In my posts, I occasionally mention my lack of friends . . . and friends usually understand I’m not disavowing our relationship. I say it partly in jest and partly because voicing or exploring closeness to others is uncomfortable, much like receiving praise is uncomfortable, or being thanked is uncomfortable.
So, yes; I have friends. Some would say I have many friends, both in the virtual reality of the Internet and in the real world. Not, you know, 10,000 friends like movie stars have, but actual friends I interact with.
Before I continue, these are B&W versions of the Badlands photos from my previous post. I think they amazing. Some, in my estimation, surpass their color version when it comes to the impact they offer. But, that’s just me.
By the way, you can click on the photos to see a larger version or go to THIS SmugMug gallery to see the full versions.
Where was I? Oh, yes . . . many friends.
Understand, when I speak of friends, I don’t mean Facebook friends — although some of my friends are actual Facebook friends — or Twitter followers — ditto.
Wikipedia defines Friendship as a “relationship of mutual affection.” I’ve never thought of friendship using that specific and broad term. For me, friendship meant a relationship of trust, of caring, of being concerned for the wellbeing of the person. It meant having their back, it meant honesty, it meant loyalty, it meant being willing to make sacrifices for their benefit.
Really, it’s always been more of a general feeling than a well thought-out set of values, but the term “affection” — as uncomfortable as it is to express — does fit the general definition.
Wikipedia goes on to say “. . . although there are many forms of friendship, some of which may vary from place to place, certain characteristics are present in many types of bond. Such characteristics include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, mutual understanding, and compassion, enjoyment of each other’s company, trust, and the ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend.”
Ah . . . that does more closely express my understanding of friendship. Especially one word in there . . . altruism.
I could never be a friend to anyone — nor accept someone’s friendship — if one or both of us based said friendship on potential gain, present or future.
As I mentioned when speaking about “making friends” in the literary or publishing field, that would never work for me. In fact, friendship hinders forming business relationships. The sequence would have to be business first . . . from which friendship might blossom. Hence why I say I’ll probably never get published; the world works (mostly) completely the opposite (hint: in most things in life, it matters who you know).
“. . . forms of friendship . . . “
The Wiki article covers a wide range of friendships, including cultural differences encountered in other countries. Friendship has been studied a lot . . . and yet, it has no formula that I know of.
I often know right away if I’m likely to be friends with someone I meet. I even know when I would like to be friends with someone but it will not happen because they are not likely to see me as a friend. What I don’t know, and have no way of knowing, is how deep a friendship might eventually go. Some fizzle out or stagnate. Others, go deeper than I imagined.
That also holds true for online friendships. Although, online friendships are often more tenuous than real life friendships. For one, you are not seeing the whole person. You are seeing a projection, a persona, that may or may not accurately represent the person behind it.
That said, online friendships can be and are as satisfying and durable as in-person friendships. Occasionally, more so as they are not subject to some of the pitfalls of in-person interactions.
Overall, I still think online friendships are more fragile because, at the first sign of trouble, it’s easy to shut the person from one’s life . I know because I’ve done it. In my defense, I’ve also done it in real life (usually, for what I consider sufficient reasons).
It wasn’t always like that. I used to twist myself into pretzels to keep friendships . . . only it wasn’t really about maintaining a friendship. It was about civility, avoiding confrontations, taking the easier road . . . it was the belief that I should respect others regardless of what they did or say.
Some say true friends will not judge you . . . perhaps it’s why I sometimes say I have no friends; I judge. And, increasingly, I am a harsh judge.
Perhaps it’s also because I’m less flexible in my old age and “pretzel” is no longer a shape I can twist into.
I’ve previously mentioned I’m fairly easy to friend. I open up to nearly everyone and my approach to people begins with not assuming a limit to the potential depth of a future relationship; everyone gets the same chance. Of course, as we exchange ideas, as we learn about each other, limits start to creep in.
In the US, religion is often the first big obstacle on the road to friendship. I can’t say I have many religious friends. I am friendly with some religious people. I respect them, even, but there are limits to our interactions; we have boundaries. Boundaries that if crossed, will quickly end said friendship. Literally.
It hurts when it happens, but when it comes to religion, it often seems inevitable. These days, those friendships seldom get off the ground. Mention god, the bastard kid, or the holy smoke, and I’m likely to pull back. I’ll be civil but I’ll minimize interactions with religious folks and hope they don’t say anything that will provoke a response.
Another thing about friends . . . invariably, when I have moved away from an area, I’ve lost contact with friends. A few times it’s been me, but the majority of the time it was because, in the span of no more than a year, e-mails start to go unanswered and the effort to keep in touch is all one-sided.
