So I’m wondering: how far should I be willing to go for my friends?
Now, it so happens that the meme world has quite a bit to say about friendship — but unfortunately, as always with the meme world, the information is not very helpful.
So my friends are people I like and do stuff with. Okay, I knew that; those are the people I call my friends anyway. But what does “do stuff with” mean? Do I have to do stuff with them in person? Because then a number of my friends probably don’t count any more, since I literally haven’t seen them, face to face, in more than twenty years. And what does “like” mean? I mean, I like cupcakes, and I like my students. But those are two different feelings. Do I have to like my friends all the time? Do I have to like everything about them? 51/49, like/dislike?
I like the sentiment, but I don’t know quite what it means. One of my friends had a lot of trouble finding an au pair that would actually remain reliable for more than a few months. He lives 2,500 miles away from me. How do I make that my problem? I suppose I could look through online listings of au pairs, but is that really helpful? I don’t have children, don’t know anything about au pairs, let alone good ones. Do I fly to Massachusetts to help him interview? Do I become his new au pair? And what if while he is looking for an au pair, another friend is dealing with a sick parent, out in California? And another friend, living in Louisiana, needs to find a cheap apartment?
Maybe I just tell them that I’m sympathetic and will help in any way that I can. But when I know there’s no way I can help, it feels terribly hollow to say that. I don’t feel like a friend when I can’t help. But I can’t always help. Does that make me not a friend?
Maybe it matters that this says “BEST friend?” Do we really still make that distinction? I mean, the Sims do, and 4th graders; but do we all think that way?
So I have to know things about someone that nobody else knows. Well, that simplifies things pretty well, because there is exactly one person in the world that I am that close to. I suppose my wife is my only friend.
So what do I tell all those losers who think I’m their friend?
(N.B.: You can’t get mad if I just called you a loser. Because:)
Now, if I don’t think it is particularly offensive to shout “F*CKNUGGETS!” when I stub my toe, should I be willing to say it in front of friends who prefer not to hear cussing? Or wait — they’re not my friends. My friends are only the ones who yell back “YEAH, HOT BUTTERED DI*K-BISCUITS!” (Side note: I love those asterisks. I hate that they’re necessary, but I love them. So much. “Profanity? No, I meant ‘Focknuggets.’ It’s a German bar food. And ‘disk-biscuits’ is Cockney for pancakes. Why? What did you think it was?”) But what if I’m around their kids, or their aged grandparents who have taken holy orders to become Catholic nuns? (Yes, including their grandfathers. Don’t try to determine another person’s gender identity, you social fascist.) And maybe it’s that I should be the good friend, and not cuss around friends that I know don’t like cussing? Should I be considerate of my friends’ delicate sensibilities, or should they accept me for the foul-mouthed hooligan I am? In a friendship, who bends to whose standards? If others have to bend to mine, can I mess with that? I mean, can I get someone to agree to be my friend, and then punch them in the face and steal their sandwich, and then just say “Hey, that’s how real friends act. You can punch me and take my sandwich, sometime, too.”
Maybe I should just forget all of this, and when I stub my toe, yell, “Oh, dash it all, what deuced rotten luck, eh wot wot?!” Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we lived like moderns but talked like Victorians?
This one kind of cracks me up, because really, it makes no sense. It combines this idea of insincerity with an idea of priorities. Because it recognizes that people have busy schedules, but, it says, YOU should be THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THAT PERSON’S WORLD. Nothing else will do. Anyone who claims to be your friend, but for whom you are not THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD is a faker, a liar, a superficial person who doesn’t care about you, really care about you, deep down, where the real feelings are, underneath all the bulls*it. They just want something from you. Which apparently you, who want them to literally drop anything else in their lives in order to pay attention to you — what, you don’t want anything from them? Okay, sure.
And you represent that with Minions. The definitive image of depth and genuine human sympathy.
But again, that makes it pretty simple for me. I have one friend. My wife. All of the rest of you shouldn’t waste your time on me. Because I just want something from you.
But here is the meme I agree with.
You damn right, CM. Damn right.
The answer to all this, of course, is that it depends on the friend. With some friends, I am willing to drop most stuff, give up most stuff, if they needed me. With others, I’m willing to give up little stuff — like maybe some of my free time. Sure, I’ll do that. Other friends, I’d give up sleep, I’d give up food, money, comfort. One friend, I’d give up anything I have in this world, other than her. And I call them all my friends. On some level, that’s a problem, because a language as large and varied as English should be able to make distinctions between those types of friends; and we sort of do, because of course I don’t call her my friend, I call her my wife. That shows the differences in commitment quite handily: I would not die for most of my friends; I would die for my wife. Sure. Makes sense.
The issue is that we have grown overfond of the specific word “friend.” So fond we now use it as a bloody verb, like “text” and “impact.” Bah. According to the internet, I have over 350 friends, but if you asked me to name my actual friends, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t run out of toes. If you named some criterion like “Friends are only those people you see regularly, say, every three years,” then I wouldn’t even run out of fingers.
