Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Falling Out 1

I read a fascinating column yesterday about how cavemen did not have friends. They had wives and children and parents, and that was allegedly it. Of course, the columnist did use the word cavemen, which makes one wonder about the cavewomen. And the column also insinuated that cavemen lived in nuclear families,  which is ridiculous. I would be very surprised to discover that cavepeople did not live in huge extended families and that the various women added to the families did not make friends with each other. I mean, hello!

In Austen's day, people spoke of family as being friends; instead of writing about people being returned to their "family-and-friends", Austen just said "friends." And I think that it is sensible to conflate family and friends, especially in cultures where your family and friends are for life.

When I was in Germany, Germans assured me that Germans took friendship more seriously than "Americans," which is why it can take a very long time indeed to be invited to a German colleague's home for supper and why next door neighbours may call each other "Frau [This]" and "Herr [That]" even after forty years. Once Germans make a friend, they told me, they keep them forever. Thus, the caution about friendliness and the home-as-fortress attitude.

This makes perfect sense to me because until very recently Europeans did not move around a lot--at least, not voluntarily. In Canada and the USA, we move all over the place--for work, for school, for adventure. As the descendants of immigrants, we have migration in our blood. Not so with the majority of the Europeans who stayed in Europe. My mother-in-law won't leave her town even to visit us. That's how rooted she is in her town. And I loved seeing German students, when summer term was over, rushing off by train in huge numbers to their ancestral villages.

Being able to make friends quickly and being able to drop friendships with as little pain as possible are, perhaps, very North American skills, and if Europeans think we are no deeper than our bathtubs, well, alas. Maybe we are. But if we are, we have to be to survive the mad migration patterns of American life.

As a child, I read various books that hammered home the message that girls have to say good-bye to their friends when they get married because they often go away to live somewhere else. Nineteenth century girls seemed quite traumatized by this: Jo March was furious when a man wanted to marry her sister Meg. Anne of Green Gables mourned when her best friend Diana got engaged. And Anne herself eventually (plot spoiler ahead) leaves Green Gables to live clean across Prince Edward Island, the horror, PEI being 140 miles long. The message was that you may feel that your friends have dumped you but getting married, but you have to accept that change is a part of life, etc. Note that Little Women and the Anne books are North American books.

Still, women need friends. When I came to Scotland, I missed my Canadian friends terribly and it was a long time--possibly even a year or more--before I made women friends who felt like friends (przyjaciółki) instead of just amiable and admirable acquaintances (koleżanki). (You know what I mean.) For company, I spent a lot of time with male friends, for traditional Catholicism is rather male-dominated in these here parts, which was great fun but not the same thing as having women friends. You can't phone male friends and weep because professional historical house curators invaded your flat without warning when the flat was a disaster area because you are a lousy housekeeper and now strangers know. At least, you can't phone my male friends.

And because women need friends, it is terribly important not to fall out with the friends you have, especially if you have moved to a new city. When you go to your old home city, you will want to catch up with your old friends, and as you are in your new home city, you need the friends you have made. You may not see some of them that often, but you have to treat them well and speak of them well for you are likely to run into them, and you want your interactions to be pleasant and a source of joy and strength.

The ordinary patterns of contemporary life are generally what keep you from seeing your friends, or what make friendships crawl underground and fall asleep for a bit.  Friends who fall in love have a tendency to disappear for weeks or even months before reappearing, smiling or weeping, and although you can text, write or call saying pointedly that you miss them, you have to make allowances for human nature. Friends who have babies are slaves to their babies, and although they miss you terribly, they have no time for themselves, let alone for anyone else but their baby-masters and their increasingly jealous husbands (if, indeed, husbands they have). Friends who leave town come back to town expecting to see a whole shopping list of people. And friends have shifting jobs, timetables, budgets, health, etc., etc. Really, it's almost a miracle adults have  friends.

All the better reason not to fall out with your friends.

Tomorrow I will ponder further the issue. For now, the combox is open.

By the way, this morning I discovered to my horror that almost all the comments you sent yesterday went straight to Spam. If you ever send a perfectly reasonable comment, with a name attached, and you are a girl, and you can't think why the comment didn't get passed, it's most likely because it mysteriously went to Spam. Sometimes I remember to check Spam, but very often I forget.


Roadkill Rhapsody said...

Can my comment be a question? Obviously a friendship changes once a friend dates, marries, or procreates, but at what point do you decide that it actually no longer exists? (For example, if you're the only person who calls or emails, for, say, a year, that's one thing, but what if it's two, or three, or five? How much less talking about yourself should you reasonably expect to do? When are you being honoured by a babysitting request, and when are you being taken for granted? And so on.) I have a lot of sympathy for Jo March and Anne Shirley; if the chief love you have in your life is the love of friendship, it's terrible to lose it!

Seraphic said...

Do friendships rely entirely on email and calls? No. One of my best friends back home is a terrible correspondent and rarely calls, and I don't usually write to her or call. (She can read my copious posts here or my updates on Facebook.) But when I go home, I hang out with her as much as I can. We just pick up where we left off. It doesn't matter.

As for talking about yourself, I think catch-up conversation should be part about her, part about you, and more about shared people or interests or ideas! If you are no longer interested in a friend's life or in her opinions, then I would say that the friendship is over for YOU. She might actually still be very fond of you.

