Thursday, October 31, 2013

Absent Friends

I have lost so much over the past couple of years, it is no wonder I feel bereft.
Much of it is still too raw or painful to write about but it has taught me a lot about friendship and about my friends.
The old notion that “when your life goes awry, you find out who your real frends are” could not be more true.
Some of my friends have been incredible: kind, understanding and helpful. They have done what I hope I would do for them in the same situation.
Other old friends, however, have not been seen for dust.
One, who I have known since 1983, lived with in Coventry and London and went on holiday with on two occasions, dropped me without so much as a word, ignoring my letter and Christmas card.
And he was the guy who once told me that when his chums came a cropper, he’d waste little time in calling them up and taking them out to lunch. Perhaps, he was only referring to famous friends!
Another old friend sent me a single condescending and hopelessly ill-informed email and never followed it up with so much as a phone call or letter. A third said he would call me back in five minutes and never did. Again, not a word of explanation was deemed necessary.
“A friend in need is a pain in the backside” is an apposite adage.
These incidents have made me think a lot recently about how people react to you when life gives you a kick.
I suppose I have always grappled with the concept of friendship. When I was at school, I had very few friends.
At junior school in Cumnor, Oxfordshire, my only friend was a boy called Basil Harris and when Basil invited me to his birthday party I recall being told that he had had to not invite two or three other friends to be allowed to ask me to attend. I remember being rather shocked and puzzled by this.
At secondary school, as a victim of physical and psychological bullying, I also did not make a great number of friends, although by my fearful sixth form years I had a small number of Dungeons and Dragons players around me, led by an intelligent boy called Paul Eggleton a.k.a. Egg.
 I regarded them as friends but I guess they did not see me in the same light; the slightest disagreement led to me leaving (or being ejected from) the group. I can’t remember exactly what went wrong.
At university and in my early jobs, I formed my first true friendships and a few of these friends are still with me.
My definition of “true friendship” is a “deep, supportive relationship through good times and bad”.
However, I have long been aware that the modern way is to make little distinction between what I would call true friends, mates, acquaintances, colleagues, contacts or clients.
Social media sites have encouraged this approach, coercing online addicts to try to build up the biggest possible network of people to form a kind of “fan base” rather than a grouping of genuine friends. I found myself doing it before I was weaned off the highly addictive Facebook and Twitter.
In the real world, sadly, who you associate with often comes down to their relative status to you.
An old friend may go up in the world, join a swanky London club, the Ivy, Groucho or Soho House, and get to know some minor celebrities and/or politicians.
Suddenly, you find yourself arranging to meet your old friend through his secretary or being asked by him to set up meetings at his club for him with a mutual friend.
You no longer have the same status as your erstwhile friend. 
So you either accept a subservient role or forget the so-called friendship altogether.
Friendship has become like a kind of dating.
Single men and women often consider themselves out of each other’s leagues.
Exactly the same occurs with friends who have become very successful, wealthy or/and famous. Suddenly, they can be out of your league. They might wave at you from afar but really they are no longer interested; they have bigger fish to fry.
I sometimes wonder how many people understand what true friendship is about: that it is a two-way street, that you take the rough with the smooth, that you care for each other.
Briefly I worked for a City financial PR agency where one of the directors used to boast at pitches that her clients became her friends.
She did it, no doubt, to persuade prospective clients of what a great, attractive, friendly bunch of people she and her colleagues were. But I believe what she said was neither correct nor desirable.
Conversely, you can find yourself in the “old friend being treated as a business client”, with the “email my PA about lunch” scenario, as described above, which is insulting and belittling.
However, perhaps I should not be harsh on those who behave in this way.
There has always been a pecking order in life and, as people move up and down, it is hardly surprising they relate differently to each other.
Who of us could honestly say we have not dropped a friend?
Also interesting is the behaviour of former girlfriends, who are often eager to meet former boyfriends when they [the girls] are single, but often very unwilling to do so when they’re in a new relationship or married.
Some of this you might put down to the male psyche of their new partners.
We still live in a very traditional world. Some men are so insecure or chauvinist that they ban their partners from seeing exes.
And, of course, some women simply see no point in seeing an ex once they have a new man. The old bloke had his uses once - but now that’s all in the past and best forgotten.
Again, none of this should be surprising. Nothing, it seems, goes on forever.
You can so very easily become just someone your former beloved used to know. 
That’s the way the love cookie crumbles.
Someone told me the other day of an elderly woman whose husband had died.
She was bereft and distraught and expected her female friends to rally round to support her emotionally.

A few of them did but most avoided her, apparently out of fear that widowhood was catching or that she might “go after”  their husband or partners. 

An interesting tale.
Don't get me wrong: I still have some great friends and they mean a hell of a lot to me.
So, in my case, losing a few old friends, who turn out not to be true friends after all, is not the end of the world.
Of course it hurts. I am a regular bloke with regular feelings. When you cut me, I bleed.
It is upsetting but believe me losing those you really love is so much worse.

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Blogger The Poet Laura-eate said...

I have given up trying to work it out re my own life. 'Their loss' is what I've had to conclude when former friends have cut ties, sometimes for no fathomable reason. It's sad, but just goes to show that one can never close oneself off to making new friends. My former boss (now in his 70s) is still meeting new people all the time and charming their socks off, despite suffering personal bereavement and goodness knows what else in his life. I think he has the right attitude.

Friday, 15 November, 2013  

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