Into the Snakepit of Friendship

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About a month ago a well-written US-based blog I follow going by the name of YEAH, ANOTHER BLOGGER published an uplifting ode to the joys of friendship (HERE)  It was a refreshing and affirming celebration of how friends enrich our lives while doubling our joys and halving our sorrows.

Such unabated cheerfulness was simply too much for me. With ice running through my veins in quick time I proceeded to pour acid-scented cold water over the whole notion by posting this comment on the site –

This friendship-themed post comes with a lot of good vibes Neil.

Unfortunately, along with some of your other readers like Alyson, Mahvish, Paddy and Les my experience of friendships has been more mixed. To this extent I’ve come to somewhat reluctantly believe over the years in two adages –

(1) Friends come and go but enemies last a lifetime and
(2) Keep a watch on your enemies but keep a closer eye on your friends.

Despite the slightly mafia-sounding ring to these old sayings, there’s no disguising a cynical (or is it just born-of-experience adult realism?) viewpoint at the heart of both. To be brutally honest, without even really trying, a great many adults I come into contact with begin to grate on the nerves after anything more than a short time in their company. Sad but true (for me)

And of the others, if a person who I’m compatible with on a friendship level isn’t prepared to put in at least something approaching a similar amount of effort to keep that friendship going, then whamo, unfortunately up in smoke goes another glorious ‘what might have been’.

I’ve heard that in order to thrive the one ingredient all friendships need is FORCED REGULAR CONTACT. Like back in Primary school! Remember those days? Back then friendships for all of us were based on innocent choices centred on the laws of personality attraction. These days work and family occupy the bulk of my time which is not to say I’m not on the lookout for personality types who I think could become friends.

Sorry for what probably comes across as an anti-friendship tone in this comment Neil but I just wanted to put across the idea that, at least in my experience, despite the best of intentions friendships and the desire for friendship don’t always go according to plan. Which is certainly no great truth bomb on originality count I think it’s safe to say.

And just when I was starting to feel guilty that maybe I’d popped the feel-good party balloons that up to that moment seemed fairly inflated, came this comment on the same site from a person named Pazlo  –

I’m tempted to quote Mark Twain and say “The more I know of people, the more I like dogs.”
However, you have painted a lovely picture of brotherly love from the city famous for such.

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See, I’m one of those people who believes the word ‘friend’ is often mistakenly used by people who are simply referring to someone they’re on friendly terms with. And there’s a big difference, as we all know, between the two. With possible misunderstanding hanging thick in the air like negatively charged particles before a rainstorm, what else was there to do but haul out the analytical blowtorch and see if I could make any sense of it all.

Let’s start with exhibit A below – The Friendship Schematic

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Tier 1 Friends – Those who feel somewhat like brother’s and sisters. This is hallowed territory indeed.

Tier 2 Friends – You might be invited to their wedding, but you certainly won’t be delivering any Best Man or Best Woman speeches.

Tier 3 Not Really Friends – Your relationship tends to exist mostly as part of a bigger group or through the occasional Facebook like.

Tier 4 Acquaintances – When you hear that something bad happens to one of these people, you pretend to be sad but you don’t actually care.

Tier 5 Strangers – We get to ‘meet’ about 80 000 people in our lifetime (that’s everyone from the teenager who served you a flat white in the coffee shop this morning to the uncle you only ever saw a few times back in your childhood) and the overwhelming majority of those will remain as barely one step up from complete strangers to us.

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Before leaving this topic, I’d like to aim the cross-hairs at a couple of very recognisable friendship types –

 THE NON-QUESTION ASKING FRIEND

You can be having a bad day. You can be having a good day. You may be having marriage problems. You may have just loaded a bloody body into the boot for all they care. None of it matters because  none of it will be discussed by the non-question asking friend who never, ever asks you anything about your life. This friend can be explained in one of three ways:

1) They are extremely self-absorbed and only want to talk about themselves.

2) They avoid getting close to people and don’t want to talk in-depth about either you or themselves or anything personal, just third-party topics.

3) They think YOU’RE incurably self-absorbed and know if they ask you about your life you’ll talk their ear off about it.

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THE LOPSIDED FRIENDSHIP

Whether we like to admit it or not there’s a power-balance at play in all friendships.

Friendships can be lopsided in a variety of ways. Someone can want to spend more time with a friend or vice-versa. One member can consistently do 90% of the listening and only 10% of the talking.

A near 50/50 friendship is ideal, but anything out to 65/35 is fine and can often be attributed to two different styles of personality. It’s when the number gap gets even wider that something less healthy is going on—something that doesn’t reflect very well on either party.

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THE FRENEMY

Infamous by name, white-anting by nature. The frenemy is a person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry. They are common in workplaces the world over. The frenemy can’t disguise their pleasure when things don’t pan out for us.

