Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jumping Back In

I know I have to start writing again.  It  is my cheapest and most effective form of therapy.  Watching the words fill that white void literally feeds my soul.  So here is my attempt to get back into the groove.  Bear with me as I find my literary legs again.

I finished this blog last night.   At 2 AM, it felt pretty solid.  At 5 PM today I sat down to proofread and edit.  It turned out to be a four-page, rambling diatribe.  I considered scrapping the entire thing, but I have been grossly negligent toward my writing, so I decided I would try to salvage something and post it.  There are some “nuggets” I like in the original,  and I’ve pulled them out and included them below.  This may leave this post a bit disjointed and choppy, but it would be indulgent (and boring) to post the entire ridiculous rant.  I’ve tried to stitch it together as seamlessly as possible. 

 But doesn’t best mean BEST? 
The last couple of weeks, I’ve found the word and concept of “friend” recurrently popping up in my life…It started a few weeks ago when I was around someone who refers to pretty much everyone as her “best friend.”  Technically (and grammatically) speaking, one should only have a single “best” friend since the superlative form of “good” indicates that something is superior to all others.  I am the first to admit, however, that it is possible to have more than one “best” friend.  There’s no ranking system for friends, no “Bob, you’re friend #4, right above Janet.” But often there are a handful of people who surpass the simple title of friend and deserve a special designation.  “Best friend” isn’t always literal, but a way to distinguish those friends who are dearest to us.   But what about people who have dozens of “best” friends?  Not only teenage girls, but also adults.  You probably know one of these people…Do they mean well?  Is it an attempt to make all of their friends feel special?  Or are they subconsciously trying to make themselves look more loved and admired? 

You have four friend requests…
Could Facebook be responsible for “friend” losing meaning and significance?  I mean, how many of our Facebook “friends”… are a part of our lives outside of Facebook?  How many people actually take pride in how many Facebook friends they have?   To a degree, the concept of “friend” has been trivialized by social networking.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Mr. Zuckerberg and his creation, but I’ve made a conscious effort to maintain realistic about distinguishing between my real world friends and Internet-only friends.  Granted, there have been times when connecting on Facebook has led to a rich “real world” friendship, but for the most part these are two different worlds.   The problem arises when people can’t seem to distinguish between online and offline friends.  Since Facebook encourages us to share our lives minute by minutes, we do feel like we know people, even when we don’t.  This often leads to awkward situations and circumstances.  For example, I recently saw a post where someone complained about her job.  There were several comments below, including one that essentially chastised the person for complaining about a job when so many people don’t.   Now the comment itself wasn’t necessarily out of line, but this is something you would reserve for a family member or close friend—someone with whom you are “on that level.”  In this case, the author of the status replied with her own comment:  “Considering you and I have only met briefly once and I only accepted your friend request to be polite, perhaps it’s best if you either attempt to CHEER ME UP or kindly SHUT UP.”    Ouch.    But this is the hazard of allowing people you don’t really know to have access to your life, especially if their primary source of social interaction is via Facebook.  The line of distinction between friends and “people I see on the Internet” begins to blur, as do the guidelines that dictate what is acceptable and what is annoying.
 Recently, Facebook added new list options that include “acquaintances” and “close friends.”    You’d think I would see that as an improvement, a way to distinguish between actual friends and just people I know.  But who wants to log on to Facebook and see that you’ve been added to someone’s “acquaintance” list?  While we do tend to categorize friends, this should happen in our heads, not on our profile pages.  It’s bad enough that Facebook has turned friendship into a numbers game, but now there’s a filing system for our friends?  (Note:  I have no idea how many Facebook friends I have.  This means I have never once looked at my number and thought, Gee, I wonder who deleted me.) 
Did Tina Fey write my life? 
If you get this reference, I love you.
I keep coming back to the scene in Mean Girls where Regina George—the head “mean girl—tells another student how much she likes her skirt, only to snarl to her posse in the next breath, “That’s the ugliest effing skirt I’ve ever seen.”   Yeah, that’s where I’ve been a couple of times recently, on the receiving end of insincerity and plain old meanness.  Not to my face, of course, because that would just be flat out unfriendly [insert painfully exaggerated eye roll]… Look, I get being mean to people, honestly I do.  I don’t like it, but I accept that some people are just mean.  Maybe it makes them feel better to point out others’ faults.  Maybe their meanness was “taught” by mean parents.  Or maybe they just get off on it.  But why on earth go out of your way to say something nice just to set yourself up to say something heinous?  Why waste the time and energy acting like someone’s friend only to tear them down as soon as they’re not in your presence?   Wouldn’t it just be easier to not be someone’s friend?  Or at the very least, to be cordial and polite but to not act all “buddy-buddy”?  I have tried to make sense of this, but the fact is that it just doesn’t make sense  So I approached it from a different angle:  what if someone just has a warped perception of what being a real friend means?  What if in their minds, they actually are being a friend?  Are there people out there who honestly believe they are being a good friend as long as they are kind and encouraging while they are face to face with someone?  Like it cancels out any shitty, underhanded comment they make once the person leaves the room?   Do they balance their friendships like a checkbook? 
“Let’s see, I complimented your shoes and let you cut in front of me at the copy machine this morning. That totally validates the fact that I’m going to announce to the break room that your suits look like they came from Goodwill.” 
No, that still doesn’t make sense.  In fact, it pisses me off a little.  There must be a reason people act this way, but any other theory I’ve come up with sounds like a case study in some sort of mental illness, and I’m under qualified to make those diagnoses. 
Passing it on...
The biggest problem all of his presents for me—bigger than the devaluing of “friend” or people who stab those backs they should be protecting—is how my friendships influence my daughter… No one will deny that the way we treat our spouse or partner affects our children’s future relationships.  But what about our friendships?  How does that affect them?   While children often learn about friendship from peers, they begin their education at home.  From early on, we are providing examples of friendships for our children to mimic, including how we treat our friends and how we allow ourselves to be treated.  What do we teach our children when they watch us “play nice,” only to verbally crucify a friend once we part ways?  What about when we lie or make excuses to avoid doing something for a friend?   Or when they hear us being critical or condescending?   If our friendships are of the fair-weather variety or are only out of convenience, how will that affect our children’s friendships with their peers?   Are we teaching our daughters to be queen bees?  To be doormats?  To be fabricators, flakes or “frenemies”?   If so, how will we handle them when they become bullies?  Or when they make poor decisions in an effort to “fit in”?  How can we expect them to keep their word or to be loyal if we do not demonstrate it first? 

