I've been doing a lot of thinking about friendship. Over a big mug of coffee and a slice of pie at Cafe Flore I've managed to put some of these thought from the past couple of weeks into words.
Some people have a lot of friends and others have no friends. I, like most of us, have quite a few. The experiences I've had, the places I've lived and the jobs I've held account for the broad spectrum of friends I have. In addition to quantity, you need to take quality into account. Most of us have a larger pool of acquaintances and a smaller group of close friends. Acquaintances typically are former school mates, old roommates, ex-coworkers or friends of those people. Once your life shifts away from the key factor that caused these people to be fast friends, they fade back to being someone you miss and call when you are back in town. This is just the way it is. I seem to have this uncanny knack for holding onto these friendships longer. Sure distance can cause some problems, but I always assume that if you manage to connect with someone and they connect with you, it’s worth the trouble to keep in touch. In some way I feel like I’ve started pack ratting friends. I just can’t let go.
As I write this I realize that the majority of my readers are the very friends I’m talking about. In fact the primary reason why I started keeping this journal. So if you’re wondering if this feels awkward to me, yes, it does. But I’m willing to deal with the discomfort if you will. Of course you are all keepers. If you stumbled across this journal and want to be a keeper too, drop me a note and say hi.
Most of the time I find my relationships with my friends keep me sane and balanced. When I need to feel connected you’re there. And when I need to be alone and hermit-like for a while, you don’t give me a hard time about it. Okay, sure it helps that I stop answering the phone and let your email sit idle in my inbox, but you don’t seem to pout for an excessively long time and that’s cool. But where was I?
Oh yeah, sane and balanced. Recently I’ve been going through a rough time with a friend. We haven’t been friends long, just over a year. Honestly if we hadn’t been in the same place at the same time, I might have gone through life never knowing her. She’s showed me different ways to look at things and she dragged me out when I was down to watch the sunset, to play in the ever frigid Pacific waves, accompanied to interesting movies and added more than she took from my life. Until recently. She suffers from an awful condition and is unaware of how sick she is. I’ve done what I can to be a good friend to her. Even though it involved doing what I could to get her back into the hospital when she thought she was just fine. I’ve reached a point, a boundary if you will, to our friendship that leaves me sad, angry, disappointed and confused.
It’s made me realize that there are boundaries everywhere. Most of us never test them or even acknowledge them. I suppose I naively have been operating under the impression that there aren’t any. I don’t imagine that my personal revelation will change anything in my other relationships. It’s like the way you don’t push the accuracy of your gas gauge after you’ve run out of gas for the first time. And don’t even think about your dad’s voice in your head telling you to never go below ¼ of a tank because of all the crap sitting on the bottom of the tank that’s waiting for the opportunity to seize up your engine.
I’m feeling badly because I’m pulling back from a friend in need. I can’t help her the way she needs, nor can I do or say anything that perpetuated the illusion she is living in. So the best I can do is abandon her and force her to deal with her problems now. She's looking to me to help her, yet didn't think it was important to tell me that she's been hospitalized at least 2-3 times for the same thing. I’m disappointed in the way she blames her condition on everyone else and doesn’t seem to take any responsibility for her actions. I realize that she’s in denial about the whole situation and has been since her recent decline. I am beginning to understand the subtext of her stories and can read between some of the lines. Some of the people she’s demonized are likely good people and her lack of friends are just bridges burned from earlier relapses. The quirkiness of the old friends she still has make a lot more sense in the current context. I suspect it will take time to get over my overwhelming feeling of betrayal. But this does help me be more distant and selectively supportive.
I realize that I am not her ‘crash and burn’ friend, as much as she might wish I am. It’s the hardest thing that I’ve had to deal with in a long while. I know it’s changing me and I’ve trying really hard to take advantage of the pocket of wisdom I seem to be sitting in and do the right thing. Which of course isn’t the easy thing, ever.
The best part is that even with all the drama, I’ve had the support of a few of you. You’ve shared your experiences with me and things you did to get through the ugliness of it all. You gave me your support and strength and let me purge and vent to my heart’s content. Thank you.
I’ve learned that friendship is not free. It does come with a cost. I’ve lost time, money, piece of mind and precious sleep. But to me it’s worth the price. For those of you less convinced of the power of friendship, you’ll be happy to know that you get what you give. Put in more of yourself and you’ll get back even more. Invest less and you’ll find that free time you’d been looking for to clean out the back closet and organize your socks.