Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What Makes a True Friend?

On Saturday, I was surprised to read on the blog of the family friend (the one who believes that my subconscious "attracted" rednecks to throw blocks of ice at me while walking down the road a few weeks back) that she was admitting she had "control issues." Okay, maybe she does, but I never thought that was her "problem." Besides, my last job taught me all about what a person with "major control issues" behaves like and this lady doesn't even come close.

Still, I am touched by her self-appraisal and willingness to admit this quality about herself. She had defriended me on Facebook after I sent her a private email expressing my long history of frustration with her (see my previous blog posts from January to learn more in depth about the "history of our friendship"). Below, I'm posting what appeared on her blog (her blog is in my Blogroll as "Cocoons to Butterflies"). Please read her post before I add my thoughts to what she wrote.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Problem of Control

Control has always been a big issue for me. When I was a small child, I was very bold, popular and friendly. This often led to taking control of the situation, sometimes at the expense of others. When I was around twelve, I learned that I was indeed quite controlling and that others often resented it. Since that time, my desire has been to control myself and let others come to their own conclustions. Still, even with years of practice, there are times when I falter in big ways. The thing is, control is a huge problem. Seeking to control others not only blocks some of their energy, but it also blocks your own.

I recently encountered a situation with a person I consider a really good friend. He pointed out to me there were times he felt I was subtly trying to teach him a lesson, and he resented it as he really didn't see me as a teacher or mentor. As I thought about it, I realized he was right. I value him so much I want him to have the benefit of alternative perspectives. The thing is, his life is not about me anymore than my life is about him. He is learning the things he needs to learn in this lifetime, and these lessons are in no way dependent on me or my help. I decided that I did need to give him his space to learn what he came here to learn, so I let go of that friendship for a while. There was too much tension between us (which should have been an obvious sign to me in the first place). I am not hurt or angry or upset in any way, and I wish him well on his journey.

The interesting part for me has been the result of this action. As I let go of my control, I feel the release of energy and emotions--one of those breathing a sigh of relief sort of moments. As I let go of the tension, better emotions fill me. I've also discovered I have been attracting some really amazing, uplifting friends who are refilling this void. Giving up trying to control this friend has been incredibly transforming for me.

It is said that everyone who comes into your life is a teacher. Lesson learned. Thank you, my friend.

The thing that most stunned me about her post is that she actually claimed to consider me a "really good friend." Really? That's the first I ever heard of it. It was sometime in 2001 or 2002 when I started feeling "used" by her for my empathy. In 1996, shortly after the birth of her fourth and final child (whom I feel a special affinity with because he was born just ten days before I got out of the Navy, so whenever I see him, I have a visual on how long I've been out of the Navy), she was separated from her husband (who had committed adultery) and her dream life of the happy housewife in suburbia with the white picket fence came crashing down. She would call me and talk for hours about her feelings regarding the divorce. I was being the empathetic friend, a role I seem naturally suited for (guys in the Navy would often tell me things they would never say to another man, like I was some kind of priest sitting in those strange little confessionals). I had my own theories about the reasons for the divorce but I kept my mouth shut. Heck, I even came to my own conclusions about her motives for marrying the guy. However, I also think its the shittiest thing for a man to do to a woman: walking away from the commitments made before family, friends, and God to his wife, especially with young children for her to raise alone. I developed a theory at the time that men turn into assholes during midlife crises while women get better with age. She naturally had my empathetic ear, even though there's always at least two sides to the story. That's what being a loyal friend is all about.

Much of our friendship also included going to the movies. Though she lived in really far outer suburbia of Atlanta, I always drove out to her neck of the woods to see a movie. We saw a variety: What Women Want, Kate and Leopold, Serendipity, Planet of the Apes, Artificial Intelligence. I thought of her as an older sister, but our hanging out together did cause some church members and my own parents to wonder if we were an item. When this lady and I had a falling out in 2009, she had asked me a question that truly stunned me: "Did you ever wonder why I never seemed interested in dating you?" I was horrified when she asked me that because I thought I had made myself quite clear in the late 1990s and the early 2000s when I told her that I saw her as an older sister (being in the same church and our parents being close friends kind of made it seem natural to think of her as a sister). I had even told her that I base potential dates on the baseball system: three strikes and they are out. These are all strikes against a lady in my book: divorce, child (each child counts as one strike), and obesity. This was the way I approached dating a decade ago. Now, of course, I have a more nuanced outlook. Divorce and one child wouldn't be a deal-breaker or maybe not even count as two strikes against any lady who had other qualities I valued (kindness and intelligence are the top two criteria I am seeking).

