You can’t pick your family, although some say we do actually pick our parents, even before we’re born, because our spirits demand certain energies around us (delivered to us by our parents) in order to help our spirits grow. But this is probably based more on certain philosophies and belief systems rather than actual facts. And what are facts anyway? Perceptions of reality, by humans. Which begs the next question… what is reality? But taking a look at how to define Realityis a topic for another time… I’ll put this one idea out there to be tabled for a future discussion: I’ve heard reality described like this: That which cannot be replaced is real.
In any case, this post deals with relationships we call friendships. Having lost all of my family as a result of death (both my parents), or else due to apathy and disagreements (aunts and cousins), I’ve had no choice but to examine the nature of relationships and friendships. What do they mean to me? What value/benefits do they contribute to my life? How does one make new friends? How to rekindle and cultivate old friendships and acquaintances? And whether to let some relationships alone and move on.
To state the obvious, computers, buildings, cars and corporations don’t need friendships, but we humans do. We need relationships in our lives to help us feel an on-going connection with the rest of humanity. Positive relationships help us feel good about ourselves because we feel that others care about us, and they motivate us to do for others as well.
Childhood friendships can last a lifetime but it can be very challenging for us to keep those friends if we keep moving around so darn much. Once in college, some lasting friendships can be formed there because we’re around other folks who share some common goals with us and may also have some interests and hobbies in common. Serving in the armed forces also is a great way to form lifelong friendships.
Later on, when we’re adults in our 20s, 30s, 40s & 50s, we discover that friendships by and large are no longer “free” because we’re in these situations and places (colleges) precisely because we’re paying for it. But it’s all good and in college we’re exposed to very good opportunities for making new friendships. Then we graduate and get jobs and discover that most of our co-workers are in competition with us and therefore not our friends, nor should they be, meaning that it is a mistake to confide in a co-worker because like as not, they’ll use it against you at some point.
Often, jobs demand that we move around. Some places where we end up simply aren’t conducive to making new and lasting friends. I’m thinking of the giant dog-eat-dog cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago etc where most everyone is highly motivated by money in every undertaking. Properties are super expensive, preschools for our kids are likewise expensive. Therefore, folks have no choice but to focus on their own money-making machines, and everyone they come in contact with is seen as either a contributor to that machine, or else a detractor and a waste of their time. It’s a very solipsistic and selfish view that most folks have in today’s “modern” and “civilized” societies worldwide, but it’s the reality we face – because of the ever-increasing costs of just living our lives and keeping our heads above water.
Certainly, loose friendships are formed between couples who have kids because that is the one thing they have in common big time. Mothers and fathers love their children and want them to be happy and uniting their children together with other kids in play dates is very important for their children’s well being and development of social skills. But, when ripples in these friendships appear – and they always do – these loose friendships are just as likely to dissipate like smoke in a breeze.
Marriage often isn’t the solution to our need for friendship either. That’s been my experience, anyway. This is partly due to my own personal experiences codependency issues, which I talk about in another blog posted here. But, it also comes from my observances of other people’s marriages and long term relationships. You simply can’t get everything you need from your significant other. Here’s the problem as I see it with most marriages and intimate relationships, and I’ll use some simple metaphors to make my point. Is the temperature comfortable on Venus? How about the Antarctic? One is way too hot, the other way too cold. That’s how most marriages go. Can an intimate relationship survive if she lives in New York and he lives in Los Angeles and they only see each other once every six months? Likewise, if the husband and wife spend most of their time together and rarely separate, the relationship is doomed as well. Certainly, you see examples in the older generations where a couple stays together for fifty years, but wouldn’t you agree that these types of relationships are becoming less and less common?
I examine marriage and long term intimate relationships here because I believe that too often we confuse our spouses or significant others as persons capable of satisfying all of our friendship needs – and that’s just not realistic.
I look at the marriage between my aunt and uncle. My background is half Swedish and half Eastern European Jew, so I have a right to talk on relations between Jews and Jewish family members. Certainly, Jews seem to have some additional challenges in making a go of relationships versus most other folks. That’s been my observation anyway. My uncle liked to boast that he and his wife (my aunt) had been happily married for forty-five years, and that he wouldn’t have it any other way. However, nothing could be actually farther from the truth. Human beings lie, yes? Actions speak louder than words, yes? And when my aunt passed on, you could visually see a huge weight lift off of my uncle’s shoulders. He was already getting on in years himself, and had certain medical issues, but his emotional disposition changed after her death. You could see it on his face and in his step. He was happier, and at peace. His wife of forty-five years (my aunt), had had a caustic wit and had nagged her poor hubby (my uncle) for all of their forty-five years together. My aunt’s deprecating disposition towards her husband and others seems to have run big time in my father’s side of the family. And her disdainful air was only overshadowed by her elder sister’s (my other, older aunt’s) cruel and wicked tongue – which she finally took the grave with her.
