F and I were discussing a mutual acquaintance, C, when the issue of failed friendships arose. Usually I would shy away from such introspection, accepting that what is, is, except that F put to me the following: why do my relationships often involve such high-voltage drama?
C, whom I hardly knew, had beseeched me to secure her an audience with 1 of HRH’s close personal friends, working in the same field as her. When HRH’s close personal friend, in the manner of all Chinaman, obliquely refused the introduction, and I conveyed this to her, C “unfriended” me on facebook, hence effectively “un-friending” me in real life.
“But why do your friendships involve such drama though?” asked F.
“Hey, wait a minute. It was C who wrote me a long email begging the favour. Unfriending me only showed a lack of gratitude on her part since I went out of my way to help her. Which I might add, I didn’t have to.”
On reflection, I realised what my problem was: helping people who didn’t deserve help. Sure, C might have asked for it, but should I have even tried?
“Yes, but C has been through a lot. Now that crazy Wendy, I totally get,” said F, referring to my well-publicised stalker.
I fell silent for a long moment, pondering F’s question. I knew she was concern for me as a person, even if to others, such a comment might come across as judgemental. I threw my mind back to all the testy relationships I’ve had. Why were they difficult and what did I do to make them difficult?
Finally I said, “I realise I could have avoided half of the problems I’ve encountered in even the vaguest of associations if I cared less. Take Wendy for example. After she attacked me the first time for accidentally sending her a mail intended only for my friends, I could have ignored her, instead of writing back to ask what was the matter with her. If I had been less caring, I would have simply hit delete, which in hindsight, I should have. Her ex had the temerity to ask me to GO INTO HIDING ON HIS BEHALF. I asked him who the hell does he think he is, making such a request of me. It bothers me terribly that people contact me out of the blue, after 15 to 20 years, to ask advice and favours, then they have what they want, I never hear from them again. Or until they want something more.”
“Well, the world is full of users, Estella,” said F.
“That’s what I’ve come to realise, rather sadly. Maybe I have this sign that says, ‘Come Use Me.'”
To spare myself further angst, I’ve downgraded my expectations of all associates to the minimum, except those closest to me. There’s a Buddhist belief that says, “Expecting little is the way to avoid disappointment.”
It makes sense: no one can possibly hurt you if you expect from them nothing. In line with this new policy on friends and acquaintances, I will also only be giving time to people who give time to me. To this end, I will only help those less helpful if I have the time or inclination. If I don’t adopt this approach, I will be swamped with requests, mostly from people who think that just because I don’t go to work, I have a lot of time to listen to their endless complaints and dilemmas.
Sometimes, I’m beleaguered by agony aunt-type emails from people I don’t even know. Take for instance this young girl who suddenly started writing to me. She wanted to know how to find her soulmate or a boyfriend at any rate, and wrote to me because I look like I might specialise in such things. I duly offered her my past posts on relationships.
“It outlines broadly my beliefs on the topic,” I said.
“Does this mean I can’t have a one-to-one talk with you?” she asked.
“You can but I don’t have a lot of time to answer questions I’ve already answered.” I left out my terribly short fuse and contempt for people who refuse to help themselves by reading.
“But aren’t you not working?” she asked.
See, that there is my point. Her statement smacks of presumption and betrays a sense of entitlement for attention from one who is essentially a total stranger. Working through who to exempt from this policy change, I’ve come to realise my core group of friends is actually very small. Who are these people? They are people who support me as much as I support them, who I know, beyond a shade of a doubt, I can count on in times of difficulty to pull me through. They’ve been tested and found to be loyal, honest and reliable.
They are the sorts of friends who make me want to be a better friend and in order to do that, I have to severely cut back on my involvement with more superficial friends. While those who’ve come to your rescue in the past, may not come again, a truism of friendships and relationships is that someone who has hurt/disappointed/betrayed you before, will, given half the opportunity, do so again. I’ve come to accept that some friendships exist solely to make time pass in a more pleasant manner, some exist to challenge you out of your comfort zone, and some exist – like my difficult ones – to make you review your associations as a whole. It’s entirely up to you to discover which is which.