Anyhow, her question to me induced the icky factor, because her potential for liking me in a romantic way was the equivalent of "incest" to me, even though we are not blood relations. One thing people don't understand about me is that I take roles very seriously. Even if I find women who are outside of Generation X to be intellectually, experiencially, and/or physically attractive, I believe that being born in the same generation is a far too important bond in a serious relationship. I also want to have a child or two someday (soon), and due to the biological clock, it does not make sense to end up with a lady older than myself. Time is truly ticking away on women in Generation X, but I think it is important to marry a lady born in the same decade as me, or not too far into the 1980s.

I guess, for this lady, she assumed that my going to the movies with her meant that I had more romantic interests in her when it was not the case at all. I have always been able to maintain friendships with women without wanting to take it to the next level, particularly if they didn't fit what I was looking for. Not every guy wants to jump every woman's bones! Its just nice to have the female perspective on things and I did enjoy our spiritual conversations over the years.

However, it wasn't her self-described "control issues" that frustrated our friendship. It was a complete psychological incompatability. She simply did not understand me at all and misinterpreted too many things about me that only continued to build as the years wore on. One of the things I love most about my friends, the ones I consider to be in "the first tier" is that they truly "get" me. In our conversations or interactions, they will say or do something that they know will cause a desired reaction in me (namely, making me laugh...and my sense of humour can be a bit tough to figure out for many people. My brother is one who tries hard to make me laugh, but our sense of humour don't match). Another way friends show that they truly know me is in their reactions to things I've said or they know exactly the right questions to ask me when I share with them my life or a dilemma I want feedback on.

Here's one example: when I visited best friend Nathan in Hawaii in 1997 and even considered transferring to BYU-Hawaii in 1998, Nathan said quite bluntly that it would be a stupid idea. When I mentioned how much I liked O'ahu, all he had to ask me was: "How many times are you going to drive around this island before you realize how much you hate it?" He had a point. He knew that I needed to live on the mainland, with thousands of miles of roads for my need to travel. Here's another example: In 2001, when I finally received a job offer with That Organization That Shall Not Be Named, I called each of my three best friends to share the news. All three of them asked me the same exact question. I ignored their warnings, and I have a wasted decade to show for it!

The friendship between this family friend and myself started to unravel in 2001 and 2002. I was going through a tough time in late 2000 and most of 2001, but this lady did not offer an empathetic ear to relate to what I was going through. Instead, she did the blame thing and seemed to have a hostile view of me, which is not what a true friend does. I know with my friends, even if I believe that they brought stuff upon themselves, I would still choose to take their side because that's what it means to be a loyal friend. That's why I have strict standards about who I allow into my life, particularly when it comes to close friends. I'm naturally loyal and empathetic, so the last thing I need is a trouble maker friend who is dysfunctional in how he relates to other people and gets into trouble all the time. That's too much drama.

When someone is not loyal or defensive to me, it does cause a rift. One perfect example of a true friend coming to my defense occurred during the Washington Seminar, when my roommate Matt basically sealed his friendship with me for life. He (a Temple-worthy Mormon) actually defended me and my religious devotion to the RLDS Church against the criticisms of several of his fellow Mormons on the program. I was touched by that gesture, and again when he wrote in the Memory Book I put together that he admired me the most because I kept my faith at BYU (that I didn't convert to his church, in other words). Now who can not love and appreciate a friend like that?!? Then of course, there's my oldest friendship, where we even share the same first name, being left-handed, and introverted. On my 30th birthday, he came to visit me for the day in Buckhead and he arrived bearing gifts like one of those Wise Men back in Jesus' day! That's what I'm talking about!

In 2002, when my car broke down, I could no longer make that long journey to far outer suburbia of Atlanta where this lady lived. I was stunned that she didn't want to make the effort to drive down to my part of town to see a movie on occasion. I found that act to be quite selfish, after all the miles I put on my car driving far out of my way to see a movie in her neck of the woods. That told me a lot about how she viewed our "friendship." It was purely one way. The other thing that happened was that her brother-in-law and I went on a roadtrip to Boston and New York in the summer of 2002. We bonded on that trip. Though he and I disagree on religion (he's an evangelical-type Christian, though a priesthood member in our church), I found that he was a true friend to anyone and one of the friendliest people you're likely to meet. He's easy to talk to and I know that I can trust him with anything. Because he is credible, he shared his observations about his sister-in-law (he had married the youngest of three sisters in that family). He actually seemed concerned that I might be falling in love with the lady and tried to warn me out of it. Funny that people seem to think that. The lady isn't even my type, never mind the age gap of about eight years.

