A new person showed up at one of the dance venues I attend. We found some common ground, even got together for another dance event the next day! Over the course of the week what developed was an e-mail correspondence, throughout which I was referred to several times as a “great friend.” For some reason, that terminology bothered me. I don’t understand how a person you just met could ever be called a “friend.”
I think my middle school students, ages 11-14, are at a stage of life where they might understand the concept of friendship better than some adults do. When I asked a couple students working together recently, “Are you guys friends?” My question was met with hesitation. They answered, “I KNOW him or her,” from a class, or whatever, but they seem to only reserve the word “friend” for a person they really hang out with a lot, a person with whom they share secrets with, or, at least, lots of experiences. They also know how to forgive. As a teacher, you sometimes have to sit two feuding kids down, and ask them to apologize to each other. Whenever I have refereed in this way, the two kids end up sailing off into the sunset together; they say, “that’s OK,” and then everything is all right again.
When you are young, you have fewer friends, but more time to spend with them. You have a few close friends that you might see as frequently as every day after school. As you get older, and begin to collect friends from your schooling, workplace, or various leisure pursuits, you have more friends, but less time to spend with them.
Maybe Facebook has done it to us, with this ability to “friend” a person. My policy on Facebook is to only accept friend requests from people I actually know. Second, I never de-friend a person, even after death. You can hide a person’s posts if you are not interested in what they have to say, but, to me, de-friending someone on Facebook is serious business. Weird, that I feel so strongly about keeping people as friends on Facebook, yet I’ve had to let some people go in real life.
To my knowledge, I’ve been de-friended at least twice on Facebook. The first time, it was by a wimp of a guy who deleted me because his new girlfriend made him do so. Mind you, I barely even knew him at all! Then, just recently, the husband of one of my friends apparently de-friended me. I found out when a mutual friend alerted me to check out an anti-Semitic post the husband had written on his page. I discovered that I couldn’t view it, because I’d been de-friended at some point! He must have “DISliked” (they don’t give you a thumbs down icon!) my frequent Jewish-referenced posts. To me, these are weird reasons for losing friendship, on Facebook, or otherwise. I have come to believe that betrayal is the only act that can bring friendships asunder. At this juncture of my upcoming 55th birthday, I hope to share with readers some things I’ve experienced, and learned.
Maybe THIS is why teenagers seem to be using Facebook less lately?! Kids who were allowed by parents to have a Facebook presence at all, originally started by accepting hundreds of “friend requests.” They were not as judicious or cautious as some of us adults have been. People who maintain Facebook pages of over a certain number of friends (1000?) seem to be out more for a public forum than a network of friends.
Real-life friendship, conversely, needs time to evolve, and it needs to withstand adversity. I still state with a little pride that I have friends who I see on a regular basis from all decades of my life. For the longer tenured or physically separated friends among them, even if we can’t get together often, the conversation continues where it left off. Even a “like” or short comment on a Facebook post can bring it all back. At the same time, some friendships have eventually NOT withstood the test of time.
As one ex-friend recently put it, “we’re not enemies, we’re just not friends.” But, how DO friendships end? Latin writer Pubilius Syrus wrote, “A friendship that can end never really began.” I think that friendships are maintained when you “have each other’s back,” as is said in the parlance of today. They are broken, however, when loyalty falters.
I dislike, and often rail against, the blind loyalty that people display toward their politics, religion, sports team, ethnic group, or organization. I believe that such feilty causes people to make decisions based only on that allegiance, which becomes a less informed method than being able to discern the difference between right and wrong on your own, and choosing the best path. The kind of loyalty you demonstrate toward friends, however, is different; it actually ends up defining what friendship is.
You first become friends with a person when you notice that they’ve committed an act of kindness. It could start with a good conversation, then some quality time spent together. Eventually, when you have come to some crossroads of trouble, or sadness, or need in life, a friend helps you out. This may be too simplified a summary, but it is useful in determining the basic plot line of friendship, in order to speak to when it goes astray. Falling out of friendship happens, I maintain, when a person with whom you have reached the climax of true friendship, resolves to NOT be supportive, in a time of need. That’s what I’m calling a violation of trust, or, betrayal.
Just as on Facebook, not wanting to “de-friend” people, I was finding that I kept friends around as if they were family. They might have even done and said hurtful things, but I would continue to spend time with them, for old times’ sake, and for the bragging rights that come with long-term relationships of any kind.
However, when somebody betrays you once, it is likely that they will do it again. An example of betrayal might be, for example, a girl who grabs for a guy you had a crush on at school. This happened to me once, way back in college. I gathered the courage to register my displeasure, only to be told that my friend felt it fair game to compete for the guy, since I wasn’t actually dating him. When the same friend thought it acceptable for her husband to fraternize with my ex-husband at one particularly sticky point in my divorce proceedings, I felt similarly slighted, twenty-five years later. I’d thought I’d forgiven AND forgotten, but the second instance caused me to recall that first slight back in college. At my age, a person has lots of friends with over twenty, thirty, even forty years of tenure. Another friend lost my trust back in 1988, but time passed, and a bonding friendship developed again. Then, when a breach of trust occured earlier this year, instead of just taking the situation in stride, as I may have with a newer friend, I proclaimed the final end of that friendship. The Jewish New Year, which calls upon us to reflect and forgive transgressions of the prior year, did serve to bring us back into e-mail contact, at least.
My intention is not to air a laundry list of failed friendships. I have often forgiven and carried on. I also have some regrets. I know that I am too quick on the draw with e-mails and texts, lover of the written word that I am. In my missives, I use words like “ever” and worse yet, “never.” It comes back to bite me sometimes, when my hurt feelings wane, but the words still remain. Sometimes reconciliation is possible after such “break ups,” but things never go back to being the same as they were. It is a price you pay for the confrontation that you might have felt was necessary at that moment in time.
Despite my orientation to cultures of The Orient, where society runs so smoothly in the gray instead of the black and white of The West, I am sharing my reflections on some of the positives and negatives I’ve experienced in my wanting or needing closure. I therefore have written this “anthem” to friendship and loyalty, to remind myself and others that it might be better sometimes just to step back, and let time pass, instead of making declarations or searching for a clarity that might not even exist.
I am aware that the tone of this essay is slightly different than most of the other entries in my column. A friend who pre-read said it sounded vaguely Carrie Bradshaw-esque. I always welcome comments, rebuttals and feedback.