On A Rudderless Friendship
As with liberty, eternal vigilance is the price we must pay to protect our friendships.
How many times must I learn this lesson? Usually I want to not rock the boat; be peaceful, soft spoken and agreeable. Let little slights or irritations, or those queasy little rumblings in my gut, go by. Problem is, they don’t go bye-bye. They take root and slowly sprout into weeds. (Or are they more like termite eggs? Or cancer cells?)
And I’ve had some real run-ins with some friends as of late as I’ve tried to attend to the weeds. They seem to have gotten pretty mad at me. One of them, because I had gotten mad at him, along with impatient and judgmental. Last Thursday night I had dinner with this man, who’d just about written me off (after some 35 years). We stonily walked through the restaurant, into the empty back garden, ordered our sushi, and sat, tensely negotiating our friendship while our food slowly grew warm. The untouched meals conveyed the threat that at any moment one of us would walk out.
“I don’t want your anger!” he said, referring to recent remarks by me.
“But what if I’m angry? Or what if you’re angry at me?”
“These days, when I’m angry at someone, I keep it to myself and let it sit till I come to understand them.”
Besides recalling — silently, to myself — Woody Allen’s old line (“I don’t get angry. I grow tumors instead.”) I told him I wouldn’t want to stay in a friendship where I have to curtail a part of my emotional spectrum. Nor can I fully trust someone who declines to share their anger with me. Anger suppressed inevitably comes out sideways…Ah! Perhaps that’s what that Paul Giamatti film of that name, about the dissolution of a friendship, refers to.
Besides, like many men through time, I’ve had friendships that only sprung to life after we got mad at each other and went to the mat with it.
And if my brother and I had never shared any of our anger at each other over the years, those years would have been frozen over with a cold silence between us. I’m proud of our vigilance. As it is, I’d give my right arm for the guy, even though I’ve wanted to belt him with it every now and then.
No, for me the trouble arises when I’ve absorbed too much for too long. So when it finally comes out, it’s been all pent up. And on top of that, there’s another aspect I’m looking at now. Because I have a fierce protective streak in me. And if I see a friend fucking up again and again, or otherwise going in (what I believe to be) the wrong direction, I want to warn them…and I want the same in return. It hurts me to see them hurt by their own blindness.
Often, of course, this has gotten me into deep doo doo, with accusations of being presumptuous, judgmental, intrusive, or just plain arrogant.
And they’re right of course. But it’s only out of love for them. That and an ego hell bent on showing what I know.
I mean hey, just because I happen to know the truth about everyone around me better than they do themselves, is that my fault?
All right so I’m a jerk. But back to my other point.
I have this protective streak, along with an inability to tolerate the self-inflicted suffering of someone I love. And I hate feeling helpless to do anything about it. (I hear the parents in the audience saying, “Now you know…”) So if I’m silent for a long time, it all finally comes bursting out one day, and driven as well by a loving and caring that only serves to add to my vehemence.
With this one guy, this friend of 35 years I just had dinner with, I’ve wanted to shake him — “CAN”T YOU SEE how you’ve been BETRAYED over and over in business by people you trusted?! And it happens AGAIN AND AGAIN! WAKE THE FUCK UP!” And no, I never said those words to him, but he got the message, and was deeply offended by it.
So right now I’d like to tie this post up with a neat little bow but I really haven’t resolved this stuff. For one thing, I hate to lose an old friendship. I define myself by them. Of course, maybe that’s a good enough reason right there to let go of one every now and then. (Not that letting go has ever been something I’m any good at…which is another concept I use to define myself…that I haven’t let go of yet.)
Could it be that this one man and I have outgrown each other? Or have changed too much to go on as we have? He’s been about my best friend most of my adult life, and It’s sad to see that change. It’s like saying goodbye to…most of my adult life. For decades, every birthday party of his and mine; every Thanksgiving; every New Year’s with his lady and mine, we spent together. Every time he needed a shoulder, or I did, we were there for each other. If he’s no longer a close friend, then who the hell am I?
If our friendship is now rudderless, I feel at sea.