The Enemy of My Enemy

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately, and what it means to me. I’ve had people declare that we are friends after we’ve just met, and that strikes me as odd; to me, a little bit more needs to go into the relationship to truly declare someone your friend.

Growing up, there were only a few kids in my neighborhood. I regularly had experiences where I would be searching for them on a summer morning only to see them down the block, madly racing away from me on their bikes, laughing as they turned a corner and out of sight. It was deliberate and hurtful and happened on a number of occasions every summer until I gave up on it: I never quite got over that. It made me seek my own friendship in books, in writing, and it drove my parents crazy, urging me to “…go outside and play – get some fresh air.” It made me more cautious about who I let into my heart in any way, and I still have issues I try to deal with over being excluded from events and places.

To me, being a friend means we’ve spent time together: we shared a meal or drinks, we’ve gamed together, traveled together — you know, done things that friends do when they enjoy each other’s company. A friend is someone you can count on to help you out when you need it. Just because we’ve been introduced doesn’t automatically make us friends, and I think this is an assumption that too many people make in life: they confuse an acquaintance with a friend. Those assumptions bit me in the ass when I was younger, so I try to be a lot more careful about it now.

Not so long ago, I was critical of a colleague in a private forum. That colleague’s reply to me included the sentiment “…I thought we were friends.” I had never shared a meal with that person, or gamed with them. We had never shared drinks and conversation, and our only connection (besides belonging to the sae group of writers) was that he and I had been in the same industry together, and any conversations we had were typically business-related then. To be fair, his hurt was genuine; he was asking for support and encouragement over some major issues he’d been having, and my response, while nominally supportive in places, was highly critical and pointed out several failings he’d had, and that was unkind. It wasn’t the encouragement he’d needed at the time to get back on his feet, and in retrospect, I should’ve just said nothing. I was a jerk.

But the friendship assumption got me thinking, and it’s something I wonder about to this day. How often do I assume someone is my friend? Is it just my wishful thinking? I don’t know, but people who walk around claiming everyone as a friend the moment they’ve met seems unbalanced to me, and very needy too. Maybe I’m just too cynical and broken to slide into that sort of thinking, or maybe I’m right. Whatever the case, what IS clear is that we all need friends, and true friendship is a thing to be cherished and nurtured. We’ll say and do things to hurt each other’s feelings from time to time because we’re human and imperfect, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to try to live up to high standards when it comes to giving our friendship to others.

3 thoughts on “The Enemy of My Enemy

  1. Your post caught my attention as I was scrolling through G+ because I’ve been thinking about the subject as well of late, and have it in my journal as a topic to write about on my blog. I’m not sure where it came from, but I had this notion that acquaintance was kind of a negative term. Once I realized that I had this hangup, I got rid of it and started using the term when it properly applies, if only to help myself keep the right expectations of those relationships in mind.

  2. As I’ve hit adulthood and looked back at the times people scarred me as a child, either deliberately through cruelty, or accidentally through ignorance, I realize that a lot of that led me to the problems I’ve had making friends as an adult. It makes me really wonder about the nature/nurture argument for things like becoming an introvert. If things had gone differently for me at a couple of key moments, would I have the problems socializing that I have now? If I’d had a little more kindness and a little less cruelty, where would I be in life?

    I feel you, Bill. It’s hard to make friends as kids, and even harder as adults.

    However, for someone to react pettily to criticism–that’s someone who is dealing with his or her own maturity issues.

    I guess we all carry our own wounds.

  3. I’m always amazed when I read that other people went through similar negative experiences in childhood, that I still struggle with. Having internalized that harm, I for one don’t reach out very easily. In fact – I expect other people not to like me. I fail to realize that there are probably others just waiting for someone else to reach out to them too. Thanks for sharing. I feel you!

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