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Monday, July 30, 2012

"The difference between friendship and love is how much you can hurt each other." ~Ashleigh Brilliant

I have been blogging for years--and this post will be very long.

Anyone who has had the stamina to read the bulk of what I've written deserves an award of some sort--I have a feeling the award would be nothing highly sought and if tangible, no doubt it would be disposed of rather quickly or hidden shamefully in some tiny cranny found in the dark recess of a metropolitan sewage system. Regardless, the prize should be awarded because that kind of readership is remarkable. I have written innumerable posts on more than one blog nearly every day for several years.

I mention this because many of my posts have addressed the topic of human relationships and in the process, it has become very clear that I am not a proponent of friendship. I've stated my views more than once but for the sake of brevity, I will summarize my dislike of the concept:

I believe friendship is a sham relationship which lends credence to the idea that some relationships are disposable--and easily revived on a whim. It allows us to "get to know" people with the understanding that should life circumstances become too busy, the friend will be eliminated for simplicity's sake. Also, should another, more interesting person come along, the current friendship can be allowed to dissipate and disappear for the purpose of climbing a social ladder, or simply for better entertainment. Friends are allowed to be comforters, comrades, and confidantes until such time as one or the other of the previously stated situations arises, at which point they go their separate ways assured that this is acceptable social behavior. Should one of the friends feel hurt by the subsequent absence of their former friend, they're considered clingy, controlling, or a social embarrassment. Clearly they misunderstand the rules of friendship and don't play the game very well. They are to be avoided.

While my assessment of the friend relationship might seem cynical, it is, nonetheless, accurate. I do not buy into the maudlin acclamation that there are some people who can leave one's life for extended periods of time and when they return, the relationship remains intact--"it's as if no time has passed." That's untrue--because time has passed. Many important, poignant moments have taken place and that friend who just reentered the scene has missed them all. And so the two friends will have lunch, cram as much personal history as possible into ninety minutes, and then depart, satisfied that the friend relationship is once again thriving. They might telephone a few times over the next year until once again, decades of absence reign over the relationship.

And that is true friendship.

A couple of years ago I had this conversation with Therapist:

Therapist: It sounds to me like a control issue.
Sam: It's not.
Therapist: Well, here's how it looks to me: You find someone you care about deeply and you want to keep them.
Sam: Yes.
Therapist: That's kind of controlling. 
Sam: I'll have to take your word for it. I don't control them. 
Therapist: No, but you become very anxious because you want to. You're afraid of being vulnerable to them. You're certain they'll leave you at some point because that's what you believe friends do.
Sam: Maybe.
Therapist: And so you make believe that the relationships you have with very close friends are something more than friendship.
Sam: I make believe?
Therapist: I think so. If it's not friendship, what is it?
Sam: I don't know. Familial?
Therapist: Sam, you can't choose the people you want in your family.
Sam: Why?
Therapist: Because, first of all, those people have their own families. You're not a part of that unit, and they're not a part of your family unit.
Sam: Okay.
Therapist: So, if not familial, then what?
Sam: I don't know.
Therapist: You can't keep people, Sam. 
Sam: What if they want me to?
Therapist: As a general rule, people don't like being collected.
Sam: So you're telling me that I'm stuck with the family I have--such as it is. I need to make peace with people who rarely contact me, have no interest in my life, and want me around because someone may need to take care of our parents one day?
Therapist: Is that your judgment of how you fit in your family?
Sam: Yes.
Therapist: Well, it makes perfect sense that you would search outside that unit for people who can be a part of your life. Unfortunately, that's not how it works. 
Sam: I know.
Therapist: At some point it might be a good idea to accept that friendships are a vital and important part of life, that forming healthy ones can be rewarding and joyful, and that you've been blessed with some very special friends.
Sam: Who will leave me.
Therapist: At some point their presence in your life may become less frequent, yes.
Sam: Less frequent means they've left.
Therapist: Sam, it's not an all or nothing situation. If they're absent for awhile, they'll be back when they can accommodate social situations with you. You're not forgotten. I'm not sure it's possible to forget about you.
Sam: That's ridiculous. 
Therapist: Which part?
Sam: Anyone is forgettable.
Therapist: I would say that most people do not forget the ones with whom they've had deep, meaningful friendships.
Sam: That's not true. They get busy or bored or whatever, and they forget. They might remember later, but there were still moments when they forgot.
Therapist: That bothers you.
Sam: I think so. I think I would rather never know people than become so boring that they don't think about me anymore. 
Therapist: Why have you spent so much time in the past few years trying to develop healthy friendships?
Sam: I thought I could do it. I thought I could learn the rules, play the game, and let whatever happened, happen. I thought I'd figure it out. 
Therapist: And now?
Sam: I don't want to figure it out. I fell in love with people. I let them know who I really am. I shared some of my life with them. I allowed them to see parts of me that I've hidden for a very long time. I want them to stay. 
Therapist: Sam, a leave of absence doesn't mean they've gone forever.
Sam: I know. Don't you see? I know! My head gets all of this. It understands and it's completely willing to play the friendship game, regardless of what happens. But my heart isn't. It hates every part of this. It's not happy to fall in love with someone who probably doesn't love as deeply, who views me as disposable or convenient, or, worse, thinks I'm some amazing person to look up to--because I'm not, you know, and I've never pretended to be anything more than I am.
Therapist: What do you want, Sam?
Sam: I want them to be in my life forever.
Therapist: And you know they can't?
Sam: Yes.
Therapist: Someday, I believe you'll get to the point where you'll understand that absence does not constitute a lessening of love or affection. It simply means that someone's life became differently shaped and could no longer accommodate frequent contact with you. And you'll be patient, because that's sort of how you work, and you'll allow them to decide if frequency of contact will occur again. 
Sam: I do that now.
Therapist: Yes, but the difference is, when this happens it won't hurt so much.

