Saturday, 17 October 2009


I speak from experience when I say that knowing you have upset your friend is an awful feeling. Experience also allows me to say that being upset by your friend feels much the same. Friendships are so precious that the idea that something might happen to harm ours can be quite frightening. It is a difficult thing to have to hear criticism from your friend; after all we all like to think we are good people, good friends, good siblings etc. The reality is, however, that we all have faults, we are not always in favour with others and others are not always in favour with us, the truth hurts and if you’re anything like me you’re going to say it and people aren’t going to like the sound it makes and so guess who gets shot?

I am fortunate in that I have good friends; I am part of a very close group of best friends and I also have strong friendships outside of that group. The origins of a lot of my friendships were circumstantial, some of my friendships are obvious and some are not so obvious. For example I have what some people see as an ‘unlikely’ friend. Our history with each other is one of arguing and being worlds apart yet we learned to see past ourselves and get on with each other.

My friendships have changed overtime, some deliberately as a result of effort (or the lack of it) and some not so deliberately. Of the ones in which the change was more of a passive occurrence than an active decision, some I understand well and some not so well.

Real friendship is supposed to be quite robust I think. But then it’s not meant to suffer too many blows is it? Life though happens and ultimately we upset our friends or they upset us. I think I can safely say that some things are universal, “my best friend slept with my boyfriend” is probably not the type of fallout a friendship is built to survive although many do, or so I read in magazines.

But what about all the grey areas? What about when you both have a valid point? When you are both hurt/angry/frustrated? What about when your unlikely friend was your unlikely friend for a reason – because you really were worlds apart after all? Only now you have grown to value each other and in doing so have become less disposable to each other?

From personal experience and lapping up other people’s, I have come to understand that the dynamic of a relationship is very likely to change for the worse if you don’t deal with an issue because you ‘don’t like confrontation’ or think it’s ‘nicer when people just get on’ or think it’s best to ‘leave someone to cool down’ etc. You are taking a risk if you choose to ignore a situation and you are being foolish if you expect to find the dynamic unchanged when you do chose to revisit it. This is the thing about human interaction, you don’t necessarily need someone to vocalise their dissatisfaction, it is often apparent and in the case of people who know each other quite well easy to see. Yet some people find it so difficult to say how they feel. Granted saying to your friend “you have upset me…” or words to that effect is not easy. Quite often its unchartered territory and the response and the potential fallout are as yet unknown. As a person who is quite open and honest (for my sins I can assure you, that trait has not necessarily done me many favours) I struggle frequently with people who are not. I like to think I treat people as I’d want to be treated myself and so I expect to be treated by my friends as I treat them. I have come crashing back down to earth on several occasions based on those expectations and I have learned that I have to modify them, as I am sure others have had to do where my shortcomings are concerned. So then is disappointment not just poor expectation management? I have asked myself this question numerous times in recent years and I cannot quite let myself concede that it is. In doing such a thing would I not just be insulting my friends? Who wants to hear “well it’s fine, I am not upset with you anymore because I have lowered all expectations where you are concerned”? That’s not to say it can’t be done, I myself have done it and those people it applies to I no longer consider close friends. Not that it’s ever a conscious choice, being the ‘feelings’ person that I am it’s just ultimately where my feelings have lead me disappointment after disappointment.

Does it follow then that forgiveness too is not a conscious choice? Is forgiveness not a feeling, a state of mind? There are times when people are forgiven before they have even sought it and other times when no matter how hard you try to move on from an incident you find where once there used to be acceptance and openness there is now a closed door. And it is your closed door, you may want it open again but you find that you can’t /won’t open it. How forgiveness is sought (if at all!), the effort a person is willing to go to in order to show your feelings are important to them makes a difference. So what happens when you feel the apology owed to you comes too late? Or you doubt its sincerity? What if you feel not enough effort has been made to see the situation through your eyes? How then do you bridge that gap? What you have in reserve in a friendship goes a long way towards doing just that; if you have a long history of trust then you have more plaster, so to speak, with which to fill in the cracks. But if your friendship is a new one, or if its origins are less than pretty, with what then do you pave the way to reconciliation?

Granted stepping into someone else’s shoes when it means seeing yourself in a less than favourable light is not easy, especially when you cannot understand why someone feels the way they feel. I had to do just that myself. I didn’t understand how a friend was so upset over something that to me was a non-event. But I understood that if she felt strongly enough to not want to talk to me then to her it wasn’t a ‘non-event’. And is that not what we are entitled to expect from people who are our close friends?

I read a column in a magazine a year or so ago by the actress Teri Hatcher. For the most part it was very gushy and American and unnecessary but she said something that stuck with me; it was something to the effect of “if we accept that we ourselves have shortcomings then the failures of others become easier to accept”. And even though it is so simple and obvious I think it is such a wise statement simply because people very rarely look at themselves objectively (I am not entirely sure of the degree to which that is possible but certainly some do it better than others). Being able to see something through the eyes of someone else means that you gain understanding of how and why they are behaving the way they are.

Sometimes you have to go a bit beyond yourself, sometimes you have to just take hold of your fear (because let’s face it the prospect of rejection, of being wrong, of losing face…all of that is scary) and step out of your comfort zone because it is the only way you are going to move forward and learn.

Our friends are the people who are not impressed by us and who do not judge us. Our friends are those people who tell us the truth, regardless of how ugly it is or how difficult it is to hear. They give us the room to say what we might not be able to say elsewhere. Those things are rare and need to be treasured.


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