Old friends

My father-in-law once said, “The one thing you can’t make more of is old friends.” This was said in response to my pointing out that he was groaning about an impending visit from one of the same. The implications were that even though you may not have anything in common with a person any more, nor particularly look forward to seeing them, your shared history made them a forever friend. I’m not convinced.

When I complained about a friend who regularly made me sad and couldn’t commit to getting together, another friend said, “I tell my little girl that friends are nice to us and make us happy. Is she really your friend?” According to my father-in-law, the answer is yes.

And what about frenemies? According to Urbandictionary.com, the winning definition is, “An enemy disguised as a friend.” But I prefer this one (copied with all its grammatical warts):

The type of “friend” whose words or actions bring you down. (whether you realize it as intentional or not) The type of friend you ought to cut off but don’t cuz…they’re nice… good …you’ve had good times with them.

I had a very close friend in college; I’ll call her X. She was fiercely loyal to her friends and expected the same in return. The tiniest slight, perceived or otherwise, and she would cut you off and never look back. We remained close after she transferred to finish college in New York and through the years that followed.

During college, X. and I were thoroughly wrapped up in the underground rock and roll scene. It was the late seventies and punk rock ruled. Between The Rat in Kenmore Square in Boston, and CBGB’s in the Bowery in New York, it’s a wonder that either of us managed to graduate. But graduate we did, and then began the laborious process of growing up, building careers, and going to bed before 3am.

She came to visit me after I bought my first house. I was thirty, a responsible grown-up with a job and a mortgage. After admiring my home and catching up, she excused herself to go to the bathroom. When she’d been gone for a while, I tapped on the bathroom door and called, “X? Are you okay?”

She opened the door and I saw works on the bathroom sink. She had just finished shooting up in my bathroom.

I don’t remember the rest of that day, but sometime later X. sent me a card asking why she hadn’t heard from me in a while. I responded honestly with a letter about how sad I was that she was indulging in self-destructive behaviors, and how I thought she needed help. I told her I missed her, and would welcome her back whenever she was ready. She must have considered that disloyal because I never heard from her again.

I think about X from time to time. Sometimes I miss her. She was nice to me and made me happy. By one of the definitions above, that made her my friend, but was she also a frenemy? Her behavior wasn’t hurting me, although it did bring me down. At my age, someone I met in college constitutes an old friend, but if they stopped speaking to me along the way they probably don’t qualify.

I’m going to work on a word for someone you’re fond of that probably doesn’t care if you’re still alive. Suggestions welcome.


23 responses to “Old friends

  1. Pingback: Judy Mintz: Old friends « NESCBWI Kidlit Reblogger

  2. Friend, frenemy, whatever… an addict is an ADDICT. She IS her disease. The friend you knew is no longer there until she is in recovery.

  3. This entry made me get a little teary. I guess I tend to be inclusive with friends who don’t judge me, and who make me happy….or even those who once made me happy. I have been judged by so many people for a life of which they know nothing. As a result, I try not to judge others too harshly. However, I, too would have had a lot of trouble w/ someone shooting up in my house, without my knowledge or permission to use my house for an illegal purpose (go outside, or to your car?) AND…I have personal experience w/ the incredible selfishness and destruction of someone who was a serious alcoholic. So, yeah…you gotta be careful w/ addicts and keep up a protective layer. Nevertheless, I know people who aren’t addicts, but whose personalities are so toxic, they make you feel BAD about yourself, and set out to destroy the happiness they see in others. (A final word about heroin…when my time comes to leave this world, or if I come down w/ Alzheimer’s or terminal Cancer, I’d love to get someone to shoot me up w/ an overdose of H. Sounds like a good way to go.)

    • Ah, Candace. If I can make you tear up, I’ve done my job. As for dying wishes, let’s hope they don’t need to be addressed until they’ve figured out how to cure Alzheimer’s and the like.

  4. It’s all in the way you say “old friend.” The combination of nostalgia, regret, dismay, and relief you put into it can convey your degree of friendship.

  5. Friendfeigner? Yeah, I don’t think that works.

    I had a high school friend I lost touch with because I got tired of doing all the work to keep the friendship while was too wrapped up in her own turmoil. At some point I realized if I didn’t contact her, she wouldn’t make the effort We lost touch for years. When her mom died, I reached out. We kept a little communication, but it didn’t amount to much. Now she won’t friend me on Facebook.

    I’m sorry your friendship fizzled. We have the friends who know our history, our situational (work) friends, and the friends whom share a big interest (writing). I bet very few people have someone like that who cover all three.

