it appears to be an all but universal requirement amongst the human species. We are major social animals, even if our degree and level of individual sociability varies. Everyone from the most decent person you could ever meet, to the typical self-serving jerk, needs real friends, and this is why for good or ill, they have such potency and purpose in our lives.