Category Archives: Friendship

Friendships – Help and Support

One issue that still sticks out from the last friendship I ended is the kind of help you can expect in a good friendship.

For me, helping a friend when s/he is in trouble is something that I do automatically. I do not wait for an invitation, nor would I expect one. I think this is one of the defining characteristics of a good friendship — if something is wrong you keep in close contact and make sure that the friend gets better — and intervene if necessary.

To put it differently, when you see someone drowning and going under, you have to show initiative and enter the water to help the person out. Telling the person “call me if I can help you” and then walk away — that reaction would not be tolerated if it came from a bystander, much less from a friend.

BTW, it has nothing to do with mind-reading, but with interest, being able to listen, empathy and perspective taking. After all, if the person is your friend you know enough of the person to gauge how this person thinks and feels — and what you can do to help this person. In this regard I strongly agree with the following quotation:

When a friend is in trouble, don’t annoy him by asking if there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate and do it.
Edgar Watson Howe

And if your friends are not willing to do this for you — and they don’t react well to feedback regarding this behavior — then they have failed the parachute test of friendship. And then it’s time for better friends. Friends who watch your back when you need them.

Because one day you will need them.

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Friendships – Dysfunctional relationships #7 – The road not taken

Looking back at the last dysfunctional friendship — and the previous postings — I think I understand better now how that friendship developed and why I ended it. And that the dysfunctional behavior was on both sides — she used me and felt entitled to my friendship, but I also used her. I cannot simply see her at fault and say:

My plan is to forgive and forget.
Forgive myself for being stupid,
and forget you ever existed.
Unknown

The friendship is over and that is a good thing. It ended because I voluntarily took an inferior position. Sure, without thinking it through, but still.

The question is — could I have acted differently?

In the beginning, sure, and I am not sure whether that friendship would have developed then in the first place. I assume that she was looking for a person like me. If I had known what I know now and it had ended right at the start … that would have probably a good thing.

At the time when I reached my limit regarding the imbalance … I don’t know. I think the main problem would have been that trying to change the friendship, the way it functions — that is not only extremely hard but it takes the effort of both parties. If the habits are that entrenched, it takes continuous conscious effort to change it.

And I doubt that she would have 1. seen the need to change it, and 2. contribute to it. It would have been far more likely that she would have felt insulted by the assertion that the friendship was off-balance. After all, at the end she said she did not want to lose me — but although she would vehemently deny it, I think she feared less losing me but more losing my support.

As for me, continuing the friendship and trying to change it — it would have been hard to impossible for me not to fall into the old habits.

The old habits are just so comfortable — for both parties.

So, yes, it was a cowardly as asshole move to end the friendship this way. And I think the problem was getting in such a situation in the first place.

In this sense the goal is not to forgive and forget, but to analyze and apply — in future, better friendships.

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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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Friendships – Dysfunctional relationships #5 – Hurt and Nostalgia

It’s been more than a month now that I ended the last friendship I had. And I still think that it was a good decision. Probably the best decision I have made this year — unless I quit my job, but that’s another story. It’s up there with other decisions like switching from a PC to a Mac, or leaving the Catholic Church.

But at times, I miss that ‘friendship’.

Looking back, it was not much — and how it developed and ended … much of it was my fault and responsibility. But still, it was something — in the sense that a few crumbs can be a feast when you are starving.

And then I remind myself that ending the friendship was in my best (long-term) interest. That I need to build a new social life with people who are good for me. And that ending the friendship this way was the only way to get out of it. Otherwise I would have slipped back into the dysfunctional friendship and would not have looked around for new friends. Would have avoided the social interaction with all it’s little cuts and bruises, comfortable, but I would have died alone in the long run.

I think back at the friendship and still see the cheese, but now I also see clearly that it was only a few crumbs of cheese — and there is a steel trap around it.

I think that a dysfunctional friendship (or any relationship) has its attraction because when people are in a bad place — emotionally, mentally, financially, or even regarding their career — many people prefer the known bad situation to the unknown dangers and hurt that could happen to them when they leave the situation. Aptly put by the idiom ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t‘. However, this assumes that the alternative is always worse, and I don’t believe in that anymore.

