I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Friendship

Those of you who know me in real life know that I am about as honest and open as one can possibly be. I'm even infamous among my facebook friends for perfecting the art of the over-share. I'm not even sure how to be secretive, or private, or keep my mouth shut - but apparently all of these are actually possible. Me, I just open my mouth and stuff comes out (and not all of it quality stuff, sadly.) In some ways this serves me really well - I can be standing in a queue and by the end of it can tell you the life stories of the person behind me AND the person in front of me.

I just really like hearing people's life stories. I like learning about people. I just like talking and I like listening. BUT (and here's where it gets hairy) - it makes people uncomfortable. They feel compelled to answer my probing questions ("Yes but how are you...really doing?") but then afterwards they feel a little awkward about it. I can't help asking the questions - and while they could probably choose to not answer, I have yet to meet someone who says, "Actually, I'd rather not say, but thanks for asking." Furthermore because I'm so intent on the pursuit of just knowing stuff, I keep asking even when the person has given the (verbal or physical) signal that it's high time I just butted right the hell out of their business. I don't really know how to be anything but intensively loving...but I guess sometimes that love can be a bit overwhelming.

This has gotten me in big trouble twice in my life that I know of. The first time, it made me lose my best friend. Literally. The second time, it made me lose a good friend. Also literally.

The first time, my BFF was going through a pretty major life change. A life change which had been going on for nearly a year but I knew nothing about. Not a whisper, not a hint, not a whiff, not even the faintest glimmer that this change was on the horizon. And when I say "best friend" I mean the person I spoke to on the phone many times a day. My DH used to pick up the phone and jokingly say, "Oh, it's your wife on the phone!" When we didn't phone, we'd email. I saw her several times a week. I wouldn't even hesitate to call her my soul mate. Anyway, she went through this life change - and she walked right out of my life. Literally. With no warning whatsoever. One day - a normal sort of day - she just didn't answer her phone when I called. She didn't answer it all that day, or the next, or the next...until it took SOMEONE ELSE telling me that she couldn't or wouldn't speak to me because this major life change was taking place.

What? She won't speak to me? But she's practically my WIFE, for god's sake.

It was well over a year before I heard from her again. Not surprisingly, I mourned for most of that year. I mourned the loss of her presence in my daily life, I mourned the loss our friendship. I'd be totally lying if I didn't say that even now (some years later), I really miss her even though now we are back in contact. Eventually she contacted me, and we began the process of healing. The very first question I asked when I saw her again was obvious - WHY?

It was hard for her to articulate, but her basic answer was this - I'm too much like hard work. I ask the hard questions, and I expect answers. I tell people things they may not want to hear. She knew that if I was around in that time of flux for her, that I wouldn't let her get away with the things she wanted to get away with. I'd call her on her issues. I'd demand answers. In short, I would not allow any secrets or lies. I'd want to know it all, and I'd want to talk and support and commiserate and just BE there as much as I could be. She told me that I'm intense. Maybe too intense.

She was right. But it still hurt like hell to hear it.

The second time this happened, it was a good friend I worked with. There was an evacuation at our workplace, and in the fray I lost sight of her. I looked for her for ages but never found her, so I called our mutual boss (at another location) to say that I was worried that I could not find my friend and that the place was utter chaos. Our boss said, "She's fine, she's on her way home...but I think the three of us need to sit down and have a chat about things."

WHAT THE...? What about what things? Our workplace is in chaos, my friend disappeared into thin air, and we need to sit down to chat? I had no idea what the hell she was on about. None. Truly. This friend had just spent time at my house over the past weekend, had come to my birthday party, knew my kids pretty well...and we needed to chat? I was gobsmacked.

That friend never spoke to me again. Unbeknownst to me, she had applied for (and gotten) another job in the organisation. She literally walked out of the building during the evacuation and that was the end of that. She flat out refused to speak to me (even when our jobs demanded it). She didn't answer my calls. I still am not entirely sure what happened there, but I heard through that grapevine that it was another case of me being too much like hard work. She and her husband had some issues at the time, and apparently my answers to her requests for advice were not the answers she wanted to hear. So she walked away, literally.

