Monday, January 30, 2012
So, at my wise old age of 49, I have figured out a few things. One of them is that very few relationships last forever. My marriage has lasted close to 28 years, and we had six years before we were married. I hope it will last for the rest of my life, and I'm pretty sure it will, because my dear husband and I view it as more than just being "in love." We view it as a partnership, a friendship, and mutually happy way to live, a place we both get to be what we are meant to be, and the most important part of our lives. Also we view it as a two way street, in which we are both asked to sacrifice for the other at various times, and do so gladly, knowing it makes our partnership stronger.
But this isn't about marriage. However, friendships can be like marriages at times. Like marriage, friendship is a two-way street. What happens when only one of the friends is putting forth effort, support, caring, and consideration? That's really not friendship anymore.
If you're like me, you might have different groups of friends. I have writing friends, church friends, music friends, college friends, neighborhood friends, etc. I don't necessarily try to keep these groups separate, but sometimes they are just because they never intersect. Sometimes whole groups of friends fall away, either because you move away, you discontinue the activity or organization in which you saw those friends, or something else happens.
But what's on my mind today is the situation in which a friend becomes a non-friend simply by being a jerk. In one of my groups of friends, there is a person who has, through his/her own folly and self-centeredness, alienated everyone else in the group. (I'm going to call this friend "Pat" for the rest of the post, so I don't have to keep using his/her. I don't want to out this person on such a public forum, and Pat is a nice gender neutral name. Plus, remember that character on SNL?)
Pat is the kind of person with charisma and talent. People are drawn to Pat, and often will go to great lengths to support Pat and help Pat achieve goals. In our group of friends, most of us would have done almost anything to help Pat out. I mean anything. We were supremely loyal to Pat. We scheduled our lives so we could see Pat, go out with Pat, do whatever Pat asked.
In the last couple of years, Pat has had some particularly hard times. Nothing life threatening or so horrible it couldn't be overcome. We rallied around Pat. We comforted Pat. We held long sessions where Pat got to sob and fret and basically bare his/her soul. We believed that Pat had been basically innocent in the situation and all the bad things that came Pat's way. We have all worn ourselves out with loyalty and support for Pat.
But it has ceased to be a two way street, and I'm beginning to see that maybe it never really was. Pat does not care about our friendships. Pat seems to assume that whenever our group gathers together, it is so we can listen to Pat's endless accounts of how life has been cruel. Pat never asks how any of us are. Pat never offers to help one of us, but of course does not hesitate to ask for our help. Pat basically acts like a selfish two-year old.
And I am completely tired of it. I am tired of giving so much to a friendship that gives nothing back. I am tired of feeling like an urchin waiting for some crumb of acknowledgement to fall my way. Pat does not thank us for the things we do, for listening, for caring, for giving up our own time to help Pat. I am tired of this. If I want to sacrifice my life, my time, my energy for someone who does not respond in kind--well, I have children. (Just kidding, kids. I love you a ton.)
But really, am I supposed to continue being someone for Pat to turn to without ever having any of my needs met? No. I think most everyone else in our group of friends feels the same way.
What I feel worst about is this. I have realized in the last few months that Pat is not innocent in all the troubles that have come his/her way. Pat makes stupid decisions, because Pat has no backbone, no self-esteem, and a need for constant affirmation and approval. Pat appears to others to have it all together, but really, Pat is immature. Pat wants to portray to others that Pat has a perfect life, but Pat makes one stupid choice after another and doesn't see how the dots connect to create the trouble he/she has.
Some of us in this group would like to help Pat by providing advice, but we know that Pat won't listen. Pat doesn't like conflict, and would never take our advice. Instead, Pat would decide that we had turned our backs and were part of the problem rather than the solution.
So, sadly, I am going to have to acknowledge that Pat must be left to his/her own devices and make all the stupid decisions over and over until Pat figures out how to make better decisions. I feel like a parent letting my child grow up. And that is an icky feeling when this is a fellow adult who is supposed to be my friend, not my child. So Pat, even if you do read this, you are so clueless I am sure you won't recognize yourself in this post. (And if those of you reading this think this is about you, then it's probably not. That would mean you have some self awareness, which Pat does not.)
I am not sorry for the years I have tried to be Pat's friend. I say that because it hasn't been a real friendship has it? It has been a one-way street. I am not sorry, because the experience has brought me close to the rest of this group of friends, for which I am eternally grateful and blessed to have in my life. And I have learned some things about friendship that will help me be a better friend.
So Pat, while I am not saying good-bye, because I will see you regularly, I am saying I can't be your friend anymore, which is really not saying much, because you were never my friend. I hope you grow the capacity to be a real friend before you are too old or alienate too many people. If so, maybe we can revisit the issue. Until then, good luck.