Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cast Adrift on the Friends Ship

My fiancée and I were putting together a list of people to invite to our wedding, and the whole topic of friends came up. I find it interesting, because there are so many different types of friendships that we get involved in during our lives, but in the end, many of them have exactly the same characteristics. We are surprisingly inept when it comes to the process of meeting people and establishing friendships with them.
Some people don’t have any close friends and prefer keeping everybody on the periphery. Other folks stockpile friends like they would collect antiques. Others travel in and out of friendships all the time. These individuals can be great friends—for short periods. But, once they lose interest in a relationship, they’re gone just as quickly as they re-appeared. Other people have only two groups of people in their lives--great friends and bitter enemies. (Enemies are a whole different topic. Nixon made a list of his.)
Have you ever stopped to think how many REAL friends you have? And what exactly is a REAL friend, anyway?
I decided to break the “Friends Ship” down into several groups. This is what I came up with:
1.) Obligatory Friends. These are people you are related to, through blood or marriage(s). In many cases, they’re people you cannot stand to be in the same room with, but you have to associate with them anyway, because things like holidays and special occasions seem to be so important to us. Obligatory friends, especially the blood relations-kind, can quickly turn into enemies if you don’t watch it. In many cases, they will develop into love-hate relationships, because almost everyone has good and bad points. My Aunt Maria is a naggy, crusty 80-year-old complainer who smells perpetually of moth balls. But, she makes an incredible Spaghetti Bolognese. My Uncle Chubby, on the other hand, has a major flatulence problem and cusses like a longshoreman, but plays a mean blues guitar and knows all the words to “Muskrat Love.” So, as always, life is a series of tradeoffs.
2.) Fringe Friends. These are people you want to be friends with, but for some reason, you just can’t seem to find the time or energy to get together with them enough to form a genuine friendship. It’s like, “Wow. That person seems cool. We have a lot in common. Do you think they could be my friend?” Then, you don’t pursue it enough or put enough effort into it, and it invariably dies. The end result is someone you have a good time with, even though you see them once or twice a year, usually on the same occasions, like a mutual friend’s annual party. But, in the end, they remain on the outside looking in and a friendship never blossoms. Most of us have more than a handful of fringe friends—they are normally people like old neighbors, college buddies or high school lab partners. You get a Christmas card from them every year and maybe an occasional phone call. But, in the end, they’re out on the fringe and never get in. Politicians and hookers (two groups with surprisingly similar types of careers) have a lot of fringe friends.
3.) Acquaintances. These are folks that you know on a casual or business basis, but don’t seem to have enough in common with to justify a full-blown friendship. Something is standing in the way, like proximity or time. In many cases, you’re fascinated by them, but are either situated above or below them on the friendship tree. Once someone gets stuck in the acquaintance zone, it’s hard to get to get out. People who come into contact with lots of other human beings in the course of their jobs (like strippers, bartenders and timeshare salesmen) have lots of acquaintances, but usually possess very few of what they can honestly call real friends.
4.) Real Friends. We don’t find many of these in our lives, so when you get one—hang on! Don’t let go, because real friends are hard to find. First off, many people don’t make good friends. They’re either too self-absorbed, shallow, crazy and/or oblivious to other people’s feelings. If someone does not understand what it means to be a real friend, it’s not something they can be trained to learn. You either have it or you don’t—it’s a combination of upbringing, genetics and experience. Real friends are almost like siblings—they care about how you feel; they are involved in your day-to-day existence and you can burden them with your problems and vice versa. You do whatever you can to stay in touch with a real friend. It never seems like to much trouble to see them, regardless of where they live or at what stage of life you’re in. Real friends have your back and will support you always, right or wrong. On average, we’ll get about two or three real friends in our lives. Many will come close to the designation, but only a handful will make the team. Warning about real friends—be careful. Real friendships can sour over time, because of things like jealousy and greed. I’m sure Caesar counted Brutus as a real friend—right up until he stabbed him to death. And when a Mafiosi gets whacked, who usually does it? That’s right, their “best friend.”
So, that’s it. This is my analysis of what I am calling the “Friends Ship.” Human beings wander in and out of each other’s lives for a variety of reasons; interacting in all sorts of ways. And every once in a while, we find another person who we mesh with and can add to our list of friends. Whether they can make it into the real friends category and stay there is always the main question. In the end, most will fall by the wayside before we find that real gem of a friend.
So, if you don’t get invited to my wedding, don’t take it personally. You just didn’t make it aboard my ship of friends. I’m sure I probably didn’t make it on your list, either. No problem. Maybe you’ll return my phone call next time. Or come to my birthday party. (Does that sound too needy...or vindictive?)

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