“You know what’s sad about people like you, Lilah? It all comes down to fear.”
“Fascinating. Now that we’ve got that settled …”
“You’re too scared to believe in anything because you’re too scared to hope. You won’t even open your eyes to the possibility.”
Cordelia and Lilah in Angel: “Calvary”

There is always the hope that things can get better. Especially if you find out what brought you in that dysfunctional situation in the first place, remind yourself of it again and again, and work hard to change your cognition and your behavior.

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Friendships – Dysfunctional relationships #4 – Reciprocity, entitlement and being bothered by it

I was once friends with a student of medicine. These students have the reputation of getting arrogant during their studies, becoming ‘half-gods in white’. Highly trained skills combined with power over life and death can do that, I suppose. It was certainly true for him. It got so bad in everyday situations that I ended the friendship with him.

But that was nothing compared to the kind of entitlement I noticed in the last friendship I ended.

The lack of balance was one thing. People can feel they are entitled to get more than they give — or they simply think that the amount they give has such a high value that it should be more than enough. A crumb of their gold is worth more than your bucket of lead. After all, you might remember the ten-second conversation you had with that famous person until the end of your life, while the famous person immediately forgets the small talk with that face from the crowd. But a friendship should be between equals — all things being equal, the same actions should have the same value. And I would not want to be ‘friends’ with someone who feels entitled to my friendship.

But what was even worse was that she felt bothered by her entitlement. Not only did she not believe in the norm of reciprocity, the expectation that she would have to reciprocate for what she sought and took bothered her.

Yup. It is one thing to profit by an imbalance. And I had my part in that imbalance. I created it and keep it there. But if someone considers me as a friend and repeatedly tells me so, I would have expected some kind of feedback that my support bothered her — especially even when she asked for it and accepted it. That, while she asked for support and took it, it made her resentful that others would now expect she had to reciprocate and give something back.

Realizing that she felt entitled and felt bothered by it at the same time was the final straw that ended the friendship. I have received a couple of metaphorical slaps in my face, but that was … different.

It makes you question the character of the person — and the world we live in.

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Friendships – Dysfunctional relationships #3 – Fault and Responsibility

When I look back at the imbalance in the last friendship I ended … having invested a lot of time, emotions and effort into something that I knew — deep down — would not reciprocate … I had to accept the fact that it was my fault how the friendship turned out — and how it ended.

It was my decision to continue the friendship, because a bad friendship is in many ways easier than building new friendships. I chose to stay in that friendship because trying to build new friendship always carries that scary element of rejection.

Life dies inside a person when there are no others willing to be-friend him. He thus gets filled with emptiness and a non-existent sense of self-worth.
Mark R. J. Lavoie

And I used her in some ways. I like to develop my ideas in writing, and with her I had someone I could bounce off my ideas. I also like to create things, and with her I had someone whom I could create things for.

I think this was the main reason why the friendship continued this long — and this was also one of the main reasons the friendship turned toxic.

Over time, she came to expect my attention while she did not have to give much. It was my responsibility to set the balance right from the start. Well, hindsight is always 20/20.

But I do not think that this was the only influence at work here. There was also her growing sense of entitlement in general.

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Friendships – Dysfunctional relationships #2 – Red Flags

When I look back at the last friendship I ended, I am a little taken aback how I could have stayed friends with her for so long.

Don’t get me wrong, she was a very interesting person — in a way. But — to be brutally honest — not really a good friend. Friendship requires interest in the person and empathy/perspective taking. She might have been interested, but more in what I could do for her (mostly in terms of emotional support) than in me as a person. And when it comes to empathy and perspective taking — that was not really her strong suit.

In short, despite being highly intelligent (trust me on this), she was also superficial and self-centered.

And I accepted it and made excuses for it.

