San Diego – in the old traditional western culture in which I grew up, the term “Friend” was a truly special term; a title earned by a very select few. And make no mistake, it is a title to be earned, not one given lightly nor appropriated without cause. A true “Friend” was one that, in the middle of the night if the hostiles were coming over the wall and survival odds were slim at best, you could call on for help and, even if they REALLY did not want to do, would show up to help anyway even at risk to themselves. I knew lots of people who were acquaintances of varying degrees from just people who I had met and knew by name to others I did business with and perhaps even liked. But they were not truly “friends” since I had no sense that i could rely on them under dire circumstances. Indeed in that culture you were considered a rich person to have a bare handful of real friends.
But here in this culture, the term ‘friend’ is essentially meaningless. People call everyone they know — or would like to know — a friend. On Facebook and other “social networks” people have hundreds of friends, many of whom they do not actually know. And the latest idiocy is the BFF BS. Calling someone a BFF (best friends forever) really means until someone more desirable comes along. Like a California wedding vow of “until inconvenience or irritation do us part…” the implied promises of friendship are lost. People, desperate for human connections in a fear-based, image-based, convenience-based society call any and everyone friends, confide in people with not a shred of duty to maintain confidences, cling like lost puppies to people in the hopes of having image or “cool” or some desired trait they see in the other person rub off on them by association and osmosis and, of course, call them all “friends.”
But those friends are seen as friends only so long as they behave in a certain way, sometimes as sycophants stroking the egos of the other or as someone willing to reinforce and facilitate the dysfunctional behavior of the other so the friendships are alarmingly contingent not on trust and reliability or even mutual respect but on mutual self gratification. From that I also developed a new term when visiting here in the late 1970s, which was “California Friends.” These are people who are more than acquaintances and who would in fact answer the midnight call into dire circumstances… IF it was convenient. Some of them are sufficiently bereft of the stuff of real friendships that they do not require even the dire circumstances to behave that way. When you suggest an activity the response is they will have to wait and see. Now if some tentative event were already in the works for them and they had already made a contingent promise to participate and needed to see how it progressed, that is one thing. But most of the time here it is simply that they want to wait to see if something better comes along and if it does not, then and then only are they willing to join you in whatever activity was proposed.
Now that really makes you feel special. A special level of fool that is. Here is a news flash for the California Callow Collection: real friends do not do that to one another.
Personally I think that is very sad. To never know the profound comfort of a real friend is a huge loss. To not have real friends who care enough about you to take you to task when you are out of line, to force you to think about actions and behaviors and comments within the safe bounds of the friendship is a major loss of social protection. I have been verbally bloodied by true friends who felt I was about to do (or had just done) something completely unacceptable. It hurt and stung, but because i knew they cared about me I had to give it some serious thought. Sometimes I agreed and tried to make amends; other times i did not agree but tried to analyze how what i was doing could lead to that conclusion and sometimes changed the process or the wording or whatever was needed. Those people were still my friends until a couple of them died recently and I deeply mourn their loss in and for my life.
That level of friend is not common and almost unheard of out here. There used to be an advertisement for soap or deodorant or some such about body odor that said something to the effect, “…when only your friends will tell you.” I don’t think people have a real clue what that means anymore, or at least not here. I discovered that painfully first hand. A couple of years ago I had an acquaintance that I thought was a friend. Cantankerous and curmudgeonly of spirit, he was one who could ferret out the single cloud on an otherwise sunny day and if not, complain about the sunburn potential. But we had, so I thought, a burgeoning real friendship based on other common interests and mutual respect. But one day he went over the top in a silly, hurtful, counterproductive statement about someone else and I took him to task over it and made clear my disapproval of his statement and attitude. To make matters worse, his shot was in response to my going to the aid of another “friend” who was, in fact, in dire life threatening straits even though some of it was from their own actions. But I can hardly claim to be without error and so when the need and call for help arose i tried to respond, and continued to respond to help that friend’s parents deal with a truly frightening few days when we all were coming to grips with the potential that the friend of mine might be dead somewhere. So, loaded with adrenaline and lack of sleep when I got the “Why are you still involved since it was all their own fault” message I replied with a “you are the wrong person to be casting stones” note. I meant it as a wake up call to a friend to look internally before suggesting a helpless person be left to the wolves because they had wandered into the wolf den by themselves.
He responded with unbridled anger and declared that I was not a trustworthy person and he wanted me out of his life. To this day he has not responded to several attempts to revisit and resolve that issue except to reiterate his initial position. He said it was clear we had never been friends and though his reasons for the conclusion were not mine I guess I would have to say in retrospect, he was correct. And that, for me, has remained a point of real sadness and, in fact, sent my psyche into a state of some safety-seeking hibernation for quite a spell.
The really sad thing is it has kept me from wanting to try the whole “friendship” thing here again. I have a number of good acquaintances with whom I enjoy spending time and sharing activities. I am content to leave it at that. In a few cases if they called me as the hostiles were coming over their wall I might actually go to their aid. But the sad thing is that there are none of them, except some old friends of very longstanding, that I confidently feel would reciprocate. And I am done with being put on hold to await something or someone better for anyone to be with. That is simply rude, discourteous, insulting, disrespectful, dishonest, and dishonorable and is the kiss of relationship death for me right on the spot. Real friends do not treat each other like that.
One can have an unrequited love but not an unrequited friendship. Friendships, to me, are two way streets or they do not exist. Being a simple acquaintance places no demands on either party; they are easy with no harm, no foul likely. Friends, REAL friends do not lie to one another; they do not make promises and then fail to keep them; they know that maintaining a friendship requires effort and is based on respect, honesty, integrity, courtesy and, msot of all, trust. Neglect is deadly to them. Compared to acquaintanceships, friendships are a whole new level of emotional and ethical connection. And the problem is that real, solid relationships up to and including real love can only be based on a foundation of real friendship. Without that core of true, solid friendship there is no defense against mistaking lust for love or loneliness for heart ache.
So, if that new loose definition of friendship, as portrayed by social networks and revealed with BFFs, is truly what the meaning of friendship has come down to in this time and place, then I have no interest in them. Count me out of the game. Give me simple acquaintances any day because instead of dealing with the depressing fallout from feigned and bogus claims of friendship I would rather say, with Cyrano, “Here comes, thank God, another enemy.”