That whole bit about absence? Yeah, bull droppings. And, that’s understandable. People grow and change, and if you are not there to see it, to share each other’s growth and change, pretty soon you are faced with someone you no longer know.
How, then, do Internet friendship last for multiple years? First of all, it’s a different animal, but it’s also about engagement. I have friends whose blogs I read and who read my blog. We have never met, but I feel we know enough about each other to qualify the relationship as “friendship”. Some, of course, more than others, usually predicated on mutual interests and willingness to put oneself out there.
Even then, some drift away over the course of a few years. I have a few people I follow who have not had new posts on their blog for a long time. I have no idea what happened to them. I enjoyed the interactions we had, but the level and type of friendship we had were contained in that one arena and it did not spill any further.
I’m fine with that. Apparently, so are they.
Even when people I considered friends are no longer an active part of my life, they still matter. I still care if they are well and would still hurt if anything bad happens to them.
There is one kind of friend I’m pretty sure I don’t have outside of my marriage.
At least, I don’t think I do. That would be a friend that I would risk my life for or vice-versa. Soldiers in battles have those kinds of friends. You sometimes see that kind of friendship in action during natural disasters.
There are people who will risk their lives for total strangers. I’ll be hard-nosed and assume they did not think they were risking their lives. Besides, I’m talking more along the lines of diving on a live grenade or taking a bullet for the other.
Now, this might — and sometimes does — happen as a reflex action even with strangers, but that’s different from someone consciously making the decision to put one’s life on the line for another.
People get stabbed or shot all the time because they intervene in fights, for instance, and it not even to protect a friend.
But, say a friend asks me to grab my knife because they’re going to confront someone and they need me to jump into the fray if it comes to drawing blood . . . well, that friend will be offered a cup of coffee and a malasada, but I’m not going to back them up in a knife fight.
. . . maybe if I had a gun . . .
Seriously, some people have difficulty talking about this because it involves putting limits on friendships.
As long as they are not tested, one can imagine friendships as limitless. In other words, until tested, every friendship is the best kind of friendship ever. People say “I’ll do anything for my friend”, but few expect that statement to undergo a stress test.
I think that is why friendships can and often do fall apart so quickly. People did not realistically assess the level and type of friendships they had and consequently are surprised to find out it’s not the “I’ll-help-you-bury-the-body” friendship. Heck, sometimes it’s not even the “do-you-have-a-pen-I-can-borrow” friendship.
That surprise can quickly turn into a feeling of betrayal, especially if you considered your friend as someone you would gladly lend your pen to.
I’ll ratchet up my cynicism and say it’s usually the person asking for the favor who, when denied, will say “but I would totally be there for you!” Of course, they are not being asked, so it’s easy for them to say it. Did I say cynic? I meant “realist.”
Another type of friend I don’t have is the kind I would spill my guts to. The kind of person one could confide in and seek counsel from. Mind you, I think I have been that kind of friend to others. Because I have been that kind of friend, I mostly avoid forming those kinds of friendships with anyone.
Those friendships are difficult. Emotionally difficult. You end up absorbing some of the other person’s pain, despair, or whatnot. Some call it empathy, but it’s more than that. Knowing about a problem or a conflict a friend is facing makes it your problem and conflict. Not full bore, but you end up carrying some of the burden . . . even if you don’t want to.
In part, I find it difficult because, in my own life, I’m a problem-solver. My first reaction when I face a problem is to try and solve it, even if it involves difficult choices and actions. But, other people are not me. I’ve had to learn that the hard way; what works for me does not — for a variety of reasons — work for others. Consequently, those kinds of friendship are all burdens without resolution in sight. Very difficult.
So, where am I with all this? Well, to recap, please know that I have friends. I don’t have friends that will take a bullet for me, but that’s OK; I won’t take a bullet for them, either. I also don’t have friends I confide in, let them in on my internal struggles, insecurities, fears . . . you know, if I had any of those things.
I have many people I consider friends by virtue of them being fun to chat with and sharing a few things with.
I have met people I’ve befriended and still consider friends even though we’ve separated by large distances. Some of my friends I’ve never met and will likely never meet. They are friends nonetheless.
To my friends: when you read me saying I have no friends, do not be offended. Those statements are geared toward new people who might consider befriending me; it’s a way to dissuade them from the notion.
Not that it always works, but it does seem to have kept some people at bay . . . people I have no intention of ever considering as friends.
No, I don’t know who they are. All I know is that they are not my friends.
If this has been confusing, difficult, or otherwise unpleasant, welcome to the burden of friendship.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.
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