Saturday, November 21, 2009

When my life becomes fodder for your conversation...

Before I went home this summer, I mentioned here that I had had some realizations about what "friendship" means and, more specifically, what it doesn't. I had intended to write some about it but, for many reasons, never got around to it. Yet, it was a subject that I mulled over constantly and I made quite a few decisions in its wake. So far, those decisions have worked out pretty well for me... and I'm glad I stuck to them, despite the fact they are not "easy" or "convenient" ones.

But the burn that precipitated my decision to change directions still lingers. As much as I try to distance myself from it, it keeps reminding me of its presence. Perhaps, though, this is a good thing because it prevents me from being lulled into a false sense of security, and it reminds me of what I truly value in my life.

It has been a really long time since I have been cut by the fickleness of friendship. Ever since arriving in the States, it seems, I have had friendships that have withstood all kinds of hurt and pain and strife, and until recently, I had assumed that all friendships work out the same way. I had forgotten though how much trust goes into developing a friendship... a trust that can never be just established, but takes time and work and, yes, tests. And of course, to trust someone does not imply never being betrayed by them. In fact, the more you trust, it seems, the easier it is to feel betrayed. (Or perhaps that's just me?) Yet, looking back at my friendships that "work" I have come to realize that when there is genuine trust it withstands all forms of hurt and conflict and rejection and betrayal. Because, ultimately, what you trust is the other's deep, unwavering love/support/concern for you.

Most of the people that I consider my close friends, I don't speak with more than once or twice a year, sometimes less (unless they're in the same city). But this isn't weird or off-putting for us because we recognize that our busy lives, our very present conditions of living, don't necessarily allow for it. And we understand that the lack of communication doesn't mean we've disappeared from each other's lives, but that we are still very present in them. Then, when we do talk, it's like nothing has ever changed... that connection, that chemistry, that makes us friends is always there. And when we need someone to talk to, no matter how long it's been since we've spoken, it is comfortable to pick up the phone, or send an e-mail, saying I need you in my life right now. And we can still share the most intimate, difficult details of our lives without the fear of being judged or rebuked.

Friends are those that can make you the angriest, and hurt you the most (and vice versa) - but they are those that, even through your tears and fears, you know you will always have in your life. Even if you have to let them go in every way other than in your memories, you always want them, will them, to be a part of you.

Such friendships are never easy to come by. They can never just happen, be replicated. And, most importantly, the burdens they are capable of bearing can never be borne by other kinds of friendships. Indeed, in the case of the latter, one's life becomes not something that is held in trust, but rather becomes the fodder for "conversation." This was a lesson I learned, maybe re-learned, recently.

Gossiping, I understand, is fun. It is a predominant form of social interaction; it is a way of connecting, perhaps; maybe it helps in keeping conversations going. Oftentimes, it is a necessary means of venting. I'm no saint... I engage in gossip, especially of the latter kind. But the reason gossip is, well, gossip, is because it is superficial. It isn't intended to do the entity being gossiped about any good; it isn't a deep analysis of that entity, of its situations, etc. It is, simply, talk. And, as far as I am concerned, when one's life becomes the subject of another's talk, there is a deep breach of trust. And especially when such talk seems to forget, deliberately or otherwise, the difficulties, the complexity, of issues communicated in confidence - forgets the internal conflict, the messiness of it all - so that a multifaceted issue, with no easy right or wrong, gets reduced to dinner table conversation, it is quite easy to be feel utterly betrayed. And to feel little guilt in walking away.

When I think of my closest friendships - I think of three in particularly. These three probably know every detail of my life... all the significant ones at least. The first is one of sisters - it is probably one of the few relationships I have in which I am not the dominant one. (Yes, I admit it.) We are so very different in so many ways, yet we've been the best of friends since we met about nine years ago. She's probably the only one who can rebuke me, use harsh words against me, but get away with it without my putting up a fight. The other... I can't describe. She pushed my buttons because she loved me, I encouraged it and gave it back, because I loved her. The last year or so of her life, we barely spoke, and when we did, we'd end up fighting. We said terribly hurtful things to each other, but we could never deny that we loved each other. She drove me insane, but I let her, because I knew who she was and she knew who I was. It took a special kind of trust, and a lot of work and heartache - but it was worth it. And I'd do it all over again. The third is my ex. Our relationship was complicated as hell, painful and hurtful as hell, and it ended because of betrayal. But it was a friendship. The only way we survived our relationship, and our break-up, was because it was a friendship. Because we understand each others deep flaws and failings - but also recognize each others strength and beauty - we can keep re-learning to be friends. Despite a certain kind of breach of trust, that deeper aspect of it that I refered to above still exists.

To the unknowing eye, the last two friendships might seem abusive. And, like all others, they were... from the perspective of all parties concerned. There is no single guilty party; no singular victim. These relationships don't fit into neat boxes. When judged from the outside, they are necessarily dysfunctional, pathological. But I would pick these over and over again because they have each given me, and continue to give me, something this is not easily replicated, not easily reproduced. And whatever form these relationships survive in, they will always be a huge part of me.

See, certain folks understand that. So that when I communicate my pain and anger and frustration about these relationships, I know I am safe - and I know my relationships are safe too. With others, apparently, this is not so much the case. Forgive me, then, if I must walk away.

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