Friendship isn't what it used to be. On several levels.
As a little kid, you were friendly with everyone. Your mother arranged a playdate with little Joey because you and Joey were about the same age. That was all you and he needed to have in common to spend an afternoon together.
This sort of open minded innocence quickly fades. By the time you reach adolescence, you actually have to have something in common with your friends. Common interests at this age are described in very simple terms, by a music group, a sport, a computer game. By the mid-teenage years, you've entered a stage where you might chat daily with your buddies, get together for sleepovers, hang out at school events. This stage continues in minor variation throughout the college era.
I wish I could have appreciated the teenage-early twenties stage of friendship more when I was living it. If you resemble the average person, you get caught up in your career as your twenties progress. By your late twenties, you've probably chosen your significant other. A few years after that, you have kids. Hanging out with no greater aim becomes a distant memory.
There are exceptions to this, of course. Aren't there always? I have a friend who went to college in Toledo and just stayed. It's a relatively small place of less than 300,000 people. In some sense, he's extended his college years. Though now married and with two kids, he's been able to maintain the same friendships he formed over twenty years ago.
My father, too, kind of followed this path.
He grew up in one small town and then left for a few years. By his early
thirties, he'd returned to that same town to establish his medical
practice. This isn't the sort of town someone my age would flock back to.
Few of the people I knew in my youth are still there. But for his generation it
was a place you could come back to and make a life. My father successfully did
so and maintains a steady social life there.
My situation couldn't be more different. I went far away from home to college, so my late teenaged friendships diminished in importance. Midway through college, I did a year abroad in the United Kingdom, a choice I'd still make today, but it, too, served to weaken college ties I'd established over my first two years. When I returned Stateside to university, my friendship network was remarkably different and I'd become more of a loner.
After college, I took a job in Sweden, then Korea, then went on a 3 year trip through Asia and Africa. When I landed in the US again, I moved out to California practically knowing no one and having to rebuild my life anew. There's an adventure to be sure in reinventing your life at a time when most people are getting married, but it ain't conducive to maintaining long term friendships.
Since California, I lived in Australia for a year and then moved out to Asia. Whoever I'm most in touch with now is someone I've met within the last 10 years.
One of the ironies of living in a big city is that you can feel more isolated than ever. Life is frenetic, people perceive their time as limited. There may be an endless list of social activities to partake of, but this spreads the population very thin. The person you see at the entrepreneur meetup is someone you're not very likely to run into again elsewhere. The potential to meet more exciting people is certainly there, but this potential is harder to actualize. In smaller Toledo or my dad's hometown, a film festival or a holiday brings the smaller pool of people together. More contact solidifies the contacts.
The irony of social networking, a huge disrupter
on the state of friendship, is that the wider your social network, the cheaper each new contact becomes. You befriend someone online you barely know and the extent of your friendship is defined by liking a couple of their posts. It's easier than ever to stay in touch with so many more people.
For once, it's possible to be in contact with everyone and anyone you've ever
met. As a result, we take it all for granted. Friendships which might have deepened if we'd actually had to work at them hollow out rather quickly.
From time to time, I see 'friends' posting up on their boards notices that they're trying to streamline their friendships. If you wish to remain a friend of theirs, kindly like that post to show you care. I've never cared enough to bother responding to these and, still, I've never been dumped as a friend.
Nor have I ever dumped any friends . . . until a few years ago. Since
then, I've had the "honor" of dumping two.
When I say dump, I don't mean I clandestinely removed them from my social networking contact lists. You can't honestly call that dumping if the other party doesn't even know s/he's been dumped. Or care.
No. I dumped these friends in true blue fashion, right on their asses. I took the time to draft a dumping letter explaining clearly why I was booting them. Both ended with, "I won't be in touch again."
Both these friends were people I actually saw. The first person, whom we'll call JB, hails from Australia. I only saw him once a year. I met him through a mutual friend just before I departed Australia at the end of 2006. JB came to Thailand with that mutual friend just weeks after I left Australia and we traveled together for several weeks. He returned to Asia several more times between 2007 and 2012 and I always caught up with him.
On our last meetup, I'd taken the trouble, at his
request, to arrange for him to have plastic surgery done in India. The cost to
do his procedure was a fraction the cost of Australia. He trusted me to do the research and insisted I accompany him to India at his expense to oversee everything.
His condition: that I not mention to anyone he was doing this surgery.
The only person I could tell who'd have any interest was our mutual Australian friend. The only person I did tell was my wife. I had to tell her if I was going to vanish to India for 3 weeks.
In the end, I saved JB close to $10,000, and he was delighted with his results. All went well for the next two years, when suddenly, out of the blue, for no reason at all, JB started accusing me of talking about his secret procedure behind his back.
When I asked for details, for proof, for info on
the people I blabbered to, he just said, "You know what I'm talking
about." These accusations, levied with no option for me to defend myself, grew old fast. He couldn't let it go, and during one more interminable email I was about to send off to him trying to refute his empty claims, I became uncontrollably disgusted. Why was I giving weight to his arguments by even responding to them? I'd lost all my patience. I sent off a final email calling him names best not printed here and told him I never wanted to see him again. I found out later that JB was suffering from alcoholism and had lost a number of other friends because of his irrational paranoia.
The second dump was more serious. With a British friend I'll call Bean. I'd met Bean on the beaches of Hua Hin kiteboarding shortly after I came to Thailand. He was in the room when I first met my future wife, and I've socialized with him regularly, though sporadically, ever since.