I don't know much about friends taking babysitting advantage. Obviously it's an honour when someone trusts you with their newborn baby, but after they have figured out you're not going to drop, hurt or sell their kids, it's not so much an honour anymore. It's you doing them a favour which they completely appreciate, and maybe they reciprocate in some way. (Dinner out, or a nice birthday present.) If you find yourself babysitting all the time, and the people you sit for never invite you for supper or buy you a little present or come to your parties, then I would say you might be being taken advantage of.

Jeanne said...

I just finished reading "French Children Don't Throw Food" which has, apart from being a great eye-opener on childraising, has tons of absolutely fascinating information about the way French people, and in particular French women, think and act and behave in the world. This post, especially the bit about German vs. American ways of making friends, reminded me that I wanted to recommend it to you. :)

AJ said...

Dorothy, uwielbiam te Twoje rozważania;)

Jo said...

Roadkill, I often find myself having similar thoughts. I have a few of what I consider 'very close friends' who are terrible about calls, emails, etc., and I know it's just their nature, but it sometimes very painful, especially since I'm so dedicated to answering my mail (it just doesn't compute for me why it's so impossible to just scribble off a note or press the call button). It is one thing to tolerate this from a couple good friends, but another thing entirely when there is a deafening silence from several of them. I know the Jo March/Anne Shirley feeling too well-weddings can sometimes feel like farewell parties. Sorry to be so melancholy, but I sometimes think people dismiss the importance of messages. I still write to my good friends in Carmel regularly, even though they can only reply once or twice a year-I love getting their letters and they love mine, but I cannot simply forget about them the other eleven months of the year-or am I too attached?

Perhaps I feel so strongly about this having just moved to a new city with all of my old friends scattered throughout the country, and the absence of a friendly note or call can make one feel keenly lonely in the early days. It's not just the yearning for 'company,' but a desire to lean on close trusted companions during a very stressful time-I may be eager to meet my new neighbors or new friends at the parish coffee hour, but their presence won't really be of comfort to me. I think this may also be a temperament issue-I tend to be a very private person and choose my friends carefully-and then, I expect to invest in them for a long and enduring time. When there is a lag, it can be difficult to detach myself.

Seraphic said...

The sad fact of the matter is that there will be suffering.

I went crazy (literally) from loneliness and disillusionment in a new city even though I had two friendly housemates, a friend and a boyfriend. I lost a career because of it--including heaven only knows how much income--but that is just the way it is.

That is one thing we can count on--the constant that makes sense in this crazy world: we will suffer.

Of course, there is more to life than suffering, thank God. But it is best to come to grips with the fact that suffering is part of life and all we can do is wait it out and carry on and remember that we are never alone in our suffering. Even if everyone around us are on top of the world, there on the wall is the crucifix to remind us "No Crown without a Cross."

MaryJane said...

@Jo - I've been on both sides of the equation: at times, I've gone out of touch for more than a year, and other times I've been terribly lonely in a new city just hoping someone will drop me a line on email. I think there just needs to be (in general) less sensitivity and more generosity of spirit. When I don't write, it's usually because I have a lot going on. I try to remember that when my friends don't write, they probably have a lot going on! They could probably use my prayers. (Obviously, I don't always do this but I try.) I trust that my good friends have the same attitude towards me.

Also, as someone who is very private and tries to make meaningful friendships, I have learned that sometimes it can be nice to have acquaintances or people that are not "so close". In college, I thought that was superficial. Now I see that it can be a pleasant part of life, even if it isn't fulfilling in the same way deep friendship is.

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd mention postpartum here, if you're out of touch with new-baby friends. I was horribly depressed and lonely as hell as a new mum, but it seemed absolutely impossible and quite beyond my means to answer even the simplest of emails from very dear friends. Crazy and weird but very true! So don't assume it's necessarily 'easy' to dash off a message in all cases.

Modesty said...

I've never thought about how migratory we are, but it's true. It was easy for me to move from Michigan to Texas because I didn't live near any close friends. But now that I've settled here and have wonderful female friends, I hesitate to date outside my city. (It also has to do with my specific job qualifications being in my current city is ideal for work.)

This also reminds me of one Catholic dating blog post that claimed that the burden of relocating for marriage was on the woman. Just something about the way that was worded rubbed me the wrong way. I get that generally the husband has the more stable job, but maybe I too am plagued by that 19th century fear...and I'm tired of moving.

TRS said...

I think there's more to it... Maybe I'm wrong to expect a degree of reciprocation.
I've moved away from my college town, and the city near that which we all moved to for our first jobs. First I moved about eight hours away, but only six hours from my parents. My friends were so important to me that I would drive the additional hours to see them.. Which peeved my mother.
Then I moved back, with those friendships still in tact. A few years later I had to move to another state... And would on trips to see my parents (a ten hour drive) swing a bit out of my way to visit my dear friends.
They never come to see me. One told me she would visit when I get married... So clearly I'm not valuable unless someone she's never met decides to love me! Hurtful!

When my father died suddenly, she couldn't even bother to drive three hours to attend the funeral or console me! ( where we are from it's common to take three hour drives for good shopping or to attend a concert)
That really hurt, it is not las though i have a husband or children to support me through my dad's funeral! It was embarrassing to have not a single friend at my dads funeral.
So yes, that effectively ended our friendship, knowing I've gone out of my way 100s of times to just swing by for lunch ... for people who couldn't support me in grief!
How do you deal with that?!