Friendships

Are some relationships just time bombs waiting to blow up? Explosives and a clock wired to detonate at a certain time?

Or are they just balloon fantasies we have blown up that will eventually float away, or lose air and flatten on the ground?

It takes a while to get to know people and sometimes we hate to admit we’ve invested too much time in someone who is too fundamentally different and so we keep going …

… until one day a minor disagreement, light shining brightly, sets off the tick, tick …

… the fadeout … the flyaway …

Would it have made any difference earlier to re-wire, to point out the obvious?

Hard to say. What it comes down to is this. If the relationship is a bomb, you are damned if you do speak up and damned if you don’t. It will blow – sooner or later.

If it’s a balloon fantasy, thoughts hanging in your imagination, the first sharp poking or wind blowing will flatten and send all hopes flying.

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Lately I’ve seen a lot of articles on friendships. What are the types of friendships? How many friends do most people have? Are we losing the ability and desire to cultivate friendships? More than one article points out that we are connecting less. Families are shrinking but houses are getting bigger. Many people have replaced conversation with compulsive phone checking and texting. I see this myself every time I eat out or attend a gathering.

The articles I read on friendship don’t help me, not really. I’ve had so many friendships come and go, partly because I’ve moved often and had at least 25 jobs. Many friendships are circumstantial. They don’t take hold and last beyond living or working near each other or belonging to some group. I’m more diligent about maintaining connections than most people are. I’ve learned to lower my expectations, to be more realistic about what people can offer, or choose to offer. And to truly enjoy the friends who are in my life now, even if I don’t see them often.

Some articles categorize friendships, generalize about how many we need. I question their accuracy. After all, each of us is different, not to mention at different stages of life or living in different parts of the country or world. Introverts like me prefer fewer, but deeper friendships. Extroverts can never have too many friends. With all kinds of variations in between. People who live in one town all their lives might have more life-long friendships than those who live in transient neighborhoods. Married or living-together couples rely on each other for friendship; students and workers have built-in friendships.

It’s not until we live alone, children gone, retired or working at home, that we realize more fully how fortunate we are to have friends. We should not take them for granted. Nor should we close the door on new friendships. Cultivating friendships – new and old – is an art and a commitment.

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When a Friendship Dies, Do We?

walkingSomething weird has happened in the last year with a former friend – a yoga and walking buddy and neighbor from down the street. We pass on the street walking. I am usually alone. She is usually with one or two friends, taking up the whole sidewalk. She’s easy to spot because she has a distinctive walk – a sort of lope that’s all over the place and odd for such a small woman. She also wears a distinctive outfit, the same one no matter the weather. An expensive, long-sleeved track suit. And from the neck up, a large flappy, floppy hat with fabric like a veil coming down on either side and in back, some hanging free and some tied under her chin to keep it on her head. The result is that she looks like a beekeeper.

After not seeing her for more than a year (she stopped going to yoga and we couldn’t seem to find convenient times to walk), I recognize the loping beekeeper from a distance and smile as we pass on the sidewalk. She keeps looking at and talking with her friends and ignores me. Maybe she didn’t see me, I thought. But then it happens again, and again. The second time we pass, I look right at her, catch her eye briefly and say hi. No response. Nothing. Nada. It’s as if I wasn’t there. I felt cold and hot and then empty. A shiver of shock, a blast of anger, tepid with sadness.

My god, what are we? Seventh graders?

Since then, it’s happened several more times. I won’t see her for weeks, then I’ll see her two or three times in a few days and she pretends I don’t exist. One day I can’t help myself and yell out, “You are being so childish!” I hear her gasp and then her friends, gasp, gasp. It takes me straight back to that childhood summer when my best friend went off to Lake Ontario to visit her grandmother and the other neighborhood girls decided I was worse than a worm.wrong way

I’ve tried to figure out what I may have said or done to this former friend to warrant this treatment. We enjoyed regular walking and talking for a couple of years when we met in yoga class and realized we lived on the same street. We had several things in common – close in age, both divorced with grown children, both self-supporting. I enjoyed our conversations and appreciated her words of support when my mother died. She even remembered the anniversary of my mother’s death a year later. We didn’t always agree on everything, but who does?

I think it had to do with the handyman. I needed one, asked for her recommendation. My luck so far had not been good with handymen. One young guy I hired at the local hardware store failed to show up two or three times in a row because he “slept in.” Another I found online said he was new to the profession after being laid off. It took him two hours to attach a paper towel holder, which was crooked and kept the cupboard door from closing. A third one I ran into around the corner where he was working in a neighbor’s garage. He was nice-looking, youngish, new to the area and eagerly came over to look at my projects. He mistook my friendliness for something else and the next morning at 6 a.m. was sending me text messages that make me want to laugh, cry and curse. Let’s just say his idea of putting his tools to use didn’t involve the nails and hammer he was using around the corner. After two days of this, I texted back that my son was coming to stay in my place while I was away for a long time far away and that he’d have his pit bull with him.

