Upfront caveat. There are approx 80,000 people who will think this post is about them. It’s not. That’s the point.ðŸ™‚
I write a blog, have since the mid 90s or so, and I sometimes write in a personal fashion, and people connect to that, which is fine, but it often creates misunderstandings that, I think, go deeply into how humans evolved, and how that evolution never anticipated a medium where a written word could be read by so many people without a connection coming back.
This leads to a sense of familiarity, which is expected, but it can also give a sense of intimacy, even friendship, which is wrong, because what’s going on here is not friendship, although inside us many of the feelings that come from being a regular reader of a weblog are the same ones we feel as we are developing a friendship, in the world evolution designed us for. But this is not that world.
And with this comes a tough lesson, and unfortunately it seems, you only learn this by living, television doesn’t teach it, schools don’t teach it, and if you’re above a certain age, our parents didn’t teach it. You have to learn it by living, by thinking of someone as a friend, only to find out they don’t think of you as a friend. It can be devastating, I know, I’ve been there myself. But all the wishing, all the manipulation, all the determination, just serves to push the would-be friend further away. Because friendship is something you choose to do, you don’t do it out of a sense of obligation. To force someone to be a friend is to not have a friend.
It’s not just something that happens with blogs, celebrity of any kind yields a false intimacy, they’ve made dozens of movies about it. The star is objectified. In the presence of a fan, the star is not a human, it’s an object, it behaves the way the fan wants it to behave. It signs the autograph, it smiles, it thanks. Stephen King wrote a horror story about this called Misery in which the protagonist is bound, held hostage and tortured by a fan. There’s an awful DeNiro movie, where he plays a fan who’s determined to be friends with a star, played by Jerry Lewis. It’s one of the few movies I’ve walked out on, it’s so hard to watch.
I learned a lot about friends when I got sick in 2002. I learned that a friend is someone I trust to be with me when I am at my weakest and most vulnerable. And they are people who, no matter how painful it is to see, are willing to be with me when I am so helpless and weak. If I would trust my life with you, and vice versa, we are friends. It’s not about whether you are trustworthy, or whether you are friendly, it’s the actual act of trust that is the basis of friendship. If I trust you to be truthful, then you’re a friend. If I find I must be careful how I say things, then it’s something other than friendship.
Friendship is not a state of mind, it’s an act. It’s something you do, it’s not about whether you’re good or not, it’s not a reflection of you, it’s a balanced relationship between people. That doesn’t mean it’s always balanced at every moment. Sometimes you “need a friend” and other times it’s the other way. It’s a trust that’s returned. When I was younger and thought I was in love, a friend said it’s not love unless it’s returned. Friendship and love are not quite the same thing, although there’s a lot of love around friendship. I learned that love isn’t even something about two people, it’s a state of being for one person. You aren’t in love, you are love. You are, whether you acknowledge it or not. The heart that’s pumping blood through your body is an act of love, 24 hours a day, whether you’re Mother Teresa or Adolf Hitler. (Sorry for the extreme example.)
There’s a world of difference between being a friend and being a fan. I’ve heard people who I’ve never met say we’re friends. And then of course when I do something they don’t like, I’ve betrayed the supposed friendship. They’re living in a dreamworld. The more popular my weblog has become the more people have this dream. It’s very puzzling to be the object in the middle of this swirl of emotions, I say object because my job isn’t to be truthful, my job is to be who you think I should be. Of course that’s not friendship, that’s torture.
In 1997 I wrote: “When a friend changes you can find the bond that’s connecting you at a deeper level. The surface stuff isn’t a good thing to depend on. Physical bodies change as they grow. So do emotional bodies and intellectual ones. Take a deep breath. People move, life is more like a wild dance than a ceremony. You just can’t tell what’s coming next.”
So if you find yourself trying to coerce someone into not changing, then dear reader, that is not friendship, that is coercion.
One thing I feel needs to be said is that there are many other relationships that aren’t friendship that are still positive. There are many people I admire who aren’t friends. I work with lots of people who aren’t friends. In fact, I often think it’s a bad idea to work with your friends (more on that another time).
The world isn’t divided into two parts — friends and enemies. I choose to think of friend as a very strong word, representing a very close relationship. I think this may be in part due to what I do, because I need a good solid line separating my public life from my personal. A friend is a personal relationship. I like and admire many people who I don’t consider friends.
One of the hallmarks of a person who is more likely to be a friend-that-was than a friend-for-life, is that person quotes anonymous people who say they were my friend but I betrayed them. That’s such a huge turnoff, that usually wakes me up in an instant. A friend would never even consider saying something like that, because it’s so objectifying, so impersonal, so unfair, so un-friendly. In a court of law you’re entitled to cross-examine your accusers. Same in the court of friendship.