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Falling Out 1

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
I read a fascinating column yesterday about how cavemen did not have friends. They had wives and children and parents, and that was allegedly it. Of course, the columnist did use the word cavemen, which makes one wonder about the cavewomen. And the column also insinuated that cavemen lived in nuclear families,  which is ridiculous. I would be very surprised to discover that cavepeople did not live in huge extended families and that the various women added to the families did not make friends with each other. I mean, hello!

In Austen's day, people spoke of family as being friends; instead of writing about people being returned to their "family-and-friends", Austen just said "friends." And I think that it is sensible to conflate family and friends, especially in cultures where your family and friends are for life.

When I was in Germany, Germans assured me that Germans took friendship more seriously than "Americans," which is why it can take a very long time indeed to be invited to a German colleague's home for supper and why next door neighbours may call each other "Frau [This]" and "Herr [That]" even after forty years. Once Germans make a friend, they told me, they keep them forever. Thus, the caution about friendliness and the home-as-fortress attitude.

This makes perfect sense to me because until very recently Europeans did not move around a lot--at least, not voluntarily. In Canada and the USA, we move all over the place--for work, for school, for adventure. As the descendants of immigrants, we have migration in our blood. Not so with the majority of the Europeans who stayed in Europe. My mother-in-law won't leave her town even to visit us. That's how rooted she is in her town. And I loved seeing German students, when summer term was over, rushing off by train in huge numbers to their ancestral villages.

Being able to make friends quickly and being able to drop friendships with as little pain as possible are, perhaps, very North American skills, and if Europeans think we are no deeper than our bathtubs, well, alas. Maybe we are. But if we are, we have to be to survive the mad migration patterns of American life.

As a child, I read various books that hammered home the message that girls have to say good-bye to their friends when they get married because they often go away to live somewhere else. Nineteenth century girls seemed quite traumatized by this: Jo March was furious when a man wanted to marry her sister Meg. Anne of Green Gables mourned when her best friend Diana got engaged. And Anne herself eventually (plot spoiler ahead) leaves Green Gables to live clean across Prince Edward Island, the horror, PEI being 140 miles long. The message was that you may feel that your friends have dumped you but getting married, but you have to accept that change is a part of life, etc. Note that Little Women and the Anne books are North American books.

Still, women need friends. When I came to Scotland, I missed my Canadian friends terribly and it was a long time--possibly even a year or more--before I made women friends who felt like friends (przyjaciółki) instead of just amiable and admirable acquaintances (koleżanki). (You know what I mean.) For company, I spent a lot of time with male friends, for traditional Catholicism is rather male-dominated in these here parts, which was great fun but not the same thing as having women friends. You can't phone male friends and weep because professional historical house curators invaded your flat without warning when the flat was a disaster area because you are a lousy housekeeper and now strangers know. At least, you can't phone my male friends.

And because women need friends, it is terribly important not to fall out with the friends you have, especially if you have moved to a new city. When you go to your old home city, you will want to catch up with your old friends, and as you are in your new home city, you need the friends you have made. You may not see some of them that often, but you have to treat them well and speak of them well for you are likely to run into them, and you want your interactions to be pleasant and a source of joy and strength.

The ordinary patterns of contemporary life are generally what keep you from seeing your friends, or what make friendships crawl underground and fall asleep for a bit.  Friends who fall in love have a tendency to disappear for weeks or even months before reappearing, smiling or weeping, and although you can text, write or call saying pointedly that you miss them, you have to make allowances for human nature. Friends who have babies are slaves to their babies, and although they miss you terribly, they have no time for themselves, let alone for anyone else but their baby-masters and their increasingly jealous husbands (if, indeed, husbands they have). Friends who leave town come back to town expecting to see a whole shopping list of people. And friends have shifting jobs, timetables, budgets, health, etc., etc. Really, it's almost a miracle adults have  friends.

All the better reason not to fall out with your friends.

Tomorrow I will ponder further the issue. For now, the combox is open.

By the way, this morning I discovered to my horror that almost all the comments you sent yesterday went straight to Spam. If you ever send a perfectly reasonable comment, with a name attached, and you are a girl, and you can't think why the comment didn't get passed, it's most likely because it mysteriously went to Spam. Sometimes I remember to check Spam, but very often I forget.