I've been doing a lot of thinking about friendship lately. My husband and I have very few friends, most of them are long distance, or just acquaintances at work, talking on Facebook and in passing. I have one fairly close friend online whom I can tell anything to, and before my brother was put in prison, I had him too, but now we're just pen pals. I have a few people I chat with online or a few that I'll see for dinner on occasion, but most of them are long distance and we only see them once a year. There was a couple, however, that we'd hang out with about once a week and it was only when he wanted a divorce, that we started wondering about how fragile our friendships are.
It's a rare thing, no matter what people on television show, to have couples hanging out and enjoying each other's company. It's rarer still that each of the four like each other and can hang out on a one-on-one basis, but for awhile, that's what we had and it was quite nice. It wasn't like that at first, in fact, I would get so overwhelmed by them (mostly because of my introverted nature) that I had to limit our visits to once a month. But, as we built up relationships and had common interests, things became better.
Unfortunately, the friendships that we had created were just as fragile as many of those that I've developed at work seeing as though at work, for example, I can't really be friends with those that are under me. It would create complications, and I understand that, so I keep my distance and we have conversations at work and even though I have a few people at work whom I'd love to create better friendships, I also realize that I can't play favorites and unless we eventually get different jobs, the friendships will have to remain as they are.
It's a shame really, because I don't have anyone for the most part I can just call up and say, "hey, let's go out for coffee" or "let's meet for lunch", because most of them have the strange schedules I do, or they work 9-5 and because I work most weekends and a whole lot of mornings I can't hang out in the evening either. I'm okay with it, but the person I really feel for is my husband because he's lost a friend in this couple now that they're splitting up.
RASH DECISIONS LEAD TO BROKEN FRIENDSHIPS
Having had time to look back on Husband's (as I'll call my husband's friend this for his privacy) friendships, I feel rather sad for him. He's burning all of the friendship bridges that he has built over the last 20 years. My own husband has known him since around college and they were fairly decent friends. The first moment that I met him he was single, rushed in like a storm, threw himself into the middle of everything. He was fun-loving and excited and he let Mike stay with him while he was in town and they hung out and did things together. Then Husband got married in something of a whirlwind and things were going pretty good. His wife loved him and they made a home together and got a cat. They were exclusive of one another. We'd hear how much she didn't like her family and how much he didn't like his, they didn't like their jobs, but eventually they got better ones and the conversations turned from really hateful to pretty lighthearted and we started to get asked to go out to dinner together and to movies. We went out shopping and hung out places together and it felt like they were in a good place so it was nice to be able to get to know them better. She started thinking about getting a house and settling down and they started saving up. I started inviting them to concerts and it was the first time I'd ask my husband to ask THEM to come over rather than them asking us.
I'm not entirely sure when things started to go wrong. Maybe they had always been wrong. When Husband would come over he would talk a lot about himself but we didn't mind, all three of us were introverts so we let him lead the conversations. We'd go where he wanted to go, and we started to feel a bit more at ease around him so we'd start suggesting places and he'd go along with them. But, thinking back on it, I don't really remember him asking us about our day, only telling us about his.
There are two types of people as I've realized, those that talk and those that listen. The good friends, the best friends, are those that learn (and you HAVE to learn it, this is not a natural skill) to do both. I realize that most of my friends growing up were really the same way, they talked, I listened (being introverted) and maybe, just maybe, I'd get to share my side of things if I forced it into the conversation, but very rarely did anyone ask me. My mother, even though she's introverted, has to remember to ask me about my day because there are some conversations where she talks and I rarely say a word because she never stops to listen to me. It's a work in progress with even her in her 60's. And I think I'm a lot more aware of it now that I've had arguments with friends over the years about this because I just stopped talking to them all together because I was exhausted from the listening and trying to force my way in.
After I met my first friend who actively listened and talked, it was a like a breath of fresh air. I actually enjoyed talking to her. I'm still friends with her today and she was my Matron of Honor (you know who you are!). She showed me what it was like to have friends who really considered ME her friend and not just me considering HER a friend.
DON'T BE AN ATTENTION VAMPIRE
After this revelation, I burnt a lot of bridges myself because it's very tiring to have friends like these. They get everything out of the friendship and use you up. And unfortunately for Husband, he did it to his wife too. I wish I could sit him down and talk to him about what he was doing. He met his wife when she was going through a bad time with her mother and she wanted out. I think because she wasn't a big fan of her own family and she didn't have too many friends, he got all of her attention. That's what he wanted, lots of attention, and when he'd jump into a group situation he'd put himself in the middle of that attention too. So he fed off of it, and that's okay, but you can't expect everyone to WANT to give you all of their attention all the time. We just can't do it. There has to be give and take otherwise we all just get tired and worn out.
Husband became, to put it bluntly, an attention Vampire.
That's okay when everyone is willing to give it to him. But then his wife had a death in her family and she turned to helping them out and wanting attention of her own. She took time to mourn and spent time with her mother and helping with things. She stepped back from cleaning the house and keeping everything up until Husband grew resentful. Suddenly the vampire wasn't getting fed anymore. He turned to the internet where he'd met some people he could feed off and they, stupidly, started feeding him whatever he wanted. You can't feed the vampire, it only makes him stronger, you know? But younger people don't realize this most of the time until they start feeling tapped out and become resentful themselves.
