One of the things I discuss a lot, whether on my blog, in my private journals, or through my poetry and fiction, is the difficulty of struggling with a personality that tends to over-idealise a majority of people, things, events, and relationships, while simultaneously having a high level of distrust that borders on cynicism. It is a tough type of personality to have, one who sees the world as it could be, as it should be, yet is chronically disappointed that it isn’t, while knowing all along that reality is going to be the eventual outcome of a situation.
I have particular difficulty when it comes to friendships, and even acquaintances. The problem takes on a whole new dimension when it comes to relationships, but that’s a different story for a different day.
You see, I always expect other people, if they are a friend, to treat me in the same way I’d treat them…which, a majority of the time, involves a high degree of sensitivity that borders on well-developed intuition. (i.e. “If you really knew me, you’d understand why this is such a big deal.”) Unfortunately, I’m the sort of person who usually goes above and beyond when it comes to the “thinking about what others would feel” situation, thanks to an overly empathetic nature that often causes as many problems as it fixes. I am by no means perfect, and there are plenty of times when I let others down, when I put my own feelings first, where I speak first and think too late. As a former friend told me—and he is absolutely right—I value being right and having the last word over simply keeping the peace, which isn’t an attractive quality. Yet, for the most part, I try to go through life thinking about not only what makes me happy, but what makes others in my life happy. I have a lot of qualities that could use some work, but for the most part, I’m a really good friend.
The older I get, the more I realise I don’t have the time, energy, and interest to invest in someone who really just doesn’t think I’m that awesome. This isn’t just pure narcissism…although a small part of me does believe everyone I meet should think I’m awesome…but because I’ve been hurt by people who just didn’t care as much as they should have, or didn’t express it via actions. That’s a hard lesson, particularly for someone who has spent years running a social group where my job is to make unappreciative strangers happy as much as possible, and the number of “thank yous” and genuine friendships that have come out of that are far smaller than the number of people who complain, blame, treat me with disrespect, or say negative things about me or my group, when, frankly, they didn’t take the time to get to know me and aren’t giving any indication they can do what I do, only better, after offering their criticism. (there is one memorable exception, which, rather than offending me, makes me laugh.) It’s a hard lesson for someone who’s spent a lifetime understanding when so-and-so didn’t call, why a person she generally liked never wanted to see her again, why people aren’t as interested in connecting with others as in “fluff” and fun and not taking things too seriously. It’s a hard lesson for someone who has historically made excuses for people who don’t offer what she deserves, in terms of respect and appreciation and the value in friendship. (It’s been even worse when it comes to relationships…I have a rationalisation for why someone still loves me, even though he did this horribly disrespectful and hurtful thing, and I will use it, over and over again.)
Sadly, that lesson has been presenting itself in my life a great deal over the past year. There are a few people I genuinely liked and considered friends, or felt a connection with and wished I could get to know better, who simply cut off contact with me and made it clear they’d rather not know me. There are people I don’t know and have never behaved rudely toward to who criticise my social skills and call me fat to total strangers, while avoiding confrontation with me.
Every event I hold, there are 1/3 of the people who say they’re coming who simply never show up. It’s a complaint every Meetup organizer with a large group has, and there’s no way around it. It’s one thing that never fails to upset me, because I simply don’t understand it. I get that people are busy, that plans change, that there are people that others would just plain rather hang out with. However, the “no-show” business…the chronic idea that not showing up somewhere you made plans to spend time with someone, even a stranger, without so much as a phone call or an e-mail or a two word text….it makes me feel like giving up the gig altogether. I don’t understand how others can disrespect someone who is putting him or herself out there when it’s not necessary. I just wouldn’t do that, because I don’t believe in taking anyone’s presence, anyone’s friendship, anyone who offers something when they don’t have to, for granted.
It’s even worse when said behaviour becomes from a friend. A few years back, I had a friend who was known for this behaviour. Something would come up on the way to an event, and she’d change her mind and not show up. A day before, she’d inform me her plans had changed, and I’d have to deal with something entirely on my own. I’d make plans with her, only to be abandoned at the last minute, too late for me to make different plans of my own. This friend has changed a good deal over the years, but there was a point where life took us in different directions and I didn’t really reach out (although she didn’t, either), because I remembered all these moments where we really didn’t treat one another the way friends should. Fortunately, we are again friends, and now that we both know how to behave a little more maturely, the “situations” that caused the drama no longer happen. It helps when people are around the same age and go through the same growing-up process together. *laughs*
On the other hand, I also had an acquaintance for a long time who I tried to be friendly with, but we were just never that close. We had mutual friends with whom we were much closer, but she and I together just never really hit it off in that “Let’s hang out and be friends” way. For me, one of the reasons was a reluctance to open up to her, because she’d consistently RSVP for things and not show up, or tell us right before the event started. I generally think if someone is that casual about making plans with their friends, it’s often the case that said person is that casual with the feelings of others, and I’m just not in to that. I don’t need more friends I wonder if I can count on when I really need it, or are the ones talking about me behind my back, and printing out my “friends only” journal entries to read out loud and laugh about with their friends.
Tonight, I had flashbacks of this long-term attempted friendship with the flaky girl, while waiting for a friend who was supposed to join us for trivia this evening….one who never showed up. I didn’t get a phone call, or a text, and when I made it home later in the evening, I saw I didn’t even merit a two word e-mail or Facebook message.
Of course, my first thought was to be concerned about his well-being. Once, I had a friend who stood me up on Cinco di Mayo, and I was pissed because he turned his cell off and didn’t bother to get in touch. I resolved that I deserved better, and planned to discontinue the friendship ASAP…until he showed up at my front door needing a drink and someone to talk to. As it turned out, my friend wasn’t an inconsiderate jackass…he’d spent the night in jail after getting pulled over on the way home from my place the previous night.
