Friends: Everyone Needs 'Em

You know, it takes a lot of time for me to start referring to a casual acquaintance as a friend. Recently, an acquaintance of mine referred to me as her friend and I was genuinely taken aback. Not necessarily because I don't like this person (although, to be fair, I DON'T really like this person all that much), but because it made me wonder how people define that word -- friend.

When Casey the Human and I first met she took me to coffee in the heart of Seoul. There we chatted over the usual thangs -- Korea, teaching, our coworkers -- which then naturally led to a discussion of friendship. This is when she took the opportunity to tell me she wasn't really looking for new friends. See, this was also her second time around on the peninsula and she had established a circle of friends outside of work. In Korea, this is the holy grail. I mean really, who wants to spend their free time hanging out with the same group they are PAID to hang out with 40 hours a week? Certainly not me. Anyway, although I was initially a little put off by her comment (as if I was applying for friendship), I understood and respected where it came from. Friendship is an emotional investment, one not afforded to just anyone, and Casey's emotional bank account was full. Casual acquaintances were really all she was willing to take on at the moment. Lucky for me my sparkling personality, winning good looks, and knowledge of internet memes won her over! Today I count Casey among just a handful of people with whom I share true friendship.

Recent life events have allowed me the opportunity to take stock of the people with whom I surround myself. Everyday I come into contact with students, parents, coworkers, etc. I am friendly and engaging and generally outgoing. I talk to them, I ask questions, I empathize -- you know, all the hallmarks of adult interaction. Does this mean any of them are my friends? No. No it does not. Why, you ask? Because another hallmark of adult interaction is the setting of boundaries. Boundaries serve a very specific and useful purpose with regards to interpersonal relationships. Boundaries help us understand our roles and the roles of others. They let us know that no, you CANNOT hit on that lovely lady at the bar as she is married and that would be overstepping a defined boundary. (Or more often than not in my case, no you CANNOT tell me your ex-husband cheated on you with your best friend. WTF?! I am your child's daycare provider, this is not okay.) Boundaries make us feel safe and secure. But perhaps the most important purpose of establishing boundaries is that they teach others how to treat us. When you have ill-defined boundaries, or no boundaries at all, it's like saying "HERE I AM! TREAT ME LIKE SHIT!"

Normally I am very up front about my boundaries. This is prolly why it takes me so long to go from casual acquaintance to friend. Being picky about one's friends is not necessarily a bad thang, though. Being picky and methodical about entering into an emotionally invested friendship has some fucking awesome rewards, like reciprocated emotional investment, long-term/long-distance investment, loyalty, comfort, and perhaps the biggest one, mutual respect. (Coincidentally, these are also things I look for in a partner.) And because I am very up front and honest about my boundaries with others I tend to make friends of the same ilk. Occasionally, however, someone comes along who challenges my boundaries and forces me to rethink how I approach relationships. Sometimes it's for the best, as was the case with Jamie, my best Korean friendo. My initial reaction to all Jamie's attempts to hang out was, "EW, NOPE." But I gave him (and myself) a chance and what I got was a fucking awesomely open-minded, non-judgemental, hysterical friend. Wins all around.

But sometimes someone comes along who pushes too hard, is just a bit too needy, wants just a bit too much of my time and attention. This has happened to me twice in the past year and both times I had MANY reservations about both individuals. On the one hand, YAY, someone likes me! But on the other hand, JESUS CHRIST WHY DO YOU NEED SO MUCH VALIDATION?! So I kept one of these acquaintances at arm's length -- she was just a bit too over-the-top disingenuous for me. And the other? Against my better judgement I took a risk, let him in, and shared all the things. For a while it seemed he, too, was fully invested. But then something changed and all his insecurities that initially turned me off reared their ugly heads. Gone was our fantastic friendship and partnership, replaced with indifference, annoyance, and distance. And I was pissed. This was not MY fear! These were not MY insecurities! It felt as if I was being punished for having boundaries of my own and asking him to acknowledge and respect them. And in the end he couldn't follow through because he lacked ANY boundaries.

I know friendships (and partnerships) are not in a constant state of awesome; they take work. And maybe I'm being too harsh, my expectations too high, but I just don't think so. I suppose I'm just frustrated that I didn't listen to my gut on this one: that someone with such ill-defined boundaries wouldn't know how to understand or respect mine.

I didn't listen to my instincts when they told me, "EW, NOPE".

1 comment:

Lucky Starfish said...

Seriously, yes! I hate being introduced to strangers as sometimes "best friend" when it is also news to me. In my head I'm screaming "Wait, what??? When did that happen? What happened to make you think think that??" Makes me want to back the heck out of the friendship altogether ASAP because we are obviously not on the same wavelength (and isn't that what friends are supposed to be for?).