I was planning a follow-up to my beach trip, to write about seeing fins
in the water 30 yards away, about Andie McDowell jogging on the beach
and the cop who shot a desk at the Georgetown, S.C. police department.
Instead, I’m responding to an email I got the other day from Mike
Greenberg. It reads:
several coffee shop “buds.” Here is what one said (paraphrased):
Coworkers are not your friends; they are coworkers. Business associates
are not your friends; they are business associates. Coffee shop buddies
are not your friends; they are just people you sometimes see if you
both just happen to be in the same coffee shop. According to this same
coffee shop bud, a friend is someone you do other stuff with, spend
time at each others’ homes, enjoy extracurricular activities with, etc.
A friend had this definition: A
friend is someone you can call between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.
with a problem or issue and get a concerned ear.
In our society with all its pressures to work, work, work, people do
not make time for friendship – real friendship.
I agree, up to a point. We are busy and friendships do take effort. Also,
generally speaking, I would add that men are not as good at friendships as women, and
that’s a cultural issue. My parents had friends they socialized with,
and my mother had close friends, but my father did not. If he had, and
if he’d had the ability to open up and unburden himself, he might still
be alive. But he wasn’t so different from a lot of men in his
generation – and the generations before – so we’re short on role models
in that regard.
But it is the generalizing in Mike’s last sentence that concerns me,
because it can be an excuse for accepting things as they are. And it
can blind us to our power and responsibility. (By the way, there is no
criticism of Mike here. I’m talking about my own experience.)
If I accept that everyone is busy and there’s no time for friendships, it makes me sound helpless. Implicit in that statement
is the thought, “What can I do? That’s the way things are….” In fact, I’m only
experiencing the consequences of choices I’ve made.
Granted, most of those choices were made when I was young and powerless
and not very wise, and when I was influenced by things like a
father who didn’t
have friends. Nevertheless, those choices been driving my life ever
Understanding that, I must next ask, How do I show up as a friend?
The answer is not very well. I tend to isolate myself and wait for
others to initiate things. I could be far more thoughtful. I could pick
up the phone and call. I could set up a golf date, or call a friend for
coffee. But too often I do not, and then find myself wondering where my
friends are. Since I am neglectful as a friend, it can hardly be
a surprise that my friends are similarly slack and neglectful.
The trouble with conventional
wisdom — this case, that we’re too busy to have friends –- is that it falls back on
solace and a rueful smile, a shrug and a bow to the status quo.
And it is a lie. If I don’t like what I see, I can change. I can make
A friend told me the other day she was having problems
with her relationship. “I guess I’m too old for this,” she said. “I’m tired of relationships.”
I told her my impression was that she was tired of having relationships the
way she’d always had them. I reminded her of the pop definition of
insanity — doing the same things you’ve always done, and expecting a
different outcome — and suggested counseling or therapy, with or without her lover.
She looked startled: “My friend who has cancer said the same thing.”
I took a workshop several years ago where one of the aphorisms was “An upset is
an opportunity to learn the truth.” Whether it’s about a relationship
or cancer or friendships, a disturbance tells me I’m at cross-purposes
with something, and usually that means a disconnect between deep desires and my habitual way of life.
I can either give in to “the way things are” –- people are too busy for
friendships, I’m tired of relationships, etc. –- or I can rifle through
my beliefs and behavior patterns, throw out what doesn’t work and make new
That’s called “doing the work.”
Unlike the spotted owl and the snail darter, human beings can change.
But doing the work takes real commitment, and in our culture it is
easier to rationalize, medicate, escape, deny. Either way, the choice is ours.
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It seems to me there are a bunch of different levels of friendships. Even though some may be deeper than others it does not negate any of them. Sure it would be wonderful if all friendship relationships could be deep and fulfilling for both parties, but I think that would be unrealistic. In order for two people to build a friendship to more than surface level, both parties have to wallow through a myriad of different human traits like trust, honesty, respect, spirituality, thoughtfulness, support, values, commitment, mental calmness, etc. Not everyone is capable of reaching different levels in these areas or they choose not to delve into these realms. The question would be what level of friendship is good enough.
With my background, “building” is the optimal word here. Building friendships take time for me. Mainly because it takes time to throw out little emotional crumbs of my self and then sit back and watch how the crumb was taken by the other person. If the other person respects the information, then I may throw out a bigger crumb to see how that goes etc. Now I am not saying I do this in a calculating way or even a conscious way but looking back this is way I have handled friendships.
For me and I would propose that a large majority of males are afraid. The persona a lot of males grow up with is to be strong and independent and it would be weak to let someone to see you in any other way. Deep down I think men are afraid of being hurt in an emotional way and if a person does not know how to handle emotions than that would be very close to death. So they rationalize that they don’t have time, energy, etc.
Now the solution is exactly what you stated. Show up as a friend. Be a good friend and make the effort to break the mold. I am mindful of the trap of always making the effort and the relationship is only one sided. The going to the dry well syndrome. The other solution is deal with your emotions. When I am comfortable with my emotions, then I am able to realize I will not die if I start crying. If I get angry, I will not punch holes in all the sheet rock walls in my house. My creator gave me these emotions to help deal with life. I try to make sure I use them as God intended.
I have two very close friends. I talk to them every month or so for a couple of hours at a time. We have known each other for almost 20 years now. We send out emails like “I haven’t talked with you in a while. How about Wednesday at 8:00 pm.” The reply could be “No good, what about next Wednesday?” Then it will be “See you then, your turn with the phone bill.” Although we started our relationships in one part of the country, we have moved all over like Georgia, Texas, New Mexico, and now Colorado but we keep in touch. The calls are about as open ended as they get. No subject is taboo or without merit. We let the emotions flow. I value them both beyond words. I tell them almost every time we talk how much I value them. I make time for things I truly value.
Now after writing this, I wonder how many men out there are wondering if the writer is gay. I would propose the thought would be another good rationalization to NOT have a close male to male friendship. The answer to the question is no. I am an all American red blooded male who is only attracted to the opposite sex. No doubt about that one.
Good article, John. Very thought provoking. I think I need to call one of those friends. It has been a while.
PS. A writer I ain,t.
Another thing we should mention: sometimes people drop out of our lives because WE are changing. Big changes, like losing a job, getting a divorce, a serious illness, often bring new people into our lives and cause others to leave.
Ultimately, it’s about vibration. If some are falling out of my life, it’s a good bet that we are no longer vibrating at the same rate. It’s happened to me at work, and in personal relationships. There’s an almost palpable force pushing us apart; I may not be able to measure it scientifically, but I can sure as heck feel it.
Remember in high school chemistry how every cell had an electrical charge known as a valence? Well, if every cell has a charge, then our bodies must have a charge, too. It’s an electomagnetic field called the aura and it radiates what the emiment metaphysicist Brian Wilson called “Good Vibrations.”
But not all vibrations are good. Or, at least, good for me. Years ago I ran into a former friend and after about 10 minutes felt like I’d had 20 cups of coffee. It was the other person’s energy — jittery, jumpy, disruptive — and it gave me a visceral understanding of why we had parted. Being in the same room together was intolerable.
I get sad when that happens, because I care about people deeply. Sometimes too deeply. Then I have to remind myself that this is part of the process of change, and that the things that are coming to be will be better and more in tune with the person I’m becoming than the person I was.