Friendships – Dysfunctional relationships #6 – Balance and Book-Keeping

One issue in the previous postings was balance — and the internal book keeping that seems to be necessary to achieve it.

But in writing these postings I began to see balance and book-keeping different  than before.

On the one hand, book-keeping might seem petty, after all it’s a friendship. It should work without it. On the other hand, because it’s a friendship, it should be balanced. And don’t you need to know how much you give out and receive to know whether the relationship is in balance or not?

Nope.

I think book-keeping signals a fundamental lack of understanding what a friendship is about. Not because balance and equality — or rather reciprocity — is not important or that it is not helpful to evaluate a friendship — after it is over to find out what went wrong.

But trying to maintain a friendship via book-keeping comes too late — too late in the friendship and too late in the interaction.

You do something, they do something, and then you compare scores. What did I give, what did she give? You can build a feedback loop this way and even use game theory strategies like the prisoners dilemma. Here the best strategy would be to cooperate first (e.g., do something for the other person) and then mimic the actions they do. If they do something for you, you do something for them. If they don’t, you don’t either.

But while it works (in these settings), it’s hardly a way to build or keep a friendship. Friendship requires trust and book-keeping is the anathema of trust.

“Speak up for yourself while you’re here, ok?”
Jadzia Dax in Star Trek DS9: “Playing God”

I think the best strategy is to be open about the interaction from the beginning. Looking back at the three friendships I ended deliberately and (for the other persons) surprisingly, the imbalance was a symptom, but not the cause. The real problem was that accepted an interaction that was not equal. That I did not intervene when something was bothering me. That I let things slide. That I did not speak up when I thought that some behavior was thoughtless and hurtful. That I did not establish clear limits.

In my attempts to protect a friendship I wanted to build and keep, I weakened and poisoned it. Instead, I should have kept the interaction fair and equal from the beginning. That should have kept the balance automatically — without any need for book-keeping.

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