For example, I accepted …

  • that I invested much more in the friendship (for years) than I got back.
  • that someone I trusted for a long time was not good for me, was more of a detriment to my happiness and success, than an aid.
  • that she was applying a double-standard where I had to compensate for her idiosyncrasies and bad mood but she would be offended by mine.
  • that no matter how interesting she might have appeared she did not show it in her interactions with me.

In many ways that friendship was like a sunk-cost fallacy. At some point I had invested a lot in it — and I was still hoping to get something out of it. Not “benefits,” by the way, but support, feedback, someone I could rely on.

But when it comes down to it — if I were in a situation where I really, really needed someone who does something for me, something that was really, really important and that thing has to be done exactly right — I would not have trusted her to do it.

Needing someone is like needing a parachute. If he isn’t there the first time you need him, chances are you won’t be needing him again.
Unknown

In fact, she failed the parachute test of friendship a couple of times. In consequence, I avoided such situations, and when I had to trust her, I hedged my bets. Sure, she had her excuses and explanations, but that does not help you if you would have crashed real badly were it not for the reserve canopy you took along.

That alone should have been a huge red flag — I was expecting to get something out of the friendship yet deep down it was clear to me that I could never really depend on her.

But that was very difficult to realize.

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Friendships – Dysfunctional relationships #1 – Intro

A couple of weeks ago I unilaterally ended a friendship that existed (in various degrees) for over a decade. It wasn’t an easy decision and it lead to a very negative reaction of the person I was friends with — which I can totally understand.

After all, if someone considers you as a ‘best friend’ or even a ‘good friend’ and you suddenly end the friendship — that really is devastating. Friendship is a question of fit between two people, but ending a friendship tells the other person that you judge her unfit for a friendship with you. And doing this after being friends with her for over a decade and she was thinking that everything is fine … holla.

It shows that something was seriously wrong in the friendship — not only due to the fact that you unilaterally ended the friendship, but that you did not talk openly about it earlier. Not telling a (former) friend about it in advance, warning the person that something is wrong, but simply ending the decade old friendship from one day to the next — that is an asshole move.

Still, I did this three times so far — and I wonder why I did this to other people — people whom I had considered as friends.

My “surface” reasons did differ a little, but I think the underlying problem from my perspective was that I invested more in the friendship than I got out of it. This went on for years until a combination of critical incidents led me to end the friendships.

Do not keep on with a mockery of friendship after the substance is gone – but part, while you can part friends. Bury the carcass of friendship: it is not worth embalming.
William Hazlitt

A nice excuse but hardly the full picture and it begs the question: “Why didn’t I talk about it earlier?” Or: “Why did I wait until I though my only recourse was to end the friendship — abruptly, unilaterally, without warning?”

No matter how I turn it, the fact remains that I made the decision to end the friendship well in advance. I made the decision and accepted it before I confronted the other person with that decision.

That’s not only an asshole move, that also a pretty cowardly move.

The fact that she reacted hurt should be a clear indicator that she cherished the friendship and that I was a cowardly asshole who did not cherish the friendship — shouldn’t it?

I am not sure.

There is another explanation — people react very negatively not only when they lose a good friendship/relationship, but also when they lose access to resources. I do not think that this is the only reason in this case, but I think it is a reason. I think she considered me useful and practical, someone who was always there for her when she needed me, someone who righteously invested a lot to be friends with her.

But still, a decade of ‘friendship’ is a long time and it bothers me that this was the third time that I ended a friendship this way. That a friendship developed this way. I wonder how I could not have seen it earlier and why I kept the ‘friendship’ for so long.

I think the decision to end the ‘friendship’ was the right one. It was a dysfunctional friendship/relationship.

But I want to find out why.

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What Good Friends Are For

One of the best examples of what good friends are for I have seen so far … with probably the best two YouTube comments I have read so far.

neobabe120788: A good friend knows when to hold you back. A BEST friend knows when to let go and let you rip into a bitch.

CloudCereal553: A good friend will hold you back in a fight. A best friend will know when to let go and let you tear up a bitch. A best friend forever will know when to let go and take pictures while you tear up said bitch.

Hmm, the only question is — where do you find such a friend?

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