Thursday, 23 August 2012

Friendship: Changeable, Reciprocal, Transactional? Debatable...

I’ve read a slew of articles over the past year or so, with women fessing up about how they’ve lost friendships because they started earning more money than their best mate or vice versa, or how they were ‘dumped’ by a friend, or they’ve done the dumping. Wikipedia defines Friendship as a ‘relationship between two people who hold mutual affection for each other’. It then goes on to say that the value of friendship is often the result of friends consistently demonstrating the following:

  • The tendency to desire what is best for the other
  • Sympathy and empathy
  • Honesty, even in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth
  • Mutual understanding and compassion; ability to go to each other for emotional support
  • Enjoyment of each other's company
  • Trust in one another
  • Positive reciprocity — equal give-and-take between the two parties
  • The ability to be oneself, express one's feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgement

Now, a brief look at the above makes me think that to do all of those things is a pretty tall order. How many times do we tell white lies to our friends? How often could we say that’s there is equal give and take? How many friends do we have who we know won’t judge us at all, and vice versa?

Our behaviour and our attitudes change as we do – for example – aren’t we more likely to judge a friend in a deteriorating relationship who has cheated on their partner, if we’ve been cheated on? How do a couple who are struggling to conceive deal with their friends getting pregnant – how overjoyed can they get, or pretend to get, when they so desperately want what their friends have? And similarly, how awkward do the couple who are pregnant feel around those friends – how does that impact on the friendships...Trust changes – if you tell a secret to a single friend, that’s different to telling a secret to an attached one – the latter inevitably means that 2 people know, not just your best bud. Which isn’t to say that the single friend might not at some point share your story. And positive reciprocity is a tough one – equal give and take – how does that work when one earns ten times what the other earns. It’s not all about money obviously – it’s about caring, time spent, thoughtfulness, showing up etc etc, but how do those friendships navigate socializing, birthdays and Christmas when the financial disparity is so great?

Friendships ebb and flow. It’s taken me a good few years to learn that. And we have friends for different reasons, for different occasions, for different periods of our lives. We have friends we call when we want them to agree, and friends we call who we know won’t agree, will tell us the harsh truth and challenge us like we need to be challenged. We all have mates who are always late, or always unreliable, or who always cancel, or who never pick up the phone and always wait for us to contact them. And we probably do all of those things ourselves with certain friends, even though we’d hate to admit it. Especially at the moment that someone’s done it to us.

I think as you get older, you learn to accept people the way they are – or you let them go. Because they’re unlikely to change, and the dynamics of the friendship are unlikely to change. Expecting the friend who always waits for you to organise everything to suddenly start planning evenings out, is like expecting the fuckbuddy to turn around and propose marriage. It’s rare that the nature of the friendship changes to that great an extent. Unless something dramatic happens in one or either life. And it’s especially rare that the dynamics within a group of friends changes, particularly those which are longstanding. Everyone has their place, their status within the group – so the one who got picked on at school, will remain the butt of jokes in adulthood, because those people need those relationships to stay as they are – they are part of what makes us who we are. Shatter those, and what becomes of us....?

The loss of friendship can be huge. Sometimes it’s mutual – a gradual growing apart, where both parties both think well of the other, check their Facebook page every once in a while and wish them Happy Birthday. If you bumped into them in the street, you’d probably go for a cuppa, catch up, and then not see them again for years. But some aren’t mutual – they can be messy, painful, awkward and more. I’ve let a few friendships go in my time – if someone has consistently behaved badly, or broken trust, then I’ve sadly found myself withdrawing. Often because initially it hurts, and after that, you just think that you don’t really want that person to be a part of your life anymore. But on the other side, I’ve lost a couple of friends and I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve probably said or done something I shouldn’t, or just generally been irritating or too outspoken, and that person has withdrawn. And as years go by, it feels like it’s far too late to ask why, to understand, to apologise. And pointless. Because they’ve made their decision, and there’s really very little you can do about it. Which is fine if you’re not really in touch anymore, less easy if they’re still in your social circle. But you get on with it - aware you’ve probably fucked up, or been misunderstood. Either way, it’s done. And there’s someone out there wondering the same about why you’re no longer close to them.

But I’m also a believer that as you get older and life changes you, that some of those friendships that have been lost, or aren’t as close, may yet evolve. And even when you think you don’t have enough time in the day, new people come into your life and become great friends – there’s always room for another.

Finally, what started me writing about Friendship today, was a Facebook rant from an acquaintance of mine, who updated his status saying that he had had it with Friends who were using him, who took freebies off him, that he was all out of money and freebies, so not to contact him unless they wanted to give him something back. He was clearly aggravated (and has since removed the post), but it sort of amused me. Because there was this idea that friendship is transactional. Less about give and take, and more about ‘I’ve given you x amount in the last year, so I’d like x amount back’. I also instinctively think that what often annoys us about people is stuff that we maybe recognise in ourselves a bit..... But it’s funny, because the idea that Friendship is ever truly even is just bonkers. The best you can do is nurture the friendships that you want to keep, because they do take work. And accept that it’s never going to be truly reciprocal, but it should all even out in the wash. And if it doesn’t, it’s your choice to keep that person in your life and accept them as they are.

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