I didn't record this conversation when it occurred because I was embarrassed by it. I didn't like the intimation that I was controlling, and I was keenly aware that I wanted more from people than they were willing to give. I was also rather proud of myself for being aware of those feelings but always being able to manage them. I was not prone to manipulation nor coercion in any of my relationships and those certainly had opportunity to present themselves. I have been guilty on occasion, however, of asking certain of my friends for reassurance that they would remain in my life. Someday I will ask their forgiveness. I'm not ready to do that yet.

The conversation is now appearing because I believe I'm at a point in my life where, while I don't understand how people bond and let go on a regular basis, I do accept it. I don't know that I will ever practice the custom as it commonly occurs, and probably I will always try to "collect" the people I love and I'll want them to stay in my life and I might even feel (if they do stay) that they are my family; but I will never verbalize those things, nor will I impose my desires upon them. Regardless of whatever emotional deficits with which I may struggle, I am deeply cognizant of the need to maintain healthy boundaries and balance in any relationship and I wish for those I love to feel safe in relationships with me.

And so today I will begin to have friends. I will embrace the term and use it. I will not be offended nor feel slighted when someone I love refers to me as "friend." One of those loved ones has told me on more than one occasion that I am one of the best friends he has ever had--and he has said that in spite of the fact that presently our life goals and beliefs are different. I choose to believe he made that statement because he knows I don't walk out on relationships that become difficult, I support his right to make decisions for himself, and even if I disagree with the outcome of such decisions I still wish to talk with him and spend time with him. I should feel happy that he believes I am one of his good friends.

Another loved one has referred to me as his best friend on occasion and, when introducing me, once said we are "the best of friends." I believe my response to that was, "Only if I say so." It was churlish, and my way of saying, "You, of all people, understand how deeply I despise that word, and I'm unhappy that you used it in reference to me." And given that I have provided no alternate descriptor, it was out of line for me to object. Because I love him, as well, and have always offered that love without reservation, I should feel honored that he would introduce me in such a way. There is no reason for me to take offense.

There are others who consider me a friend. It's time for me to assume the role they have assigned me.

Therefore, to all my friends, I ask your forgiveness for my boorishness in reference to the laudable institution of friendship. I will stop trying to reshape our friendship into some sort of relationship which has no name. I'll not refer to us during therapy sessions, as "familial." I won't ask you to please stay in my life forever, and I'll no longer balk or remind you that I don't like the F-word and would prefer that it not be used to describe me.

Fake it till you make it, right? I can do this.


  1. I love you. :-) Can you believe I actually commented on a post?

  2. :-) And when do I get my "Beautiful World" award, because I believe that I have read almost every word of every post on this blog. It may take me months to catch-up, I do keep reading until I start to read and realize that I have read a post already. I love your words and I love you!

  3. First I have to think of what would be an appropriate award--then you can definitely have it. :)

  4. Hmmm. Apparently I need to revisit the meaning of friendship, too. Because I think that good friends are the family that one gets to choose.

  5. Thanks so much for this post Samantha. I guess I want to collect people too. I can't imagine that place your therapist mentioned where it doesn't hurt as much when friends drift away, but I would like too.

    P.S. Josh is a friend of mine too, he is the one that told me about your blog (sometime ago actually.)

  6. Brozy, I hope you're right. :)

    Leslie, I hope my therapist is right. I have a feeling I'm not capable of getting to that point, but it would definitely be nice. (and yes, Josh lets me know when he's sent someone to my blog, so I was aware he had done so--still trying to figure out why he does that--he's silly)