So, I asked my walking friend for a recommendation and she gave me the name of a man she’d been using for years, said he was great. I called him. He was gruff and uninterested in talking. “You do know it’s Sunday, don’t you? Call me back tomorrow and let me know what you need.”

Why did he answer the phone on Sunday if he didn’t want to talk? Maybe because of my recent experiences, I decided I didn’t have the patience for yet another strange handyman and told my friend this when she asked if I’d called him. She was shocked. “Oh, he has a heart of gold,” she said. “He’s the only person who works on my house I trust with a key. And my friend (one of the gaspers) has used him for more than 25 years. I guess I’m just used to his gruffness.”

So, was it the handyman that was the friendship breaker? I have thought of emailing my former friend, but I doubt she would answer. It is frustrating not to know. Not only is it hurtful, it defies all reason. I suspect she decided we didn’t have enough in common to continue a friendship. Even if the handyman were not an issue, something else would be. But even so, even if we realize we are not friends with someone, does that mean we ignore them, pretend they are dead? Perhaps if I had done something offensive like sleep with her ex-husband …

It is even more frustrating with her because she is a psychologist, very proud of her PhD. She counsels people who want to improve their behavior and their lives.

The Whole Package

I see three cute men around my age within five minutes at the old post office. Not just cute, but interesting-cute: shaggy hair, craggy faces, possible artists or musicians or professors of philosophy or enlightened entrepreneurs. They even smile at me as they juggle briefcases and packages and slide boxes along the marble countertop. I should hang out at this post office more often.

Usually I do not see that many older men, especially all at once, who appeal to me and who are not wearing wedding rings. It is a dwindling parade. Sometimes I sneak a peek online using a code name like Lola. I select Women Seeking Men A Certain Age+ with hope in my heart. The search results are mixed and often disappointing. Appealing men want younger or taller women, or both. Even unappealing men want younger women. Men with whom I might have interests and values in common do not appeal to me physically, not that I’m looking for perfection. Some, I’m sorry to say, look as if they have been drinking beers on the beach for 50 years and not moved a toe or their heads out of the sand.

Of course it’s a numbers game. The more we look or put ourselves out there, the more men we “interview” on dates, the more we increase our chances of meeting one who is right for us. My own forays into online dating have so far not yielded anyone I want to continue dating. I asked one successful realtor how he transitioned into his career from being a CPA. “Oh, I had time to do soul searching when I was in prison for embezzling” was his answer. Another warm and friendly man was a successful artist, but about 300 pounds. He had not posted full-body shots of himself, and as nice as he was, I couldn’t quite picture myself in the bedroom scenario. Well I could, but it was not a pleasant picture.

For many I know, including family members, online dating has worked well and yielded soul mates, so I don’t discourage anyone from trying it. The thing is, I’ve realized I don’t really want to look anymore. I’ve learned to live alone in a contented fashion, to relish the solitary life. I have friends, family, cats, and work I enjoy. I live in a friendly neighborhood in an apartment I love with an ocean view and lots of light. There is room for a man, but I don’t want one enough to be out at night or on my lunch hour interviewing anymore. I’d rather meet someone in the day-to-day living of my life, and if I don’t meet anyone, I am okay with that too.

Like many women my age, I take care of myself, both physically and financially. If I do meet a man, I’d like a companion, a real companion, not someone to take care of me and boss me around, and not someone who needs a lot of care. Not someone with a lot of extra packages, or baggage.Luggage

Whether faded canvas, or beat-up cardboard, or even beautiful designer leather, too much baggage is too much baggage. It bruises my shins and hurts my shoulders to hoist up. It’s disheartening and noisy when a full ensemble tumbles from a man’s closet.

I am leery of those men who carry little, however. A sleek body, a sleek wallet, a sleek cell phone. As if there’s no room for anything extra. Nothing can get in, nothing can stick, nothing gets carried for long. There’s no place to put my hands, to hold onto.

What I can handle is a man with a rumpled duffle bag or a backpack or an old briefcase. It says to me, I have some stuff here I might have to tell you about, but it’s mine to carry and I won’t hurt you with it. I can put it down anytime, maybe next to yours. Let’s have some fun. And I promise, I won’t hog the remote control. (Fat chance, say my coupled friends.)

It goes perfectly with rumpled (or maybe even no) hair, a bit of a pot belly, intelligent eyes, a kind smile, and a kindred spirit.

Maybe it’s time I walked back to our post office before it moves. The old building is being sold. I should get over there and smile at the men with packages before it gets turned into a bar or a Mexican restaurant.