Wednesday, 28 February 2007

PASSING SHIPS

Friendship is one of those great big portmanteau words that means very different things to different people. The Oxford Concise defines “friend” as “One joined to another in intimacy and mutual benevolence independently of sexual or family love”. This is certainly a hopeful aspiration; however, in real life presumed “friends” often turn out to be something very different.

The Victorians and Edwardians were great on friendship. Lifelong vows of mutual attachment were sworn, and the relationship celebrated with aphorisms both pithy and poetic in those sweet little leather-bound miniature books which were favourite gifts of the period. I still possess some which belonged to my spinster aunt who – at least when she was young – was of a somewhat sentimental turn of mind. She collected some of her friends’ penned and drawn declarations of devotion in such a book which, with retrospective knowledge of how some of those who inscribed it actually behaved, is in part pathetic.

For there’s the rub. Too many a slip twixt cup and lip in the friendship game, I fear. My parents had several lifelong friends, some dating from their childhood and school days, who were my genuinely affectionate honorary ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’, whom I count myself fortunate to have known. The assumption in those days was that friendship, if sincere, was for life and such friends could be counted upon – and were. It was an aspect of civilised life which has largely vanished.

At my advanced age I have naturally lost too many friends through death. But I have also lost some who are still living so far as I know, whose friendship I valued more than they evidently did mine – because despite all their protestations of solidarity there came a time when they vanished, often abruptly and with no explanation. I regret such people, because I cared about them, but I now realise they weren’t the ones to rely on in a tight corner. My old friend Charlotte Wolff wrote: "it is sad that the people who glitter and bewitch us with their magnetism are, more often than not, the least reliable”, and I have found this to be true. It is the very ones who earnestly assured me that whenever I needed them they would always be there without fail who have disappeared in the twinkling of an eye.

Friendship, it seems to me, is like a train journey to an unknown destination. One never knows when somebody destined to become significant to you will come aboard, nor at which stopping-place they will get off. They probably don’t know themselves. I do my best to give people the benefit of the doubt as to sincerity, but trust is a two-edged sword – if you never trust anyone you will be lonely and miserable, and if you trust someone mistakenly you will [if you allow yourself] be even more miserable, at least for a time.

John Donne famously said “No Man is an Island”. Sometimes, though, each one of us feels we are our own Robinson Crusoe, alone on a solitary island without a friendly sail, or a Man Friday, in sight. Fortunately this state of affairs is usually only temporary. If we wish to avoid it entirely, though, we should always pay heed to what people do, and be wary of what they say. Salute the passing ships, and be prepared for them to sail away over the horizon.

17 comments:

lavenderblue said...

Heavens, Anticant.
such an emotive subject.........
One has to work at friendships - hard work too.
And how often have they fallen apart and for no reason that one can begin to understand.
Big subject.

zola said...

Wonderful stuff Anti.
friendship will always be subversive vis-a-vis market relations and contract.
Long live friendship.

anticant said...

What I've learned, lavender and Zola - rather painfully - is that you should be extremely careful where you bestow your heart. So many people grasp at affection eagerly, and are stingy in returning it. They can be very hurtful, and don't give a damn.

The weirdest recent example is our next-door neighbours, who haven't spoken to us since Christmas Eve 2005. Before that they were our "dearest friends", and couldn't do enough for us during my illness, calling round two or three times every day, doing shopping, running errands, chauffering me in my own car when I couldn't drive - you name it, they did it, to the extent that it became embarrassing, although we were very thankful for it and for some months couldn't have managed without them. So we decided to ask the guy to be one of our witnesses when we formed our Civil Partnership the week before Christmas.

Unfortunately, he did something thoughtless that day - a busy and stressful one - which caused us some problems, and I remonstrated quite mildly. The next day they came round for drinks and no sooner had they got into the house when his lady friend went ballistic over my "ingratitude" and ranted at me like Mrs Hitler, so I told her she'd better go home until she calmed down. They thereupon returned our Christmas presents and my car keys, and haven't spoken to us since! - in fact, if they see us in the garden or on the road they turn away and scuttle back inside their flat. This has persisted for 14 months now, and I find it quite bizarre that people can be so childish. We've lived alongside this woman - she is a senior hospital nurse - for over 20 years, and although she was stroppy and let fly now and then she usually apologised after a few days. But not this time! Nowt so queer as folks......

zola said...

Sometimes somethings are best left in the cupboard.
But friendship is no contract.
No exchange and no reciprocity.
It is like trust _ there or not.

lavenderblue said...

