I sat there quietly, the wind totally out of my sails. My friend and I were watching television and they commented negatively about the show. I agreed with the observation and then added one of my own. My comment immediately met with dismissal. I stayed quiet for a moment and then spoke up. “So, how is it that your comments supposedly merit expression but mine don’t?” I asked. My friend asked me what I meant. “It’s getting kind of hard to spend time with you. I’m not sure what’s happened to you, but it seems like you have to debate, dismiss, or demean the comments and observations I make. It happens so often, it feels like you have no respect for me or my ideas. Even when I’m explaining something you ask me about, something we both agree that I know much more than you about, you’ll argue against whatever my point is.”
“I do not.” she said.
Holy crap. How do you work with that? It’s true though, this particular person has been having a very difficult time getting along with those around her. I’m not the only one to note the change in demeanor that’s been unfolding. It seems like the closer people are to her in life, the more disdain shown them. Her family really can’t stand to be around her much anymore, a fact that makes me sad. I’m about the best friend this person has, and I’m on the verge of discarding the relationship. As the expression goes, I have enough crap in my life –I don’t need to invite more of it in.
The thing is, I think it’s insecurity. I think it’s a low self image that drives them to be the way they are, and sap that I am, it only strengthens my resolve to hang in there. Someone needs to give them a grounding point, and better someone who cares for their feelings and welfare. But if my opinions mean so little, then they aren’t going to wind their way into this person’s twisted thinking. And yes, it’s twisted. My friend lives in a world of her own construction. There are the way things are and then there are the way she’d prefer them to be. The attitude does her disservice because she gauges those around her based on her view rather than reality. What attracted my friendship in the first place was the outgoing nature she possessed and her generosity of spirit. She was always the first to caution people offering criticisms that they didn’t know the big picture for the object of their critique. When she met someone, as far as she was concerned, they were her friend. When they didn’t act like friends, but the mere acquaintances they were, she was hurt. These days, she’s downright hateful about it. I mentioned to her one day that she was trying to judge others on an inaccurate scale and was promptly told where to shove it.
Standing aside, I can see how it all happened. Her high expectations were continually crushed by those around her that didn’t have the same view as she about what it was that made a friend a friend. She began to see herself as a sucker, being taken advantage of by those around her. Especially when she would, without prompting, offer to do favors for people who would accept her offer. Then, they wouldn’t respond in kind and my friend would feel as though she had somehow been exploited wrongly. I tried to explain it to her this way: “Say you’re walking down the street and a complete stranger comes up to you and says here’s a ten dollar bill. Take it. It’s yours. You don’t know this person and you politely decline, but they insist. They keep on insisting until you finally take the money –if for no other reason than to make them go away. Then, three weeks later this person sees you on the street and runs up to you and starts telling you off for being a lousy friend. You never call, you don’t stop by. What a piece of crap you are.” I asked her what she would think of that person. Her reply was that she would think they were an unreasonable whack job. I then asked her if she thought that the person that handed out the ten dollar bill should feel like they’d been wrongly exploited, and to my utter astonishment, she said yes. She believed that the person who handed out the ten spot had a right to feel used.
“How can that be?” I asked her. I mean, you just said that you thought that the person was a whack job, yet at the same time they had a right to feel exploited. “How on earth do you reconcile that?” Her answer took my breath away.
“Well, actually, I would have never taken the ten dollars.” she said. “So your example is flawed. I would have thought to myself that someone trying to give me money probably meant that they were lonely and trying to buy a friend. I would have talked to them and been their friend. Even if I finally might accept the money, I would still have made a friend and tried to find a way to repay the money, maybe take them to lunch.”
“Okay.” I said, thinking about that. “Then let me ask you something. What’s the name of the lady you see all the time at the supermarket who gives out free food samples?” She told me that the lady’s name was Sarah. “Where does Sarah live?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why not? Here’s someone you talk to once a week or more, who offers you free stuff all the time, and you don’t go visit her? Do you know her phone number?”
“So, how good a friend have you been?”
“Well, it’s different.” she said. “We have a shopping friendship. I always look for her and talk to her when I go to the store.”
“Do you ever buy the products that she gives you samples of?”
“No, not really. But I’m very friendly.” she replied.
At that point I dropped it, realizing that I wasn’t getting anywhere. But a couple of weeks later my friend announced to me that she’d bought some microwave sausages that her ‘shopping friend’ was promoting. She said it in such a dramatic way I knew I was supposed to toady and scrape before her, feeling appropriately chastised. When I commented that her actions were fraudulent, she grew very angry with me and stormed off. As she walked off I called to her departing back, “You hate microwave sausage.”
“It makes no difference!” she said, just before the door slammed. I found the sausages in my mailbox later, thawed and smelling rather unattractive.
So I’m in a quandary. I know that my friend has a lot to offer, but she’s been erecting these impenetrable walls around herself. She says she’s building boundaries, but it seems to me that she’s just honing her skills at being obnoxious and self-righteous. At the very least, she’s making it pretty difficult to hang out with. I’ve been tempted to run a recorder during our visits and then play them back for her at a later time; I’d like for her to hear herself. Especially since she’s so quick to point out all of the flaws she sees in others. But I doubt that it would do any good. About the only thing I can do is try to hang in there and see if over time I might be able to earn some credibility, at least enough to get her to think a bit about the difference between a world we’d prefer and the world we get.
Then again, I believe that we have a lot of control over the world we live in. No, we can’t invent one and force everyone to act their part in the story we write, but we can make the best of the world we have. What it takes is being able to accept people on their own terms, letting others define the relationship they have with us, and then we acting within those parameters. When we find that we can’t reconcile ourselves to people, we can’t be upset with them –or ourselves, because of incompatible ideals and attitudes. We need to understand that no matter how close we get to others, we never really know them. We can only approximate according to our own knowledge and experiences, which may or may not be similar. People always grow and change, even if we don’t see it. Few people today are the same people they were yesterday. I think we all learn and grow as time goes by, and it’s when we freeze others into a particular character that we fail them and fail ourselves. Leopards may not ever lose their spots, but they do grow and their experiences have effect on them. Because it didn’t attack you yesterday doesn’t mean you aren’t on the menu today.