The anatomy of friendship used to be something very self-evident to me. In short, it was about unconditional support. The whole point was to find things to share and thus focus on the similarities. The dissimilarities were tolerated because most friends were people you didn't have to deal with every day. On the rare occasion when toxicity arouse, one or the other would just drift away. Talking things through rarely worked out; people are not very eager to look at their own faulty behaviour unless specifically motivated to. Personally I often felt that it wasn't worth the trouble. I mean, you just preferred to get on with your life rather than stay in something that was complicated and where you didn't feel respected. I'm sure many have felt the same. What most of the people who drifted away thought of me I will never know. Of course it's quite possible that a few were mad at me for some reason that they never disclosed. I used to wreck my brain as to why someone never got back to me, but learned in time that on most occasions it was just a question of "life" and a simple lack of motivation that was not to be taken personally. I'm quite a loyal person but also had to realize that many people aren't. They just move onto another stage in their lives and leave people behind.
I'm not quite sure why so many people have come and gone in my life at a fast rate. What I find remarkable is that I always had at least one friend to talk to and share my life experience with. My life has always changed quite rapidly and so perhaps these people served a purpose in my life only for a little while. I didn't worry too much about it until later in life when I was more in touch with my emotions and started to get weary of all the changes. I was craving for more stability and thus also people who would not disappear after I had invested a lot of time and energy into getting to know them.
Unfortunately at this point I entered a strange phase marked by the fact that I was now middle-aged. People were busy with their families and all of my long-term friends had babies because they had decided to get them quite late in life. I was child-free and single, and now the resident of a small town where no one ever asked you to come and visit. Trying to play the dating game after a wrecked relationship was arduous and not very gratifying. Suddenly I was sucked up into the virtual world and making "friends" with all sorts of people online. Only very few of these people were sincere and seriously interested in me as a person. Quite a few people were in fact primarily looking for people to convert or someone who could function as a scapegoat that would carry their negativities. This has led me to distinguish a few signs of a non-productive friendship. Apart from the obvious one where there is no balance between talking and listening, envy and co-dependency, some of my most important deal breakers are the following issues:
1) a person keeps nagging about how much better your life is compared to theirs; this is usually a sign that they don't want to look at their own crap but rather project guilt on others so as to gain sympathy and feel better about themselves at the other's expense.
2) a person tells you that you're hard on yourself and wonders why you hate yourself so much. This is often a sign that they don't understand your self-criticism because they don't have any themselves. They also try and place guilt on you so as to feel that they are superior.
3) a person starts lecturing you about how to lead your life. For some odd reason they think that they know better than you. This is another sign of low self-esteem and a desperate attempt to raise it at your expense. Only when you know someone really well and both are clear that there are no power games going on, can a certain "lecture" be warranted. It can be very gratifying to hear a clearly voiced second opinion on something while knowing that there is no manipulation and attempt to bend your will behind it.
4) a person is overly secretive about their thoughts and feelings and argues for their right to be this way with very clever words. They are probably trying to appear mysterious and interesting so as to keep you captivated. What they want is your attention, energy and support, but they won't give much in return. You keep wondering what you're doing wrong so as not to earn this person's confidence, but when you try and talk about it they turn away and argue that friendship shouldn't be tiring. Since trying to come up with things to talk about is wearing you out for real, you had better leave this solitary ship. Friendship is about sharing and opening up to another person!
5) a person's irony becomes cynical and sarcastic, or they ignore you and keep you waiting. While I sometimes balance on the border of an unacceptable form of irony myself, I wouldn't want to be downright mean towards people who have done nothing to deserve it. To be unpleasant towards people you don't know that well is plain disrespectful. Having met many guys like this online I have become a little tougher myself, but it certainly worries me! I then turn to good female friends who bring out the niceness in me again.
Within the framework of a friendship you should be able to work out your issues without feeling judged. Some people who get into conflict with their friends like to argue back and forth in an attempt to sort it out but that's not really the kind of friendship that I care much about. When I see judgmental behaviour and feel negative vibes towards the person I am, I prefer to leave. This is because in most cases, talking doesn't help and the differences are at that point usually irreconciliable. In my reality, love relationships provide the intimacy and motivation to dig deeper. When you enter this arena, so much more is at stake and so the need to work in order to get a harmonious connection 24/7 should come quite naturally. The best case scenario is no doubt when you are able to establish a hybrid relationship that is based in friendship but takes everything several steps further towards the creation of a deeper and even more meaningful connection. In my opinion, however, the two should not be confused. In reality they serve different purposes and I don't think the adage that friends last longer than lovers is warranted. It's just plain silly to compare the two!
Artwork: "Choose Your Friends Wisely", handmade collage by author, all rights reserved 2008