At the same time, I have this intuition that tells me the non-trivia-playing friend is absolutely fine, and happened to be off drinking with friends, or hanging out with his girlfriend, or had an otherwise exciting change of plans that meant it was cool to ditch joining us…which it would be, if I’d been important enough to get some form of communication telling me so.
And, really, that genuinely hurts me. Frankly, I don’t know this person all that well…it’s one of those situations where I feel like I’ve gotten to know someone pretty quickly via chit-chat and sharing and even some “deep conversations”, without ever spending that much time together. But, for a while, I felt we were genuinely on the road to becoming friends.
Since the holidays, though, this friend has really shown limited interest in communicating with me…a far cry from how we were getting along previously…and when we do speak, it’s not in a very “connected” way. And perhaps that’s just what happens in life, and not everyone’s meant to be the best of friends. Sadly, though, this is what I do, the idealist that I am. I meet people who have qualities I like and admire and gravitate towards, and try to befriend them for that reason. I don’t always remember to take the time out to notice that if that person isn’t that interested in communicating with me or hanging out, it’s probably because they don’t see qualities they like and admire and gravitate towards in me. Friendship, like all other things, is a two-way street. I’ve been told a cardinal rule in life is to never chase after anyone, because if they’re not aware of how fabulous you are, there are plenty of people in the world who are. Somehow, I’ve learned the truth of this in relationships, but when it comes to friendships, I still expect too much of others. I still expect others to treat me the same way I choose to treat my friends. I still have this idealistic view of friendship, thinking favourably of others, and building connections.
One of the biggest has to do with respect. If someone thinks I’m not interesting enough that they’d rather ditch something I invited them to in favour of something better, I kind of get that. That someone is usually right. I’m not the world’s most exciting company. But if they think that it’s cool to just not show up without a word, while I care enough to wonder if that person is OK…that’s just not a lack of friendship, a lack of interest, but a lack of respect.
I am overidealistic and expect too much from people, and therefore, am constantly disappointed when I see others aren’t quite what I imagined them to be…but I know I don’t deserve that lack of respect. Being my friend may not be the most fascinating prospect in the world, and maybe some people will naturally be psyched about the chance to get to know me while others kind of take my openness for granted and think it’s not all that special…but the fact that I care, I think that should always count for something.
It hurts when the world takes that so lightly, and being the busy, self-absorbed, emotionally detached place that it is…well, it so often does. I’ve tried to develop thicker skin over the years, and to make myself less open, less accessible to befriending others. Sometimes, though, I wonder if it’s really me who needs to change how she sees, treats, and thinks of others.
The cynic in me says, after the experiences of 2011, “Whatever, I don’t need new friends. I have some perfectly great people in my life.” But once in awhile, I come across someone that has some rare quality, some rare connection in common with me that says they might be a good addition to that collection of wonderful people in my life. But, when that interest and that level of respect for building a friendship doesn’t run both ways…I have to know when to admit there’s nothing I can do.
It doesn’t keep me from feeling hurt, and disappointed…and wondering why I’m so different, so overly sensitive, because so many people wouldn’t care. Yet I always care, too much, and always end up getting hurt by that. Is it stubbornness, a lesson I refuse to learn, or just emotional masochism?
I heard from the no-show friend today, who apologised and explained a situation came up, he still wanted to be friends, it wasn’t personal, etc., etc. I know those things are probably true and genuine, and that my intuition is right…I’ve been dealing with someone who is a genuinely nice person. I am glad that he is fine and his situation got sorted out, but I also feel extremely distant, as if an important dynamic has changed in said friendship.
I deserve a thought, an e-mail, a phone call when you can’t make it to things. And I’m actually nice enough and have enough positive attributes that I’m worth getting to know; some people who really do know me will agree that in my own special and unique way, I’m pretty awesome. And so, I can’t be the one always reaching out and attempting to be friends with someone who may or may not see that. As I’ve said, I have literally thousands of acquaintances, some of whom I know better than others…and I’m always happy to add more. But if you really and truly wish to be my “friend”, it takes work, it takes interest, it takes respect and consideration, and it takes a willingness to put yourself out there.
Life has taught me not everyone is up for that…it’s not what our society is about. It’s not always fun and easy. It’s not always about the happy-go-lucky image instead of the real person. Actual friendships take work…and that’s why I know I’m blessed with more “true friends” than most people have, because I’ve put in the ups and the downs, the laughter, the tears, and the craziness. Most of my close friends have been an important part of my life from 5-15 years, and I don’t know what I’d do without them. I just celebrated a birthday, and while many of those friends couldn’t be present, virtually all my close Atlanta friends were…as well as a few new ones. And not a single person forgot to show up, or came three hours late. I was really touched that people brought cards and gifts and cake, when their presence would have been enough.
A guy who plays trivia with us on Saturdays, albeit on an opposing team that always beats us, has been having a tough time, as his dad is extremely sick. It seems likely that, barring an unexpected recovery, he may pass away soon. My heart really hurts for this person, and what he is going through…and it also reminds me how short life is. At any time, any person you know could be that person in a hospital bed somewhere, which is why it’s so important to actively appreciate everyone you care about, everyone you love, everyone whose presence you appreciate on a regular basis.
It’s a high ideal to live up to, and we all fall short (I don’t call home nearly as often as I should), but one that’s consistently worth trying for. That’s how I try to live my life, and like to surround myself with people who do the same.