I think things were in a state of flux even before this point, but it came to a head and Husband started burning bridges because his friends weren't feeding him anymore. They started to have lives of their own and couldn't take time to listen and not get anything in return. We were nice about it and let him get it out of his system once every week or two, but even my own husband started to retreat when he'd come over as I think he was feeling sucked dry by this constant attention need of Husband. I feel rather sad about that because my own husband is the best man in the world. He's loving and caring. He's kind and even after things came out that the couple's divorce was imminent, he was willing to spend time with Husband and was evening willing to help him move. He didn't offer, but he was willing had he been asked as he had in the past.
But by that time, it was too late. Husband had written him off because we weren't on his side. How could we be on his side when he wasn't willing to work things out with his wife? Even if it had nothing to do with the people he had met online, feeding the attention vampire - it did have everything to do with the fact that he didn't try to change to help his wife in her time of need. He went through the motions with her and got angry when she didn't want to do things when she was mourning her family member. He got irritated that she wanted to do other things than give all of her attention to him. She had other commitments and since they weren't him and he wasn't willing to work it out, then he started getting resentful and hateful.
I feel very sorry for him. At least, up until the point where he started spreading lies and expanding truths to give reason to his feelings. I know what he was feeling was real. Yes, he really did feel like he was being emotionally abused by his wife and his friends. But the abuse came in a form of absence of feeding the attention vampire. He felt empty because he wasn't getting the attention that he needed. What he didn't realize, was by cutting off ties with these people, he was cutting off his attention even more. He started resenting them rather than approaching them to build a better relationship.
BUILD A BETTER RELATIONSHIP - DON'T BURN THE BRIDGE
My advice to Husband would be this: don't resent the relationships you have, but build upon them. If you feel like you aren't getting anything from a relationship then maybe there's something lacking on your end. Don't say "Oh, well, I do all the calling so they obviously don't like me if they don't call." Think about what you say during those conversations. Do you call only because you WANT something? YOU want to hang out, YOU want to talk about your problems, YOU want to tell them about something in your life. Okay, there's plenty of room for that, but have you ever stopped to ask them how his/her day was and actually listen?
When they do call you to tell you something, do you ever let them tell you about their event and not turn it around about something YOU wanted to talk about?
If your wife is mourning, have you asked her what she needed? Did she need space? Did she need help around the house? Did she need help to deal with her family?
When you speak about your problems and someone comes up with an anecdote about their lives, have you ever commented on it or did you consider it an interruption and go on with your story? Have you ever just put a pin in your story to let them speak and then go back without feeling jaded?
When things don't go your way, do you just get angry, or have you considered talking it out? This isn't "giving in" this is "growing wiser."
GIVE YOUR FRIENDS A CHANCE TO BE THERE FOR YOU
Tell your friends you're having trouble but don't steam roller them. Don't TELL them to be on your side, ASK them to be on your side. But tell your side first and don't embellish. Ask them what you should do and LISTEN to their response. Often times they have good advice. Think that you feel it's unfair that they don't spend enough time with you? Ask them to set up a meeting spot on a regular basis. Then you can unload everything at once. Don't require them to drop everything at a moment's notice.
The best friendships are those where your friends WANT to contact you to hang out. They don't feel like you've been sucked dry, but instead you have a free flow of awesome conversation and enjoyed each other. This happens with friendships or one-on-one relationships with loved ones. They want to feel happier just because they've been with you. They'll invite YOU places, and ask you to do things with them.
Before the end, I actually started seeking out this couple's company. I liked hanging out with them and talking about things. Sure, Husband still never asked me about his day, but I spent time with his wife because she was starting to feel more sure about herself and her own relationship with us. We were starting to share things and become friends even as Husband started thinking that he was losing a friendship that was fragile. And instead of allowing us to be there for him, he pushed us away because we 'weren't on his side.'
Don't create "SIDES". No one is going to want to be on your side if they're forced to. We will choose to and be happier for it if you tell us you need us and are thankful.
BE THANKFUL TO YOUR FRIENDS
The last bit I wish to talk about is something I learned from my dearest friend. It's to be thankful. It's to thank your friends and not be resentful of anything they do that's not to your standards. They don't have to be your friend. Many of my friends could cut off ties with me simply by de-friending on FaceBook, they could simply stop writing me emails. But they don't. They don't have to call and we don't have to hang out, but we're still friends and we still talk. And I'm grateful they listen to my problems and want to be a part of my life. Even when I'm grouchy or I'm being selfish, they'll call me out on it. If I learn from that, then I become a better friend which makes me thankful that they helped me grow.
Remember: No one HAS to be your friend. They CHOOSE to be. Never make them regret the decision.
I wish things could change after this point, and I'm sorry that I didn't learn to be a better friend myself all of these years because I know there are a lot of friendships I miss. There are so many bridges that I burned I'll never get back because of things that I said or did. But I've learned and if I'd just been told the problems, then maybe I could have fixed myself too. Unfortunately, we have to all be patient with each other, grow with each other, thank each other, and respect each other. In a world of "ME ME ME" it's hard, but I think it's possible.
And who knows, maybe someday Husband will return to being friends with my husband, because he's a sweet man who is very forgiving. Or maybe he'll move on and we'll never see him again. But I feel for them because it's a rare thing to have friends and worse when the friendships end as suddenly as this one did.