Thursday, December 29, 2011

On friendship

This time of year usually finds me waxing philosophical. As 2011 comes to an end I’d like to offer my thoughts on friendship.

It occurs to me that Facebook threatens to dilute the very concept of friendship. Nobody has 200, or 500--or however many--‘friends’. ‘Acquaintances’ is more like it. Most people are lucky to have a handful of actual friends. Not that I have anything against Facebook--Facebook has helped me get back in touch with a good many folks who are very dear to me that I never thought I’d see again. Without it, I’d have a hard time keeping up with people I don’t see that often. I think Facebook is wonderful. In fact, I recently saw something on Facebook that neatly sums up the whole point of this post: “Life is too short to spend with people who suck the happiness out of you.”

Unlike family relationships, friendships are voluntary. I maintain that you don't really know a person until you've known them several years. This is true for platonic friendships as well as capital “R” Relationships, and I believe a lot of misery could be avoided if people would just give their relationships plenty of time before investing emotional energy in them.

2011 was a milestone year for me in many ways, and many life-enhancing and uplifting things have happened to me this year. The publication of my book springs immediately to mind. Another is getting back in touch with a long-lost friend that I’ve been trying to track down for over a decade. I consider myself lucky to have many actual friends. This year marks the 20th year that I’ve known most of my close friends. They stayed my friends even when I dropped out of sight for a while when I lived abroad. (For this I blame the former spousal equivalent, a jealous and extremely controlling man with few friendships of his own.) But this year I also took stock of some relationships and have come to the conclusion that spending time with someone does not necessarily equate to friendship.

Alas, most of us have had friends who turned out to be anything but. Friendship means different things to different people, so is hard to define. But I think it’s safe to say that the person who breaks their plans with you when they get a ‘better’ offer, publicly snubs you, belittles you or makes snide comments ("I'm kidding," they say--as if that somehow makes it hurt less!) is not your BFF. Of course, we all do unfriendly things from time to time, but when nastiness is deliberate and happens on a regular basis it’s time to examine the relationship. The opposite is equally true. It’s painfully easy to take for granted those people who are kind and supportive and have been there for you for years--or decades. Sometimes you realize that a treasured friendship means more to you than it does to the other person. Unpleasant, but it happens. It doesn’t mean you must allow yourself to be trodden on. Neither does it mean you have to break off all contact with that person. It may, however, require an adjustment to the relationship. Of course, being the perpetual optimist I am, I can always hope a damaged friendship can be repaired. In the meantime, my resolution this year, instead of the usual lose a few pounds or get more exercise, is to spend more time with my friends and less time with people who don’t enhance my life in some way.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday madness

Is it just me or is there is an air of desperation about the Christmas advertising? It starts earlier and earlier every year. You can try to avoid the hype, but it takes a lot of discipline and isn’t always possible. By mid-November you can’t go out in public without being bombarded with increasingly strident demands to buy, buy buy. This year I saw Christmas decorations on store shelves in October. And television, well, do I even need to say anything? I don’t want to listen to Christmas music for weeks on end every time I go out of the house. I especially don’t want to listen to it in November. It makes me want to stay home. So I do.

Christmas presents--the concept is deeply engrained in us, from the time we're kids. Now there even seems to be an unofficial holiday devoted to Christmas shopping, Black Friday. Seriously, what does this say about us as a society? What can you say about a society where people riot, break down doors, are trampled to death just to stock up on cheap consumer goods? Does it ever occur to anybody just to stop the madness? Stop brainwashing your kids?

Imagine that you just say “No” to Christmas presents. You don't have to spend weeks endlessly shopping for stuff for other people that they don't really need, in turn for which they will give you stuff you don't need either. My family and I agreed years ago, and my ex after that, to stop buying each other presents. And you know what? It works. It makes for a much nicer holiday. It took me a while to train some of my friends, but my parents were all for it We all readily agreed that we have way more stuff than we need. Why spend more money to buy people stuff that they can buy for themselves? The money we would have spent on presents now goes toward doing fun things. We go out for a nice meal, have a party or simply save it. Now there’s a novel idea. I don't miss the consumerist madness, I and the people near and dear to me don’t end up with stuff we don't want, and I don't have to spend my limited free time trying to guess what someone else wants.

There have been a few who are resistant to the idea and insist on buying me stuff anyway, but I just remind them kindly that I don’t participate in the madness and they eventually get it. Try this, you’ll see. It’s probably easier if you don’t have kids. But seriously, step away from the hype and you’ll see how insane it is.