Bean comes from a wealthy family, but for all intents and purposes, he's not rich here in Thailand. His parents forked out for his bachelor pad, his furniture, the pad's remodeling job, and flights home, but as far as I know, they don't send him a regular living allowance. If he gets one, he spends it on stuff I don't know about. He comes off as a cheapskate. In the near decade I've known him, I don't think he's ever bought me so much as a beer.
My wife and I have hosted Bean on too many occasions to count. While I wouldn't classify myself as a BFF with Bean, my wife and I ascribed a greater importance to him because he was a part of our life in Thailand from the very beginning. There was another friend in this core group, Artur. My wife believed that we would be in touch with Artur and Bean for years. If push ever came to shove for us in Thailand, she and I felt we could count on them.
We were soon given an opportunity to test this theory. Over New Year's, my wife and I hatched a last minute plan to journey to Koh Tao, an island in the Gulf Coast of Thailand. Bean goes every New Year's. We were not going there
on his account. I even forewarned my wife that there was a good chance that he'd blow us off completely.
Which is about what he did. He called me from Koh Tao the night before we left Bangkok to ask if he could borrow some money. He was diligent about getting in touch with me until we met up at a bar of his choosing near his own accommodation so I could hand him off the dough . After that, we never saw him. He asked us to come visit the beach where he was staying on the other side of the island at 4 PM on a Saturday afternoon. When we came by, he didn't bother to show up. He was off at a rave party.
This was all classic Bean behavior. I would have been more disappointed if I hadn't already had years of acquaintanceship with Bean to set my expectations of him on the low side.
On the way to the ferry port on the date of our departure, my motorbike slipped on the gravel. The heavy bag my wife was carrying dislocated my shoulder as she was thrown from the bike. I was in agony and the next few hours passed by in shock. As coincidence would have it, we ran into Bean as we were returning our motorbike. My arm was in a sling and my right leg was scratched up. My wife suffered less injury but physically looked the worse off.
Bean's reaction? Much the same as if I just told you who won the latest election in Rwanda or Burkina Faso or any other country you've never heard of.
He didn't check in on us on the ferryboat. As we waited to catch an onward bus to Bangkok from the ferry terminal, my wife ran into him in the food queue. He didn't express any sympathy or check on me. And for the next two weeks, we never heard a word out of him. Artur, who'd been back home in Canada when all this happened, only heard about my injury from a Facebook post my wife put up just as I went into the hospital. Bean had thought the incident so trivial, he hadn't breathed a word to Artur about it.
So much for Bean having our backs.
There's an old saying that you know who your true friends are when the chips are down. Bean was in a unique and rare position to be in our presence when the chips were really down. Had he stepped up, he could have raised his status in our eyes higher than it had ever been in the 9 years we'd known him.
Instead, he sank his status to depths so low, I didn't think I could salvage the friendship. I finally sent him a dumping e-mail I had postponed mailing out for well over a week. I was afraid with Bean that this dumping would devolve into a debate. Bean had no prayer in winning an emotional debate.
I wasn't trying to get back at Bean. I wasn't lashing out at him. I'd just lost all reasons to maintain a friendship with him. I now knew from painful personal experience he would never be there, not by the commonly accepted definition. Why would I go out of my way to see him again when I no longer had any respect for him? My wife didn't disagree with me on any of these key points, but as she saw Bean much less frequently than I, she saw no need to draft a dumping letter. I had no choice. If I said nothing, Bean would think everything was peachy keen as I constantly tried to avoid him. My repressed disgust would eventually reach an uncontrollable boiling point. It was only fair that I was honest enough with him and myself to dump him.
There are many reasons one person can be friends with another. In my youth, when I only understood friendship in a limited way, I thought one person had to like the other. I now realize you don't have to
like someone to be friends with them. You just have to like something about them. You need to get some value out of the experiences you share with them.
Bean had happened to be present during some of the best moments of my life, like meeting my future wife for the first time or celebrating my stepson's eighth birthday. These moments would have been just as grand had Bean not been a part of them. But as he was there, he became tied up in the life my wife and I forged here in a foreign land. Bean had entered my inner circle through osmosis.
This is much the same way it works with one's oldest childhood friends. You might never have had much in common and barely see each other anymore but as these people were present during your formidable childhood moments, they become inextricably tied into your life. And they'll stay there without doing any additional work as long as they don't do anything drastic to damage the established equilibrium.
No one elects to give their money to businesses offering them no value in return. And no rational person, I think, would continue to be friends with someone who no longer offered them any value. Previous to my bike accident, I'd always had a decent enough time catching up with Bean. Now that I knew, through his actions, that he held my wife and me in so little regard, it was impossible for me to see him the same way.
Bean later sent my wife a text message hoping that we could all get together at some unknown day in the future and talk about this, restore things to the way they were. I truly wish we could, but unless I undergo amnesia, I can't. Bean's value is gone, short of him doing something extraordinary to convince us he has any. I may one day see Bean again. I won't go out of my way to avoid him. Nor will I ever go out of my way to see him. Not anymore.
You have to be getting something out of a relationship for it to persist. Ideally, that something would be positive, though I readily acknowledge there are people who perpetuate destructive relationships because they validate a person's inherent negative beliefs. Most of my Facebook contacts offer me nothing, but I make no pretenses that our friendship is anything greater than an avatar on my computer. JB and Bean were like bonds once assessed a higher rating; once their ratings were updated in light of current events, the bonds were worthless and I dumped them.
I don't care if you have several dozen friends or two. If you gain nothing from the friendship, it's time to send a dumping letter. Being alone in a boat is better than being stuck in a boat with dead weight.