06 March 2011

The Law of Friendship

(Ed: Rant alert! Rant alert!)

I've been thinking about friendship a lot lately. Friends come and go in your life. In my experience, as you get older you have less friends - but they are closer friendships. When you are at school, growing up, you are surrounded with people you call 'friends'. But when you leave school, it's only the true friendships that survive that - the people that are still around when that same thing that throws you together is gone. I've found that it happens with jobs too - you have these 'friends' that you lunch with and email jokes to. But when you change jobs, how many of them do you stay in contact with? I admit, I tried to stay in contact with my ex-colleagues when I changed jobs more than four years ago. But my contact with them got less and less... Until now, when it is nonexistent. I regret this - they are great people. But by the same token, it takes two.

So, that got me thinking: when is a friendship not a friendship? Sometimes it's not just a 'drifting apart' thing. Sometimes there is conflict. I had a big emotional argument with a friend of mine back in 1999-2000. I can hardly remember what it was about now... But I remember we tried to patch it over - meet up with a party. When I arrived, I learnt she had left before I had arrived, even though she knew what time I was coming. Friendship death. There was a mourning period - and you start looking at the loss... and it was then that I realised I had finally seen the light; I was a better friend, and had been following in her shadow for so long.

I am not being egotistical here - it's just the truth. I was a better friend. If there was a contract that was entered into at the start of the friendship, she broke the terms by taking too much and not giving; the careful balance of friendship was destroyed. If only there were friendship lawyers...

It was many years later that I lost another 'friend' from more than just the drift from friend to acquaintance. This was an online friend. To me, friendship is friendship, whether you have met face-to-face or not. The friendship was balanced... Then things started to not add up. Lies?, I wondered. So, I started digging, googling, talking to others, asking her questions... She figured out something was up - I *knew*. It turned out this friend I had supported wasn't even the person I thought she was: she never lived in the place she said she lived, she was years younger than she had said, and she *never* had twins. I had no idea who this person really was - and she avoided me, then announced she was 'too much of a drama queen to be my friend'. That's one way to say it... In the end, I mourned. I was again hurt for being a sucker - but, it was her loss.

It is maybe fitting then, that the next causality of my friendship was a friend of hers. Another online friend. Another than broke the 'friendship contract'. No terrible lies this time, just white lies - but I *knew* they were white lies, and that still feels like a slap in the face. No, this 'friend' had their own issues, ones I tried to make allowances for - but, there is a point when even those don't fly. Because friendship is a balance, a seamless effort, a give-and-take flow... It all leads up to *caring* for someone - for their feelings, situation, opinion etc. You are in this relationship because you *want* to be friends. You *trust* them.

How do you know when someone doesn't CARE for you anymore? How do you know when they don't actually VALUE your friendship, or you are a human being? This is how I knew - what my 'friendship lawyer' would use as evidence in the hope that I should be given compensation (ha!) - First, they screwed up. Hey, we all screw up. Friends forgive. So, I gave my forgiveness, and they gave their word that things would change; that they would make an effort to make it up to me. They didn't. Not once. I sat, and waited, and watched. Nothing. Until I couldn't stand it anymore, so in my anger (because by this stage my hurt had bloomed into rage) I demanded to know what was happening with this friendship. Did they want to be my friend?? I got the same reply - apologies and promises... But, oh yes, they wanted my friendship... Trust had been broken and there was no effort to even try to build this back up. How can you be someone's friend if you don't trust them? (Answer: you can't).

How many false promises would it take for you to snap? To realise they don't care for you? They don't value you? Would it take two, three, four? How about then hearing excuses about not being online - but knowing that they were. How about then seeing them being friends to others - but not you. How about, against your better judgement, helping them make up with another mutual friend - but NOT YOU?

Would you snap then? Would you sue them in 'friendship court' for breach of contract??

I did. I snapped. Well, I said the oh-so-painful line: you are not my friend. For me it all added up - each time hurt more, made me madder. But the final snapping point was when they were MIA for a terrible week in my life - when every single one of my friends spoke to me at least once- online and real life friends. But not them. Not even to say 'hello' - because if they had, they could've then stepped in as a friend. Instead I watched and waited, their absence more telling than anything else - because it was only an absence towards me (they were there, just not for me, see). It hurts, doesn't it? It's more than being left-out. This isn't being picked last for a sports team. This is just needing your friends, because you have always been there for them...

Now I mourn I third time - made more painful by the fact that they really don't care. The loss of me isn't felt by them. Do you know how I know this? Because they said nothing - other than admitting to being a 'jackass'. No, there are waaaaay better words for what they are. It actually meant nothing to them that I am now officially gone as a friend. They didn't even NOTICE when I left - I had to tell them. Again, I *know* I am a better friend, and it's their loss once more. But when someone makes you feel like nothing, it makes you do THIS - write a huge ramble on what friendship is, so as to try and understand why... There are many whys - for all I know they are pleased to be free of me (no less hurtful to my heart). I guess a better question for me at this point is: HOW?- How can a person treat another 'friend' with so much... fucking indifference? It was a relationship between two people... It was never about me just giving and giving... But that's what happened.

I am no angel. I have been at fault. In all three cases there are things I could've done differently. I have learnt lessons now. And maybe it means I will give my friendship out more carefully - friendship pre-nup anyone?!

I don't want to lose any more friends. I feel I am at a place now where I have awesome friends - I value and care for them so very much. Do we need to take out 'friendship insurance' in the event it all turns to rancid custard?? I don't know what the answer is really, which is another reason I am writing this - in a hope that suddenly I'll be enlightened. Where's the light??

In these three unlucky cases something blinded me - Were they ever really my friends?? I know the first loss was - and that was hardest. It turns out I never really knew the second, so it was the lies and my gullibility that hurt me. And the third... that's still too raw. But I do feel lighter at having said what I wanted to them, even if no false promises were offered this time - even if they didn't say this time: no, wait, I will try harder, I'll be a good friend. Did they give up on me long before I gave up on them? And if that's the case, what was it that made me an undesirable friend?

Friendship is: trust, honestly, loyalty, unconditional acceptance, caring (and possibly even love), compromise, commonality (in something if not in many things - even when opposites attract there is at least one thing that brings you together), comfortable with each other, concerned with the happiness of each other, RESPECT, requires some effort and understanding, support... The list goes on. And just reading these words, when they start to go, it's when you know something is wrong with the friendship.

Trying to define it doesn't do actual friendship justice!

Friendship law is unwritten. There are no hard and fast rules. No contract, or lawyers. The reward for friendship is friendship itself. Unfortunately, the loss of a friend often punishes both sides, no matter who the fuckwit was.