  6. A very interesting dialogue you’ve started, Judy. (Who I consider a friend through marriage to an old friend!) Once upon a time I had an old friend who I compared myself to for many years. I thought she was somehow better than me, because…well maybe because I felt I needed her friendship more than she needed mine and she was very pretty and other people seemed to like her better than me. Met her again much later in life and was shocked to discover that she was hostile, entitled, self-centered, unsympathetic…and that her way to resolve conflicts was by being aggressive and accusing. I finally realized that my newer friends don’t talk to me like that, nor would I be friends with them, or tolerate it, if they did. Why was I subjecting myself to this with an old friend who actually didn’t know me at all anymore and didn’t seem to care for my wellbeing? I am left merely feeling sad for her. I wish I could help support her in learning how to get her needs met in a more gentle compassionate way, but… That’s not friendship. That’s therapy. And I want my friends to be friends now, compassionate companions on an equal footing. In other words, people I enjoy being with.

    • Annette, you are wise beyond your years – even beyond my years! I’ve left many dysfunctional relationships behind me, and that’s probably where they should stay.

  7. What I enjoy about my blog is that people from all parts of my life read it and comment on it: friends from elementary school, high school, college, people I met through various jobs (such as you, Judy), through my son’s sports. You might not be able to make more old friends, but you can always make more friends who instantly become as good as old friends.

  8. Susan Laufer

    Let me know when you come up with a term for someone you’re fond of that probably doesn’t care if you’re still alive…. I’ve got way more of those than old friends!

  9. I got kicked out of the Rat once for slam dancing into the speakes… but that’s another story. That was with an old friend. I lost touch with her for 25+ years. We reconnected a few years ago and all she talks about still is going to bars, being in love with the same guy (who I think you went to LHS with) and she hasn’t changed since 1987. I feel sorry for her. I feel I have grown and she hasn’t. She is back living in her mother’s house at over 50 with no real job, no career, and still going to bars until 3 am. We move on in life and some people don’t.

  10. Funny you write about this. Years ago, I spent a school year volunteering in the elementary school next to someone for two hours a week — that’s only about 80 hours, but you can learn a lot about someone by the way they interact with children. I really liked her. When we were done for the year, she suggested getting together for coffee. I was going through a major transition, as it was becoming clear over several years that an organization I was heavily involved with had a very unhealthy (some said criminal) leadership, and I was letting go of a lot of close friends who were choosing to remain active there. I was happy to have made a new friend.
    I followed up and we had coffee at her house, and I enjoyed it. Then a few weeks later, I called to see if she wanted to get together again, and she seemed startled and hemmed and hawed about how busy she was, and there was an almost audible subtext of weirdness like I was hounding her or stalking her or something like that. I extricated myself as gracefully and graciously as possible, but was actually blushing and felt like bursting into tears by the time I put the phone down.
    I still don’t really understand why someone would act like they wanted to be friends and then not. Did she learn something about me at her house that she had not picked up on in 80 hours of volunteering side by side? I certainly didn’t go shoot up in her bathroom. I wonder what I did or said that was a dealbreaker. Oh well. At least she ended it quickly.
    There have been people I have let go of, but I could understand it, being on that side. One of the most dramatic examples was a frenemy from college with whom I refused to speak when she called after years of no contact, after I had gotten into grad school and was living in Greenwich Village, I suspected because she wanted to visit NYC on the cheap. My then-husband talked to her and her boyfriend — we had all known one another in college) and kept trying to give me the phone, but I put my head under my pillow and refused to come up until they were off the phone — a good half hour. I had never done that before, and I still remember the feeling of freedom, that I get to choose, and that I did not have to let her ever get close enough to me to make me uncomfortable ever again. Funny how powerful it can feel to have one’s head under the pillow.

  11. Wow. This conversation is so interesting. I find it easier to let go of new friends who start to hurt my feelings than the old ones for some reason. And I also have trouble figuring out if someone is really just too busy to get together, or doesn’t want to allot time to me.

    Also, I find myself prioritizing with my friends. There are people I certainly like and have no problems with, but don’t want to devote a large time slot and scheduling to. How can I let them know I still care and value them while turning down their invites or not extending them myself? Maybe that was the case with your new friend, Jerri? Or some misunderstanding? But you’d think they’d give you the benefit of the doubt based on the rapport you had. It can certainly be crazy making to have felt a rapport and then find out the other didn’t. Were they faking laughter and responsiveness? What the hell?!

    I’ve also found that talking about this with the other party doesn’t help much. If someone says they would like to spend more time together it just creates pressure. So maybe this is where old fashioned etiquette instead of forthright modern straightforwardness comes in handy? But we have lost the codes and the decoder ring…

    I also think sometimes I am not doing people a favor by lying about why I’m not in contact. There is one friend who is not a friend. She is an emotionally disturbed person who needs support. I collude with her that we have a friendship that is based on mutuality. (We are only in touch briefly every few years anyway.) I only see or talk to her out of compassion for her. All I get out of it is the feeling that I have done a mitzvah. Then she sends me a note saying, “Why are you ignoring me?” Or asks to stay at my place. What if I said, “I don’t enjoy your company. You aren’t nice to me. You are hostile and demanding of my attention and time. Our world views and how to cope with difficulty are completely different. If you feel lonely and want more friends, I suggest you examine YOUR behavior rather than accuse others of not being nice enough to you and try to force them to be with you.” But that sounds so harsh. I wonder if therapists ever suggest that clients examine their part in relationships that don’t flourish?