But we want to call lots of people our friends; that’s why Facebook uses the term. (Not that Twitter or Instagram or the various blogging/content-sharing sites are any better: the term “follower” is almost weirder and more fraught than “friend.” But one strangely warped internet term at a time, eh wot wot? Else it’ll be a fifteen puzzle! Don’t want to get the morbs. [Victorian slang here. It’s some pumpkins.]) It’s not enough for me to call her my wife — that could imply all sorts of different relationships. I have to include the description, “And she’s my friend.” In fact, I generally call her my “best friend.” Not that it isn’t appropriate, but the point is, we’re trying to bring in the term “friend” to relationships where it wouldn’t normally belong. It is now a more inclusive term, rather than exclusive — applying, in some way, to everything from acquaintances to co-workers to the love of my life.
Which means, when it comes to determining my relationship with my friends, deciding just how far I am willing to go for them, it isn’t enough to just say to myself, “He/she is a friend. Therefore I will _________ but I will not _____________.” (Sample answers: share the last cookie/die.) Where, then, do I draw those lines? If I call someone a friend, how much — let’s call it “tolerance,” since that’s generally the measure of my relationship to other humans — does that entitle them to?
I feel as though there is a simple answer to all of this, and it is, “You have to decide, on an individual basis, how much tolerance each friend gets. Put up with a friend for as long as you want that person as a friend, and then stop.” And I feel that my audience is probably thinking this, and getting bored with my philosophicality here. (Hence the Victorian slang, dash my wig! I’ll be poked up if I shoot into the brown here!) And that’s fine in theory, and I’ve probably been putting that into practice, really, for the last few years.
But I’m tired. Having to decide whether or not to stick with friends who are on the margin; trying to decide if I should encourage and support them, or joke around with them, or neither, is becoming exhausting. Even worse is pretending to be friends with people I don’t really like very much, but have some reason to pretend to be friends with, reasons like working together, or for. I used to be in the staff band with one of my administrators, and I really didn’t like the guy, though I wasn’t going to tell him that. And of course, some of the time, he was great — like when we were actually playing together. If I have a friend that is great some of the time, and crappy some of the time, how much of the time does he have to be great to make up for the crappy? Should I just get rid of any friends who are at all crappy? But what if my good friends, who get a whole lot of tolerance, have an opinion I happen to disagree with? An opinion I disagree strongly with? How crappy does that have to feel for me before they cross the line and get dumped?
I try to be forgiving with my friends. I don’t actually mind disagreements. I ended two “friendships” this past weekend, both times because the person shared a meme joking — joking — about the atomic holocausts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was an easy call. But I have other friends who consistently mock Bernie Sanders followers, which generally includes me and several of my other friends. So now the question becomes, do I speak up when they say or post something that annoys me? Or do I ignore it, for the sake of the friendship? What about those who mock everyone who ISN’T a Bernie Sanders fan? Do I really have to decide on an individual basis, every time they say something? In an election year?
This is further complicated for me because I generally have to be careful about what I say on the internet; my past statements and profanity very nearly lost me my license to teach. And I’m friends online with many — hundreds, probably — of my ex-students. I’m pretty open to becoming friends with them, but to be honest, I don’t have a whole lot in common with a lot of them. I remember them fondly from class because they’re bright, or they worked hard, or they had interesting things to say in discussion; but now that I interact with them casually and socially, I find out things like, they only care about cars. Or they’re devoutly religious. Or they’re prickly and combative. Or they believe astrology. Or they want to vote for Trump.
So now what? Do I dump them? Or do I ignore the annoying foibles? For how long?
Do I have to keep a balance sheet for each of my friends? And if I do — where are the cut scores?
I also worry about myself. How much can — should — I interact with them? I am, after all, a lot older than them; if I joke along with their jokes, like a friend, does that make me seem like a creepy old guy desperate for friendly interaction? Do they think that of me? Are they just putting up with me despite my annoying habits out of some sense of obligation because I was their teacher? Of course some of them are — but which ones? If I call them on their bull*hit, does that make me their straight-up honest friend, or some hypercritical *sshole? Of course the difference is in our relationship: but what if they’re of that group of people that prefer straight-up brutal honesty? Do I assume that? Do I use my own standards, and expect them to cleave to what I think is right? Am I more friendly or less friendly if I pick fights with people? What if I say something harsh, but I add “lololololololol” at the end of the comment? Is that something a friend would do? How about an acquaintance? How about a former teacher who gave you an A? How about a former teacher who gave you an F?
I really don’t know. But I’m thinking I may stay off Facebook more, or thin out my friends list a bit, to save myself some effort. And maybe that makes me a bad friend. Maybe I should be willing to put the effort into the friendship, whatever kind of friendship it is. I really don’t know.
I don’t think I have a final insight for this other than: I think we should start using terms other than “friend.” I would like to suggest, as one alternative, “chuckaboo.” Wot wot? Dash my wig, I’m off to bitch the pot. I’m going to get half-rats.