To my younger aunt’s credit, during the last two years of her life leading up to her death from cancer in 2008, her disposition actually changed somewhat, and she became a nicer person. That’s what I saw in her dealings with me and others, though I can’t vouch for the last two years of her relationship with her husband, my uncle, but I can imagine that although dying must have been tough for my younger aunt… seeing her through to the end with her cancer must have posed many challenges for my uncle. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again: “It ain’t easy being green”, which is a kind of metaphor by the writers for Kermit the Frog for explaining that it isn’t easy being human, or in the case of my father’s side of the family, it ain’t easy being Jewish. My own father said it best, “Be patient with me, because God isn’t through with me yet!”
There is no doubt in my mind that my uncle and aunt could have benefited greatly by taking more time apart from each other. But, as in all codependent relationships, there are reasons why people put up with certain abuses from each other. My uncle was clearly her whipping boy, and my aunt’s sense of entitlement left her focusing most of her aggression on someone who would not fight back, i.e., my uncle. I could go on and on about the dysfunctional relationships in families but that would take this post a bit too far off track. The assumption I make here is that although someone may have come from a highly dysfunctional and codependent family situation (as did I), they are now in codependency recovery, or whatever you choose to call it. I use the term codependency recovery for lack of any other way of describing what I and others have been through. The point is that us recovering codependents realize that if we are to have healthy relationships with others which, for the purpose of this discussion is centered on friendships, we must first have healthy relationships with ourselves and second, know what we want in a friend in order to have healthy friendships with others. Again, I’m making the assumption that the first thing, having a good relationship with ourselves, is already happening.
The challenge I personally have seen with friendships is that they too often turn into “one-way streets”. What I mean is that one person is putting out most of the effort to keep the friendship alive. Why does this happen? I’m not exactly sure (yet) but I have my ideas. The main one is what is known as shadenfreude – pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. I have seen, personally, that during some of my worst times on this planet, a small handful of friends were there for me. And they were there pretty much all the way, or as much as they were capable of being from a financial and time management point of view. That says a lot about a friend, yes? But then later on, when my life situation changed and improved, and my mental state improved – these same friends who had been there for me during the “inclement weather”, were less and less available during the better times, that is, during the fair weather. I get this. Often it’s just a matter of one’s close friends just “letting you be” when you’re doing better. Maybe they need a bit of a break from the effort and time they put into supporting you during your “hard times”, eh?
When describing ideal human relations, I’d like to posit that close friends will be around for all kinds of “weather” – what do you you think?
Maybe I’m dealing in asymptotes here, in terms of forming friendships according to an ideal that can never be reached: the “all weather friend”. Maybe it really is too much to ask of human beings. We’ve all heard it said, “It’s lonely at the top”.
True, there are such things as superficial “friends” who vanish into the woodwork once the “weather” improves. One could chalk that up to the meaner of human traits: shadenfreude. I’m blessed in that I do not associate with folks like that. Clearly, with those fake friends, it irks them when a person who they once saw as scraping the bottom of the barrel has now climbed up and out of the barrel. That’s why I call them, “bad weather friends”.
Conversely, in codependent friendships, “good weather friends” are those who mooch off of the person who is doing well, and that’s not healthy either.
So, at the end of the day, where does this leave those of us who keep reaching out for friendships but seems to find little opportunity?
For me, personally, it leaves me writing and making artistic creations which bring me joy, teach me new things about myself and the human condition, and which I also chalk up to posterity. These modern productions will be my gift to the world, my contribution to humanity. My friendship to the world.
Here’s another truth. When any of us have a conversation with another human being, we are really just talking to ourselves. Why is this so? Because we are such incredibly subjective creatures that when we express ourselves to others, our thoughts come directly from our own personal experiences and biases – or else they come from our observances of others’ experiences which we then adopt and make part of our own. We literally cannot help talking to ourselves, and I am talking to myself just as much as I am talking to you right now. And this also explains why my best friend in the whole world is… Me.
Are you your own best friend? Are you a sentient, compassionate being with positive moral values? Well then, I look forward to reading your post here.
STAY HEALTHY, AND LIVE LONG AND PROSPER!