    One other thought that comes to mind: lately I meet people in my artistic community that are nice. I like them. But they want to hang out with me outside of shows and classes. And I find them a bit…well, boring. I feel they find me entertaining, but it’s not mutual. It’s hard for me to remember that I don’t have to like someone just because they like me. (So many years of feeling unwanted to undo!) I have to like them too. (I had trouble figuring this out with boyfriends for years also.)

    Wow, Judy. You really brought up a lot of stuff with this topic…

  12. Yes! Come to Edinburgh in August…

  13. @Annette — The person you could say that to (You aren’t nice to me. You are hostile and demanding of my attention and time…), who would have a good response is the kind of person who would probably be a good friend. I have a couple of friends like that. Regarding the person I had the one coffee with, I think there probably was something that turned her off, like realizing we have no common interests outside of school volunteering, or that we are too far apart in socioeconomic status, or that my sense of humor is annoying, or perhaps she just found me boring (!), but I have accepted that I will never know! I just was taken aback that I was so unaware that my enjoyment of the relationship was not reciprocated. But when you use boyfriend/girlfriend examples, my unawareness makes more sense, that in assuming we had a friendship going, I neglected to consider that the school volunteering would not have provided enough of an opportunity to get to know each other, and that I could have been trying to read signs of interest in more of a friendship instead of taking that for granted.
    If it’s hard for you to remember that you don’t have to like someone who likes you, we could take turns role playing. I could call you and try to guilt you into making a date to see a movie/meet for meal/go to a museum, and you can practice rebuffing me. Like lifting weights, I’m sure it would get easier with repetition.
    One more story: a couple of years before the story about the coffee, I was in the parent gallery at my son’s karate class (he was in kindergarten then), and a new person sat next to me. She seemed too giggly and too friendly for someone I had just that moment met, and kept touching my arm to get my attention before speaking. I started out friendly, then was being merely polite, and I was not enjoying myself. The final straw came when at one point when she was laughing, she leaned her head on my shoulder!!!! Seriously, who does that to someone they just met?! I waited a moment, then got up, ostensibly to get a drink of water, and did not return to the seating area, but spent the rest of the class leaning on the wall by the water cooler, praying she would not follow me. I did not feel bad about this. The next class, I saw her sitting with another mom, and they seemed to have become best buds, laughing and leaning on each other. I felt I had done her a favor, not to hinder her finding someone who really did want to be her friend. So I should thank the person who declined my invitation to get together. I have no specific memory of how I filled my time without her, but now, a few years and lots of community involvement later, I have plenty of friends, and I don’t mind that she is not one of them.
    You, on the other hand, Annette, I would love to know better. Would you like to see a movie? I’m dying to see the Avengers. But if you didn’t want to see that, I would see the Hunger Games again. What do you think? Huh? Huh? Or we could meet for a salad. Panera has a new salad I’ve been wanting to try. Or the museum. My husband could give us a tour of his labs…

  14. @Jerri: Um… Er… Well… I live in California actually… And I’m really busy lately… Um… But thanks…

    Actually, when I got to that part of your text I did start to panic! Especially when you mentioned movies I DON’T want to see. The tour of your husband’s labs sounds intriguing though…

    Seriously though… I wonder what would happen if people were fully transparent about such things? I do have a friend I’ve had lots of ups and downs with over (gasp) 20 years or so that I can discuss such things with. She asked me to help her with her resume (again) and I realized I really didn’t want to for various reasons (I end up doing too much of the work, she gets dependent, she wants me to have all the answers but questions everything I suggest vehemently). But I addressed these concerns in my counter offer, that we work on it for a discrete amount of time with a follow up but not ongoing (with e-mails with dumb questions every minute–I didn’t put it that way though). I might even dare to ask that she try to do the research and answer her questions first, before asking me to do all the work for her. And I could even tell her why that would be meaningful to me (because I want to support her independence, use my energy efficiently, be a resource not the creative energy source (please excuse hippy language)).

    I like how you point out that what didn’t work for you (over familiarity of that weird woman) worked for someone else, and that by “rejecting” that person she could find a better match and two people could be happy.

    Have you ever heard of NVC? I have found the philosophy and training very helpful in being more authentic with others and myself and having more satisfying relationships. http://www.cnvc.org/

    And if you’re ever in the Bay Area, feel free to look me up. Seriously! Sounds like we have a lot in common. And if not, we can communicate about it perhaps.


  15. The CNVC site is intriguing. I suspect this could be very helpful for me socially, and especially as a parent speaking at School Committee and subcommittee meetings about special education issues. Thanks, Annette. I once was making business-to-business cold calls targeted at complementary medicine practitioners, and I got a message back in my voicemail that was the most gracious and life-affirming marketing outreach rejection I have ever experienced. The way the person spoke sounded like she practices the principles of NVC. Wow, who knew this discussion would yield such rich results. Thanks, Judy, for your thought-provoking blog, and to everyone for the comments.

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