Thursday, November 3, 2011

Crime and Punishment: a study on the loss of friendship

I hear it all the time: 

"Brynne, you're so hard to get ahold of."-"You never text back."-"I left you a message."-"You were in town?"

I know. I know you left me a message. I know you wrote. I know you called, and yes, I am a dick for not getting back to you. 

Allow me, for a moment, to hop down off of my half-full Cascade box and tell you why. 
I've lost almost every good friend I've ever had. I know, I know, we grow and change and all of that bullshit, but I'm a serial mauler of friendships. 

After a recent... divorce?... from a friendship that carried me through the last nine years, I'm beginning to get desperate to figure out how and why this keeps happening. After this last devastating loss, one that I thought would never turn out like this, I've begun to fear for my other friendships as well. So, my response?

Stay as far away from the people I like as possible.

Here's my logic. If I really like you, and I want to be/stay friends, the surest way not to mess it up is to stay out of your life. To shun you like the plague. To pretend that I've lost my phone- permanently. 

It's not like I'm killing my best friends in their sleep. I think, however, that I possess a killer cocktail of friendship no-nos: ones I'm about to share with you, friend, in hopes that we'll both learn something from the splattering of my mistakes on this electronic wall.

1. Honesty is not always the best policy.

I'm not saying that you should lie to your friends. Okay, actually, I am. There is nothing to be gained by telling someone that they look a little fat in that outfit. Even if they do. Lie. Furthermore, even if you feel a friend is doing something harmful to themselves (eating disorder, bad boyfriend, alcohol issues, wearing Crocs), I HAVE LEARNED OVER AND OVER that IT WILL NOT END WELL FOR YOU if you try to confront them. There's a reason that trained professionals handle most of those things.  IT IS NOT YOUR PLACE TO BRING IT TO THEIR ATTENTION. It may seem like you're doing the brave, smart thing by confronting them, but when was the last time you responded well to criticism?  You can let them know that you're there, and you can let them know that you're worried for them, but any sort of ultimatum or intervention will only make them feel small and betrayed.  Shut up and stop trying to fix your friend- even if you get out your grievances, you will not have helped the friend see that they are in trouble. Instead, you'll push them further away from a place of happiness and balance.

2. Don't live with your best friends.

The best friend I have in the world was a somewhat random roommate- and she is a goddess for loving me through my absolute mess of a life. 

That said, we were strangers, and she is an exceptionally patient and kind human being. There were no expectations and I lucked out. So take heed:

Living with someone you care about can be absolute murder on even the most secure of friendships. After all of those Tennessee Williams plays we've read, don't we know by now that lots of people who love each other in a small space only leads to awful things? All of a sudden, someone you love dearly becomes someone who owes you money for bills. The girl who got you through gym class becomes the girl who just drank all your milk. The boy who consoled you through the worst breakup of your life is now the dude who doesn't light a match after he bombs the bathroom.

Get the message?

The exception proves the rule- I'm sure some of you out there are thinking, "Not me. I love my roommates and we're still best friends." To you few, you proud, I say two things: A) Good for you, you lucky duck, and I'm happy to hear it, and B) you're probably the one drinking the milk and bombing the bathroom.

3) Quit talking behind your friend's back.

This should be a simple one, but it's not. For some reason, when something starts to go wrong, it's virtually impossible not to talk about it. Oftentimes, that means mutual friends. STOP RIGHT HERE. RIGHT. HERE. Close your mouth. Close your stupid mouth. Stop talking to mutual friends about your best friend's secrets, issues, the problems you are having, etc. Stop it. Not only does it make the problem seem bigger than it is, but you're probably getting bad advice from whoever it is you're talking to... BECAUSE A DRINKING BUDDY DOES NOT MAKE FOR A GOOD COUNSELOR, GOD DAMMIT. You need to honor your friend by working it out with her/him. It's an awful idea to spread their business around, even to trusted friends, because eventually, it will come out that you were discussing their business with someone else. And it won't end well.

Same heading, different category: stop gossiping about your friends. If you want to talk shit about someone, fine. But don't do it while they think you're trustworthy. That makes you a coward and asshole. Don't use your friends' misfortunes as a way to seem more interesting at a party. 

4. Never injure a friend, even in jest.

I love this quote, but I'll be honest, I have to look up who said it... Angela Lansbury or General Patton or someone. Oh, wow- Marcus Tullius Cicero? Boy, was I wrong. I don't even know who that is. It's still a great quote.

I don't think you should ever call a friend stupid, or ugly, or say anything meant to harm someone or knock them down. At some level, we mean what we say- and we also begin to believe what we hear. Don't insult your friends. Lift them up. Don't belittle or berate them- it feels awful when it's done to you, so why would you want to put someone else through it? Don't exploit the friendship by making a joke of something they've told you in confidence- you can never fully gain that trust back.

I can pretty confidently give the following example because I'm fairly sure the person I did this to doesn't read this blog, so here's an illustration of what I mean:

A few years ago, I gave a friend an old skirt of mine. It didn't mean anything to me- it was just something I'd picked off a sale rack. She asked, "Why don't you want it?" I said, "I think it's so ugly!" She laughed and said, "No, it's beautiful. Thank you." 

A few weeks later, I saw her wearing it in a hallway filled with people we knew. I got within earshot of her and said, "What an ugly skirt!" at the top of my lungs.

It's okay. We can pause while you shake your head and embrace the awkwardness and horror of this moment. I'll join you.

No one there had any idea about our previous conversation. No one knew that it was an inside joke. What they heard was that I had insulted my friend (at the time, my best friend) publicly. I had embarrassed her and hurt her- all while joking. There are things that are funny, but hurting your friends- not good material.

5. To err is human...

There's a beautiful moment between Carrie and Aiden on "Sex & the City"- for all you haters, shut up now and keep reading for the message behind the mush. The background of the scene: Carrie has cheated on Aiden, but he's agreed to give it a second chance. Aiden, however, is clearly not over it- he's still seeking out ways to punish Carrie for her indiscretion. The scene I'm bringing up is the one where Carrie finally breaks. She goes to his door and lets loose: "You have to forgive me. You have to forgive me. You have to forgive me. You have to forgive me." 

It's beautiful.

Here's what you're thinking: a)"I love that scene" b) she spelled "Aiden" wrong or c) yeah, but Carrie cheated. He had every right to be mad. You know what? YOU'RE RIGHT. He did. But he chose to get back in a relationship with her. 


Ahem. Let me say this again, a little louder.


Now, you have every right to leave someone who has hurt you in the dust. That's your prerogative, and no one can blame you for it. But (BUT) if you intend to mend that friendship and especially if your have told your offending friend that all is well, STOP PUNISHING THEM. Quit turning small things into big things. Quit picking fights. Quit guilting them. Quit peeling away at a relationship that is already damaged. If they've apologized and you've accepted it and the friendship means something to you, handle the pain and the disappointment before you choose to continue your relationship. The initial fault may not have been yours, but if you're keeping your friend in the doghouse, you're the douche. To maintain a friendship, you have to forgive.

Still here?

Please don't think I'm looking down my nose at you while I write this. That wouldn't be very friendly. I personally have made and continue to make all of the above mistakes. After losing a very dear friendship recently, and one that I thought was unshakable, I have been thinking as much as I can about what I've done wrong and what I can do to improve my friendships in the future.

So if I don't call you back, it's not because I don't love you. I'm just trying to keep you as a friend until I lock down those last few pointers in my own noggin.

Be good to each other.