Famed radio news anchor Bill McNeal once said: “Dave, there comes a time in every friendship when you have to say, “I never liked you, get lost!”” I’ve been ruminating on a similar, slightly less insane variation of that concept since June and am finally ready to frame those thoughts in pixels for better or worse. Fueled by disappointment, filtered by introspection and flavored with perspective I have finally experienced an earthrending paradigm shift: not all of my friends are my Friends. And it may be time to trade some of those people in for some real Friends.
It’s astonishing that it has taken me this long to figure this concept out, but it’s true. For readers who are not yet on the same page as me, allow me to catch you up to where I am now.
Am I saying that some of my friends are my enemies? No. That isn’t what I mean.
My basic message is this: there is a quality, a defineable attribute, to every relationship you hold with other people, and you are doing yourself a great and grand disservice when you do not recognize the quality of each of those relationships. The time you spend believing that everyone you know is your friend is time that you could be spending making real friends.
So does this mean that a lot of people I know are not my friends? That I don’t hold them in the same regard as my real friends? That I’m not happy to see them or to sit down and spend time with them and share stories and thoughts and ideas with them?
Of course not.
What I mean is that there is a quality to friendship and that you should not mistake one type of friendship for another, which is easy to do if you’re inobservant or unwilling to acknowledge reality. How often do you refer to someone as “my friend so and so” even when the last time you saw that person was six months ago, you don’t know their middle name (possibly not even their last name), you know little of their personal history, what they do in their off time, their triumphs and their tragedies? The answer is that you call people your ‘friends’ all the time even when they aren’t really your friends. So do I. It’s a convenience of language that we use in our ‘classless’ American culture.
The problem begins when we confuse casual friends for close friends, and let’s face it, we all do this (or have it done to us) at some point in our lives. The worst that can happen is something I call “being friendnapped”. This is when you’re put into friend-like situations with casual acquaintances who want to act as if you’re closer than you actually are, far sooner than you’re prepared to do it. Eventually the “victim” escapes and avoids the “friendnapper” as assidiously as a dangerous dog.
And that last part is central to this post.
How many people have you figuratively friendnapped? How many people do you list as friends who may in fact simply be acquaintances? At some point friendships are put to the test and sometimes they fail. How much of what you consider to be friendships are built on the sinking ground of people who are friends in name only?
My friend Katie’s older Mom just lost her best friend, a devastating loss when you reach the higher altitude of life when there are fewer people around who share your generational history. My 80-something year-old boss recently lost six of his friends within a three week period. All of this made me wonder “Could I could stand to lose six of my friends in a six week period?”
And then last week we lost Jonathan Short to cancer. Jonathan worked in the film business here in Atlanta as a Set Designer and Art Director. He was six feet five inches tall and had a penchant for storytelling that resonated with my own. We were both native Atlantans and his wife’s stepfather had been one of my professors at Georgia Tech. We shared a city, an age and some great stories. But while his Family and Friends stood to tell their stories about his marvelous adventures and his wild youth, I realized that in many ways Jonathan was one of the people that I may have friendnapped over the years. We rarely saw each other and I certainly wasn’t there when he was in his final time of need. There’s no guilt associated with that, only perspective.
Up until now I can count on one finger the number of times that I have intentionally let go of friendships with the living.
But giving up friendships, or what I have mistaken for friendships, has become easy for me this year. I’ve reached an age where I’m confident enough to survive without artificial friendships. I believe it to be a sign of maturity analogous to the saying my Dad occasionally uses “You’re old enough and ugly enough”. Damn straight, Paw.
In the world of business there is a concept called “firing the client”. Sometimes they’re just not worth the time or the effort, the margins are miniscule and better opportunities are available elsewhere. The same logic can be applied to your casual friendships and to the people you’ve friendnapped. There just isn’t enough time in the world to be spent fostering friendships with people who don’t reciprocate and I’m here to tell you now, before you’re 70 years old and find yourself surrounded by people you’ve friendnapped, it’s time to really know who your friends are. You’ll be happier, healthier and have far more fun than you ever thought possible. At least that’s my hope, as I’ve only just now begun on this experiment of trading in my friends.
And that’s the glorious silver-lining: just as you must learn to figuratively let go of people you’ve friendnapped, you must likewise begin to build new, real friendships based on solid foundations and what better place to start than with those casual friendships? It’s going to take some work, and they may not all stand up to the conversion, but either way it’s time to stop fooling yourself.
Trade in your friends for Friends.
I hope you’ll share this idea with your Friends today.