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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Friendship Experiment

It has almost been a week since I saw Therapist. I feel some days, that I'm being consumed with working on assignments and I have no life. Then I realize that the things consuming me are my assurance that I'll have a life--a good one--and it's all worth it.

With few exceptions, the anxiety I've felt in my relationships with others has eased. It feels nice to be around people, online or in person, and I no longer feel any fear lurking beneath the surface. My touch aversion has reverted to "normal", which means I still am selective about the people I touch, but there's no problem with those I care about and trust.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are a couple of friendships I had felt were close and good that are fading. Therapist told me that's a normal thing--for one person in a relationship to feel closer than the other person feels. He said it feels funny to me because for the first time, I'm the one who wishes the closeness to continue, instead of the other way around. I've always maintained that I would never ask anything from people I love that they would not freely give, but I've never had to test that before--I've never really wanted anything from anyone, so it was easy to say. It is not easy now.

One year ago I had this conversation with Tolkien Boy:
me: I'm trying to figure it all out. Not the perfect friend part, just the friend thing, in general.
Tolkien Boy: Well, I've had Melyngoch as a friend for four years now. And we're just as close as we ever were. And that's pretty marvelous, isn't it? For me, the key has been getting into a place where I can be myself. Perhaps you've found your place now? Or one of your places?
me: Every time I think I'm getting close, I realize I don't have any idea what I'm doing. You and Melyngoch are veteren friends.
Tolkien Boy: Well, no one knows what they're doing. We're all just trying.
me: Yes, but trying for different things.
Tolkien Boy: And there are still times when we have to say to each other, "Don't go?" Or we fight. Or wonder if it doesn't make us more tired to be friends than not.
me: It does seem to me that it is more work than it's worth. There's a lot of safety in being an interested observer. However, it makes me happy that you have her--that she has you, and that friendship has lasted a long time (in Samantha years).
Tolkien Boy: Well, she's maddening, but loveable. What is it about friendships you don't understand?
me: Well, I suppose the longest lasting friendships I've had are the ones where we only have limited contact. I call once or twice a year. We exchange Christmas cards. Occasionally we visit. But I'm told that's not really a relationship. So I'm trying to understand why a friendship with close contact is better.
Tolkien Boy: For one thing, it's a lot more dangerous, and therefore more self-affirming.
me: I have rules about this. My therapist suggested it was time to rethink these rules. He said that back in August. In a few weeks, I'll hit the six-month mark in my thinking.
Tolkien Boy: What are your rules?
me: Well, they mostly apply to things I'm allowed to do or feel. For instance, I'm not allowed to take offense at anything. This is not a Christlike attitude (as in not being easily offended), but simply keeps me from having to accept hurt or defensiveness. I'm not allowed to feel those things in a friendship--it complicates things. I'm not allowed to share things that I don't like about myself. Or things that upset me.
Tolkien Boy: Very much so. It creates an unequal relationship.
me: In our interactions, I must always be fine. I'm allowed to say "no" if I feel the friend is asking me to get too close. My life is very busy--friendship must not interfere with that. That's enough.
Tolkien Boy: You have more.
me: Many.
Tolkien Boy: It does seem like those are good rules to rethink.
me: And what is the value in that?
Tolkien Boy: It will help you not be alone. And it will help you see that not everyone exists to hurt you or betray you. And it will let you relax.

I have to say, after trying out the friendship thing, I disagree wholeheartedly with Tolkien Boy. There are times when I feel more lonely than ever, when I feel people pulling away from me, when I long to be with them but know they would have a much nicer day if they didn't feel an obligation to answer my hellos. I'm understanding that not everyone wishes to hurt or betray me, but the reason that is so is because I really don't figure that prominently in their lives. It takes effort to go out of one's way to hurt another. As for relaxing--well, obviously that applies only to people less messed up than I am. However, I find myself disagreeing not only with Tolkien Boy, but with many people lately, or perhaps just being disagreeable, in general.

me: Honestly, I've tried to do things differently--and there are definite ups to that--but I also find myself more stressed in an area that used to cause me none.
Tolkien Boy: Are you thinking of quitting?
me: I can't tell you that. Mostly because I'm still in the analytical stage--not the conclusion stage. But because I consider you a friend--a very good friend, I have a feeling you'll start making my plans for me--helping me quit.
Tolkien Boy: I would advise against quitting. But what do I know?
me: Given your four years' experience--I would say, you know so much more than I. Which is why I'm talking to you about this.
Tolkien Boy: You need to talk to someone else than me. I am happy to talk to you, but I don't know anything about friendships.
me: Well, you should know by now, that I never research in one spot. I value your opinion, but I'm incapable of accepting only one source of information. You're one of many.
Tolkien Boy: Good. You have to remember that for this weekend, at least, I'm a failure as a human being.
me: You're welcome to consider yourself in that light. I never will.
Tolkien Boy: I know. Which demonstrates, first and foremost, what a wonderful friend you are.
me: The problem has never been in my ability to see value in others, nor in my capacity to love them. It comes in accepting those things in return--especially when I don't believe it's possible--and when I wait daily to be left alone. Anyway, that's not really the point. I suppose I'm trying to determine the value of what I've learned through the close friendships I've formed. It's a character flaw.
Tolkien Boy: It doesn't seem like a character flaw.
me: Darrin says it is. He says that real people don't take a "time-out" to decide if it's worth it to be a friend. He tells me that sometimes you just expect everything to work, talk about the things that don't, and love each other through good times and bad. He has friends.
Tolkien Boy: Well, I do think you'd be helped by letting go and letting God, as they say. If you look for a reason a friendship won't work, you'll find one.
me: Good point.

It's interesting to me that now, when I wish friendships to continue, there are some which seem to bring more unhappiness than joy. Not because my love for that person has decreased, but because I understand their need to leave--I truly understand. I lived that way for most of my life. I hear it when we chat--it's not fun anymore, it's become a chore. I hear it when I call--tolerance in the voice, but not enjoyment or love. And suddenly I realize why I've avoided close friendships for so long. This is the part I cringe from, and it's directed at me.

me: Okay, thank you for talking about this with me.
Tolkien Boy: You're welcome. You sound kind of...formal.
me: Sorry--in my research mode.
Tolkien Boy: It's okay. I don't mind being a subject. As long as it isn't all the time.
me: Oh. I didn't think about that. You were more a source of information than a subject.
Tolkien Boy: Oh, awesome.
me: Honestly, just for your information, this is how I work. I'm doing things I've never really done before--I have to understand what I'm doing, how it might affect me, what I can gain or lose. I think everyone does it to a certain extent, but they go about it differently.
Tolkien Boy: I'm not offended. I'm happy to be here.
me: Thank you for telling me about you and Melyngoch. I hope you and she are always friends.
Tolkien Boy: I think we will be.

I realized, when I read this again, that I was envious for the first time. Someday I would like someone feel that way about me--that we will always be friends--not because neither one of us knows how to end what we've started, regardless of the jaded quality of our relationship, but because each time we're together, we fit, we have joy, and we make each other laugh.

I'm thinking of making this my final post about friendship. I've researched it thoroughly. I've tried to incorporate it in my life. I've experienced successes and failures. But, as usual, I don't know what to do next.

1 comment:

  1. Heh. I do actually take time-outs for evaluations. (Although I don't advertise it, because if I did, well, I wouldn't be green.)

    What to do next? May I suggest you go American Idol on this? Relax. Love. Let yourself enjoy being loved.

    Friendship is such an interesting thing. The part I struggle with is I usually feel like I often want more out of a friendship than the other person does.