The word itself has appeared in print as early as 1953 in an article titled “Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies?” by the American gossip columnist Walter Winchel  in the Nevada State Journal. 

The trick to dealing with a frenemy is getting them as low down your friendship mountain – at least Tier 3 but more ideally Tier 4 or 5) – as is humanly possible.

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THE HISTORICAL FRIEND

A Historical Friend is someone you became friends with in the first place because you met when you were little and stayed friends through the years, even though you’re a very weird match. A true Historical Friend is someone you absolutely would not be friends with if you met them today.

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THE FRIEND IN THE GROUP YOU CAN’T BE ALONE WITH UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES 

In many groups of friends, there’s one pair of individuals who can’t ever be alone together.  It’s not that they dislike each other—they might get along great—it’s just that they have no individual friendship with each other whatsoever. Awkward? Yeah, awkward.

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There’s no denying life is a far richer experience in the company of good friends. It’s just that, like anything, friends exist on a continuum, meaning that there’s a range. There can also be a dark underbelly and I’m just sorry I had to be the one to raise it.

Then again what would you expect from a person who used to loath with a passion the television series FRIENDS (1994 -2004) and would rather have root canal surgery than have to endure the indignity of watching a single episode in its entirety based around the romantic and career lives of a collection of twenty and thirty somethings?

Sitting through the antics of an ensemble cast of perfectly groomed and overprivileged, what used to go by the name of ‘yuppies’ back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, just was not on my wavelength either back then or now.

On the other hand …hitching my viewing wagon to following the ups and downs of working class married life centred around the odd-couple union of an overweight courier driver and his underpaid, feisty Manhatten secretary wife who both live in a small apartment with the wife’s hilariously volatile widowed father (who always manages to get in the way) was much, much more my thing. More my type of virtual ‘friends’.

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Ps. I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that in a lot of ways its easier to like a person from a distance than it is up close and warts and all via a lot of daily/weekly contact. This is the theme explored in Australian author Lisa Ireland’s (Check her website HERE)  novel THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP released last year.

Libby and Kit have been best friends since Primary school. They’ve maintained their friendship over many decades via emails, phonecalls and an annual face to face catchup. So when Libby announces she is moving to Kit‘s city of Melbourne, the two besties are initially overjoyed. But both are about to discover the person they thought they’d known and stayed in contact with all these years has changed  in ways not revealed by their polite emails and up-beat phone chit chats.

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16 thoughts on “Into the Snakepit of Friendship

  1. I wish I had more time to write my own essay in response Glen. You have raised some great conversation pieces for later, for sure!
    In the interests of brevity and the need to be doing so many other things I’ll make this point.
    Being in a church community over many years gives me opportunities to observe human dynamics in a manner that might be different from just going to work or school and making friends there. Church communities can give one exposure to many one would not normally associate with, creating dynamics that are quite fascinating for me as an observer, as well as a participant.
    Having said this, over many years I’ve learned to be really cautious of the person who is too quick to offer glowing compliments.
    I’ll never forget having a couple over for a meal who we had recently met. I still remember to this day how the guy made to comment of words to the effect “nothing like getting together with good friends”.
    Immediately my spider sense was piqued. It didn’t throw me immediately into “on guard” stance, and I recalled how I wanted to maintain a benefit-of-the-doubt stance with them, but sure enough his “way too soon to take seriously” comment was proven to be accurate. They did not prove to be good company long term, sadly.
    I also remember another guy from my single days many years ago, who once referred to me as one of his best friends way too soon to be taken seriously, but I was naive back then. We did get on extremely well and he was incredibly smooth. I look back now and realise he was way too smooth and flattering.
    He ended up in share accommodation with me and some other friends, and sadly we eventually had to throw him out as we learned the hard way he was a sociopath.
    Paradoxically, I was the one who tried hardest to work with him to give him a chance to get his act together, but an email I got from him some 10 years after identified me as the cause of all his problems, and the only reason why he was thrown out by all the 5 guys in the very large house we all shared.
    I could go on, but am pressed to get on with other things.
    Awesome topic Glen!
    P.S. The above comments should not mean I’m suspicious of all compliments. We all need encouragement from our friends, and friends are sometimes the only source of encouragement we have in tough seasons of life. It begs me to define what a sound compliment is, and my best guess I hope without digging a hole for myself is that it just has to be authentic. Authentic no doubt will mean different things to different people, but that is all part of the joy of human dynamics. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not really in the business of deliberately confusing people ‘Anonymous’ so perhaps if you gave us all a clue to your identity I might be a little less confused myself.
      Who exactly is the masked stranger going by the name ‘Anonymous’ and what makes you so confused?
      I’d even settle for a cryptic clue as to your ‘true identity’ Anon.
      Then again… I do love a good mystery as much as the next person.
      If it turns out you’re the son of the son of the son of Zorro then I really do have my swords crossed don’t I!
      ?????

      Liked by 1 person

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