Monday, November 12, 2012

"Common Sense, Dancing"

I recently read a (common sense) article by Marie Hartwell-Walker on PsychCentral, "The Care and Maintenance of Friendship."

But although it's common sense, as another old adage would have it, "common sense isn't so common."

It frustrates me sometimes, today, to watch how others conceive of friendship.  I'm lucky: most of my life has been marked by strong, good friendships.  Occasionally, I've been not-so-lucky, and my retrospective posts have talked (at length) about one set of such experiences in particular.

What was always most frustrating for me in those episodes was, the people involved clearly had a very different definition of "friendship," and it in no way involved adhering to any of the care and maintenance tips Hartwell-Walker describes.

These so-called friends were rude: in big ways and in small.

So-called friends always keep score.  They like to remind you of all of the "nice" things they have done for you, most of which involve absolutely no effort on their part, provide them with at least some form of tangible, substantial benefit, and generally aren't all that noteworthy, really.

If they even did them, in fact: so-called friends also like to take credit for other people's contributions, or simply fabricate "help" that you will subsequently rack your brains to remember receiving.

The things you do for them, however, are always taken for granted as run-of-the-mill expressions of the admiration they so richly deserve.

Sometimes, however, the signs are more subtle. (Usually, actually.)  In one case, the weekly, if not daily, phone calls just started dropping off.  At first, this isn't a problem: people are busy, I'm busy.  Life changes.  But then, you start to notice that, when you leave messages, your calls aren't returned.  When you write to say, "hello!", you get no response.  Ever.

Months just roll on by.

If you call and happen to catch them, they say, "I have someone here, but I'll call you back."  The someone (if there really is anyone there) is someone they see daily, and meanwhile they haven't seen or talked to you in months.  And they don't call you back, despite the fact that they repeatedly say they will.  

But when you write to say, "Is everything okay?  Are you angry?  I'd really hate to lose a good friend...", you receive protestations of deep and sincere friendship.  Or the person just ignores the first two questions altogether, talks about the equivalent of "the weather," and acts like there's no problem. 

But when you look them in the eye and talk to them, they read their responses to you off of a cloud or the ceiling, or it's inscribed on the ground at your feet.  Or, you suddenly realize that there is clearly an invisible teleprompter somewhere just to the right--or left--of your ear.

In short, eye contact is a thing of the past.

They're not your friends.  And something's up.

So, take it from me, when it comes to friendships, there are some bad hombres and phony feminas out there, big-time.

But that shouldn't sour your attitude toward friendship as a whole.  Because, in the long run, people like that are a flash in the pan.  They're out of your life more quickly than they came into it, and their influence never proves to be lasting or significant--with you or with anyone else, actually.

In cases like these, age makes a huge difference.  I remember that, in high school and college, the loss of a supposed "friendship" always seemed incredibly painful and incredibly dramatic and overwhelmingly meaningful.

But now, in my mid-forties, I can safely say that I've had friends that I've kept for decades.  These are people I'm in daily, weekly, monthly contact with, who have been in my life for decades.  In some cases they live in another state, in some cases, another country.  They're as different from each other as they are from me.

So when I face a situation that involves losing people who played a walk-on role in my life for, at most, a couple of years, well, it's not something that's going to leave any lasting scars.  And at the end of the day, I'm just grateful for the wisdom the experience provided me with.

And the humorous anecdotes, of course.  Because, as William James once wrote, "A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing."

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."