I’m slightly OCD so you know there will be a checklist…
Our flawed friendships—both those with tiny cracks and those with crumbling foundations—take a toll on us and often those around us. Sometimes it is necessary to step back and evaluate the connections we have with other people… I’m all about the checklist and benefit from putting and seeing things on paper.  One morning as I sat at the breakfast table and watched my daughter feed the remainder of her scrambled eggs to the dogs, I jotted down what I personally think a true friend should be like.  As I read over my list later that day, I had a vague moment of déjà vu, like I’d read my list somewhere before.  It took a few moments to realize that I had subconsciously written down most of the “love chapter” found in Corinthians 13.   I recalled before I married my husband being told to replace the word “love” with his name to see if he was “marriage material” and then to replace “love” with my own as a set of guidelines for being a wife.   Since the etymology of the word friend is rooted in the word love in so many languages, I looked up Corinthians 13 and replaced the word “love” once again, only this time with “a friend.”  Regardless of whether or not you adhere to biblical teachings, this chapter could be a “Dummies Guide to Being a Friend.” 

A friend is patient.
A friend is kind.
A friend isn’t jealous.
A friend doesn’t brag and isn’t conceited.
A friend does not dishonor (or disgrace or humiliate) others.
A friend is not self-seeking.
A friend is not easily angered.
A friend keeps no record of wrongs.
A friend does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth.
A friend always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

As I meditated on the list, I smiled, thankful to know people who have been my friends in action and in name.  None of them have been perfect, but they’ve got it right more often than not, and I’ve never doubted their love for me or mine for them.   But I found myself make a mental list of those who have repeatedly sinned against our friendship.  It is on these people that I found myself dwelling, resenting their duplicity and chiding myself for allowing them to maintain the title of friend while their actions scream “foe.”  But these moments of self-righteous indignation are dangerous since they blind us to our own shortcomings.  It’s not just about whether or not my friends are legit but about appraising myself… I can’t look at that list without noticing that I am lacking in several areas of the friend department.     In theory, it sounds easy because these are the things we are supposed to do for the special people in our lives, but at the end of the day, I struggle with being self-serving.  How often do I put being a friend to myself ahead of the needs of others?  How often does my “bad day” get in the way of comforting someone who is legitimately hurting?   And I don’t blame Facebook or anyone else for that matter, only my own selfishness and laziness…
I’m challenging myself…and not for the sake of having future blog material.  I’ve spent several weeks dwelling on all of this, and it’s time to stop mulling and start acting.  So here’s my new checklist:
1.      Check out my real life “friend status.”  Figure out who my real friends are and take the time to personally tell them how thankful I am that they’re in my life.
2.       Address the “frenemies” and friends who tear me down more than they build me up. 
3.       Provide solid examples of friendship for my daughter.
4.      Most importantly, evaluate my own words, actions and even thoughts toward friends.  Am I the friend I want others to be for me?  Would I be my friend? 
I acknowledge that this may come off as “preachy” or even sanctimonious, but my relationships and friendships are such a vital part of my life, as they are for most people.  I want genuine camaraderie, not plastic people… and I want my little girl to learn to choose friends wisely and to be a true friend herself.  This is a responsibility I have taken lightly up until now…It’s time to focus more on the people in my life and less on the drama on someone’s Wall.