And we don't come with a money-back guarantee.....

anticant said...

Being trustworthy is an attribute of character that stems from upbringing. It would never have occurred to anyone in my family not to be trustworthy. Maybe that made me too naively trusting in some cases.

My grandfather used to say "a good name is rather to be had than great riches" - a most unfashionable attitude these days!

zola said...

long live the unfashionable then.

robert said...

Quite a fair post...I liked it. If u ask me..there cannot be any particular definition for Friendship..those who tries to define it, they actually try to understand the meaning of it and those who understand the meaning of friendship...they never define..they just have people to call them "good friends" :) You have friends who come and go but among them are some who remains forever and u can never lose ur friends...they r only physically absent but if u close ur eyes u will always find them beside u..check out my blog to find some real good stuff on friendship!

zola said...

Buy that matey a drink I say

1loneranger said...

Very insightful stuff anticant. Thanks for sharing it. I especially appreciated the train metaphor. I couldn't agree with that more and found it quite beautiful.

When I was boy my life long friend ('brother of a different mother'- I like to call him) told me he thought every person needs a certain number of intimates (outside family)in their lives to fulfill certain roles and depending on the person that number of roles usually has a capacity of around a half dozen or less souls. The people you allow or choose to fill these roles become quite significant relationships but nonetheless can come and go with time, to be filled by other souls. The idea is that the role is more meaningful than the soul themselves. If the soul isn't perfoming the need up to snuff, then a new soul is found. And if one person, for whatever reason, begins to fill more than one role, the balance gets off and things usually get a bit jumbled.

My 'brother from a different mother' and I had a huge blow-up at Christmas when he was here visiting. Long involved story including a mooose, a pair of antique glasses and a cell phone- I will spare you, hopefully it will end up in a post of mine some day when we work our stuff out.
Anyway, this best friend and I haven't spoken since, very unusual being that we've usually had at least one conversation every week for the last 17 years.

It goes without saying; I'm starting to think more about the 'roles and train theory'.

Great stuff anticant.

anticant said...

A sad story, 1lr. Two of the most difficult things in life are asking for what you want, and saying No to what you don't want. If you really want this relationship to continue, call him and say [in your own words] "Hey, don't you think it's time we started talking again?" If you think it's probably over, do your best to forget about it and move on.

BTW, get "Metaphors We Live By", by Lakoff & Johnson. Great stuff.

Richard W. Symonds said...

I'm not good a imparting any wisdom about friendships and forgiveness - being a bad example of both...but, AC, have you ever thought of writing a note to your neighbour saying 'sorry' - even if you don't feel you have anything to feel sorry about...at best, it might heal something which is broken...at worst, it will completely 'disarm' you neighbour.

Just a few thoughts...

anticant said...

Richard - Need I say that I of course did send an 'olive branch' a few days after the rupture, without any response. I am in general a peaceable and forgiving person, but in this instance the ball is firmly in their court, and I have no intention of eating false 'humble pie' over something that is not my fault. Also, in practical terms, their abrupt withdrawal of support made our lives extremely difficult and stressful which they perfectly well knew it would do. Maybe they were just fed up with helping us, but they should have said so. I'm afraid I don't think they are nice people at all. As for ever having been real "friends".....

Richard W. Symonds said...

Again, I am deeply loathed to get involved in something so personal, but your neighbours' reaction is indeed rather 'weird'.

As I see it, knowing sweet fa about something which is none of my business, your neighbours' reaction seems to stem from something "thoughtless" one of them did on a special day...

Curiousity and busybodying tempts me to ask : What was that "thoughtless" act?

anticant said...

Yes, Richard, you ARE a curious busybody [as is the guy next door] and I don't intend to go into any more detail except to say that what he did was very thoughtless and extremely unhelpful, but not deliberately so. His lady friend, however, cannot bear him to be criticised in any way because he is so "well-meaning". It's a case of the road to hell being paved with good intentions....

Yes, they are indeed utterly weird. Isn't this how wars start? Now let's drop the subject, or I shall regret having mentioned it.

ranger said...

anticant-

Thanks for the advice. I've been dwelling on the two options myself since he left. I'm just giving it some time to cool down before I make that attempt. And for 'Metaphors we live By'. I've already got it on my list for my next visit to the local book shop. You mentioned it a while back on another thread and I jotted it down right away. :) Thanks.

anticant said...

The "friendship is a journey" metaphor brings home to us that we ourselves are the only ones who complete our own life's journey from birth until death. Everyone else - whatever their or our intention - comes aboard and departs at unexpected, and often involuntary, points in our lives.