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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