Anyhow, I have many examples of people being true friends to me and quite a few of these have even said to me that I have been a great friend to them. Friendship is a two-way street. Its a give and take, like any relationship that's worthwhile. When it gets one-sided, its natural that someone is going to be resentful. The friendship can't survive without the shared fondness for one another. And, after all these years, I never felt that this lady ever viewed me as a friend. I feel like I was nothing more than an empathetic ear for her to talk off her frustrations in life with.

In the past month, after trying to convince me that my subconscious was somehow attracting rednecks to throw blocks of ice at me (this isolated incident), she had mentioned that she was writing a book on spirituality but didn't want me to read it because she felt like I would not accept it coming from her, similar to the way Jesus was not accepted as a miracle worker by those he grew up with. Gee, I wonder why? What she said in her email next was just one more example that she did not "get me" one bit. She had said, "If Neale Donald Walsch had written this book, you'd think it was the best book you ever read!" How's that for arrogant assumptions? Wow. She really thinks that highly of her book? When I finished my novel and gave it to a few friends to read, in my mind, I had no clue if they would like it or not. I hoped that they would, but it would never occur to me to think, "This is the greatest book you'll ever read!" That's just really beyond words at this point. I don't even think in those terms.

When I had emailed my response to her, I mentioned this presumptuous fact. I told her that I had never even bought a single Walsch book (the whole Conversations With God series of books). I've skimmed through a few volumes, but never had an inclination to buy them. I was not all that impressed with those books, to be honest. I felt like, that's HIS "conversation with God." That's not MY "conversation with God." Its just one more evidence that this lady knows nothing of what I'm about, but it doesn't surprise me. She had once seen a Facebook comment I had made about Sarah Palin and emailed me privately to say that she had felt a lot of hatred in my remarks aimed at this woman. Hatred? The Quitter Queen from Alaska amuses me! I honestly feel no hatred for that lady and if she ever decided to include Portland on her booksigning tour, she can count me in as one of those waiting in line to get her autograph and a few seconds of pleasant conversation. Just because I don't like her politics or think she's qualified for any public office does not mean I hate her. And yes, if Palin is going to make herself a public figure, I reserve the right to laugh at her expense. She is the modern day equivalent of a court jester and anyone who makes me laugh will not get any hate vibes from me.

So, what makes a true friend? Well, I think I have been blessed to have quite a few of them in my life. This lady did not have to de-friend me on Facebook (though I did de-friend her in 2009 and then re-friended her last year when she sent in a request). I hold no ill will towards her. I just think that from the time that I've known her, she has the annoying habit of trying to teach me how to interpret my own life experience when she has no right to nor does she have the ability to, based on how often she gets me wrong. She might think her view of me is the correct view, but if everyone who has known me for the past 25 years were all in the same room and had to share with everyone else what they know about me, I think most people would share similar stories about me and this lady's viewpoint of me would describe a person none of the other people would even recognize.

So, you have to wonder about a person who calls you a "really good friend" but prefers to think the worst of you all the time. Whenever I visit my close friends, I can tell you that the one thing I always feel in their presence is "awe." I'm inspired by their lives and relationships, and I'm deeply honoured that they consider me one of their closest friends. I don't feel such awe whenever I was around this lady. I always felt like I was being psychoanalyzed for the worst traits (she did say on more than one occasion that she saw me joining a cult someday). Um, no, lady. Let's not forget that it was YOU who joined a cult. None of my true and close friends would ever think that about me because they understand me at the core of my being.

I guess this post is to get final closure on a tumultuous friendship. There is an expression about friendships that I like but can't remember the exact words. Its something like, some friendships last for a season, others for a lifetime. We have to know which is which and appreciate all for what they bring to our lives. Letting go of those that aren't meant to endure is part of the process. We live, learn and move on. God bless you on your journey. And when I'm back in Atlanta to visit family and friends, its not like I won't talk to you at church. There are quite a few folks in Atlanta North congregation that I don't regularly write letters to, email, call, or have on my Facebook friends list but whom I would have easy converations with after church service when I visit. True friendships, though, takes a lot of work and I can only have a small number of them due to my loyalty gene. What is friendship without the loyalty? Not much of a friendship at all, I'm afraid.

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