As it happens, these stories actually happened in reverse order - I lost the good friend a couple of years before I lost the best friend. The interesting thing about both these experiences is that they have totally coloured all the friendships which have come since, even those which started before I knew either of those people. I am now very, very particular about the people I befriend - and while I might blurt out all manner of detail about my life to perfect strangers, it takes an enormous amount of time and trust for me to invite people into my real life. In other words, not just anybody gets to be my friend - because I don't want to have to go through losing any of them again. The first two times hurt way too much to risk doing it again. So these days, people will describe me as shy or aloof or even arrogant because I might be outgoing, but I don't immediately take people on as friends.

Sadly for me, no amount of caution is truly protection from hurt. Recently I had an experience with a friend which seemed like it was heading in the same direction as the two I've just mentioned. Seemingly overnight, the frequency of communication slowed significantly (to me, anyway.) Wordy texts (when they came at all) became one line texts. Emails did not get responded to. You get the idea. So given my past experiences, I panicked. I could not believe that this was happening AGAIN and so this time I decided to take action and I called them on it. Long story short, this friend and I discussed it and things are basically okay now (although I suspect will never fully return to our previous level of connection). Turns out that I was right, apparently - it was happening again and happening again for the same reasons, namely:

I'm hard work.
I ask too many questions.
I'm emotionally intense (the highs are sky high, the lows are subterranean.)
I don't know when to stop asking stuff, or questioning stuff.
I'm not all that good at rolling with the punches.
I demand (or need) attention (in the form of regular communication).
I read things into situations which might not be there (but I'd argue this is being female, not unique to me.)

For a few days there, I really mulled over this. I think of myself as being a pretty good friend - and by good I mean that I am loyal, loving, helpful and supportive. But if this has happened three times now...does it mean that really I'm not a good friend at all? That it's ME who is the buggered up one here? That I'm much more trouble than I am worth?

I have to tell you, these questions really made me stop and...weep. Because what does it say about you if the friend you thought you were - is not really the friend you are at all? Am I SO SHIT at being a friend that the people who I thought were soul mates felt they could not talk to me, and instead chose to run..because running from me was somehow easier than just talking to me?

Good god, but the very idea of that hurts like hell.

In the end I could only come to one conclusion, and it's pretty simplistic: I am who I am. The me who is me is uniquely me, and if that means I'm all of those intense things...well, I guess you have no choice but to like it or lump it. The friends I have who have lasted the distance (of which there are enough to make me feel very loved every day of my life) obviously know those things about me, and either cope better or just accept that it's part of the package deal.

Just like I love people in spite of (and sometimes because of) their quirks, so I expect to be loved in return...and to me, that's what true, lasting friendship is about. So forgive me if I ask the hard questions. Forgive me if I demand answers. Forgive me if I want your attention and your love. That's just me.

Maybe just consider yourself blessed that I care - intensely - enough about you to take the time and effort to do all those things in the first place.

Because, for me anyway, that's what friends do.


Claire -Matching Pegs said...

Em, there is so much I want to say, but would prefer to say it in person.

In summary...

Like you, I am very happy to over-share.

I also believe that I am a very very loyal friend. I have only ever walked away from one friendship, and that person was really really using me, and quite toxic.

I think friendship these days can be undervalued. I would rather have it out in the open with a friend as an attempt to work things out, than walk away. I think it is the cowardly way out to just disappear, and I am so sorry that this has happened to you several times.

emzeegee & the hungry three said...

Claire, you really got it so right when you said friendships these days are under-valued. We all have so many 'disposable' friendships thanks to the immediate, short term connection which is facebook and twitter and whatever else- that we forget that good friendships (like good marriages) take work and effort and time on the parts of both people in the relationship.

On the one hand, I'm sorry I had to live through those experiences - but on the other, they've just made me learn to love me, and that can only be a good thing.