“A friend is someone who helps you move.
A good friend is someone who helps you move a body.
A best friend brings their own shovel.”
-Unknown Author (but wow, internet, a lot of people have used it for a long time)
Choked up, chest constricted like the onset of a heart attack, my eyes popped open. I rolled onto my side, cuddled the warmth of my sleeping husband, and reviewed the nightmare, breathing deeply.
It isn’t a good way to wake up. Terrified by self-loathing and an avalanche of depression.
Sobbing didn’t happen. After all, the situation in the dream was not real, so the heavy emotions threatening to bury me alive popped like a soap bubble. But a slimy residue of them tainted my Saturday, so full of promise.
The nightmare was about a friend being inconsiderate and horrible to me. I’ve not spoken to them in a year. When I woke up, my instinct was to call them, and every mutual friend we share, and scream, “I am done with you!”
I didn’t do that. However, the panicked reaction had me pondering for several hours on the nature of friendship.
Going from life as a boundary-less person, to one who sets and keeps boundaries with intention, is the issue I have to work out for this lifetime. I’m all too ready to help, to support, and to prove that I am “the friend I never had” or perhaps just always wanted. An idealized friend from up on a pedestal. An incarnation of Philotes herself. Unachievable.
“I hate myself for loving you,”
A week later in the LAX airport, two hours to go until my international flight, my phone rings. “Bon Voyage!” comes across the cell line. I am touched that the caller knew the date of my departure. Recalled how difficult I find it to travel, and called to check in. Thoughtful. Kind. Proof that binds: My friend loves me and actively wishes me well.
No I don’t want to go on pretending, no
Because it feels like I’m talking to
I’m talking to Charlie Brown’s parents
-Charlie Brown’s Parents by Dishwalla
In Vienna, I’m sitting across the table from a friend I’ve known for almost 30 years. Far longer than I’ve known my husband. He has brought us to the Cafe Imperial, to experience the top-of-the-line traditional meals of Vienna: The Wiener Schnitzel all other Wiener Schnitzels aspire to be: light, crisp, fresh, and flavorful. We shared an order of the Emperor’s favorite dish too (he didn’t say which Emperor, but I bet his name was Franz). Tafelspitz, with traditional side dishes. All delicious.
This friend has invited us to his home, to be at leisure with his family, to talk for hours he could otherwise be spending profitably at work, on his yard, or doing a dozen other things. He makes time for my husband and me, and I feel that gift as a part of the deep friendship of many years that lies between us.
Every friendship is as different as the person you are in relationship with. As different as the person you were 30 years ago (or a week ago) when you met someone, you first bonded.
Whatever that first bond is, attraction, mentorship, music in a hot tub, that friendship will not last in a static form. Our lives wouldn’t be much fun if we froze our bodies in stasis. Relationships are change, just as living, growing, learning is change. Time changes everything, and I measure my life on the yardstick of my relationships:
How long have I known I am your friend?
When was it clear you became my friend?
When did I realize you were not my friend?
I found out about a surprise birthday party that I was excluded from. Friends-of-friends confirmed that no, I wasn’t forgotten. I was excluded. Purposefully not invited. That’s a thing that happens after 4th grade?
So what do you do when your friends-of-friends behave like they are ten-year-olds? All you can do is laugh. Laugh at the nature of humans who are insecure, and pretend it doesn’t hurt. Naw, I don’t need to pretend it doesn’t hurt: it HURTS! Every time a friendship goes wrong, ends badly, drifts away meaninglessly…it hurts.
I find the drifting away, refusing to engage, or worse: pretending nothing is different, to be most painful. That process reveals something about the person. About a lack of caring. Missing consideration bone spur generally found appended to the left side of the ribcage. Or perhaps an abusive streak, closely akin to gaslighting, “Why, whatever do you mean? Everything is fine.”
So I vague booked a little FB post that I will re-post here, with some clarification, just in case anyone reading this realizes in the midst of comprehending it, that you’re really done with my whiny, over-sensitive, demanding friendship:
I have a new “break-up” system. If you are now, or have been, In Real Life, a friend of mine at any time, you can text me, email, or message the phrase “So Long and Thanks For All The Fish.”
I will know that our relationship is over, I will honor your wish to never be contacted again, to treat you like an interesting person I’ve only just met if I encounter you out in The World, and I will harbor no ill will as you escape my sphere of influence.
It must be this phrase, so that I can laugh before, during, or after my ugly cry. You will know I’m feeling like someone in a world that’s lost it’s dolphins. But not forever. I’ll get over however I failed you.
But you have to *tell me.* A story with no ending is the epitome of cruel and unusual punishment. Just, I dunno. Leave me a fishbowl or something.
A truth for many of the people I call friends: Sometimes, I am so devoted to being a friend to you, that I can’t tell if you are my friend or not.
I have to write out my feelings for you, about you, your behaviors, my reactions…I have to turn us into characters in my life story to sort out possible motivations. When years go by, and the relationship gets complicated, expect me to change, and even to love you differently. To need to change our friendship.
You’re probably doing the same, and I’m not noticing…I’m too busy trying so diligently to be my own ideal of the very best friend I can be.
It is a failing, and I own up to it.