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When it comes to building and maintaining friendships, I’ve had a hit-and-miss record. Early on, I used to be pretty forgiving of people’s idiosyncrasies: maybe they talked a lot; maybe they seemed distracted when they were with me; maybe they expected me to carry the burden of scheduling our time together. Regardless, I wanted to be seen as a “nice person.”
But this particular friendship from around 25 years ago caused me frustration that was awkward to deal with, and I couldn’t figure out how to end the friendship without hurting his feelings. (In case you’re wondering, it was a platonic friendship.) After all, he was bright, friendly, passionate about his work, where he was training to be a minister in the Church of Religious Science (also known as Science of Mind). In time, however, I discovered there was only one person he genuinely cared about.
It’s only fair for me to justify my perception about his self-obsession. We usually got together over lunch. When we talked—or I should say, when he talked, he seemed to have little interest in what I had to contribute. Periodically I would insert a comment about something going on in my life; when I finished, rather than take my sharing as a cue to check in with me and ask for more information, or to ask me a question, he would start talking about his favorite subject.
Finally, I realized that this friendship was never going to be reciprocal; I became aware that there was no room for me in the relationship. He wasn’t interested in getting to know me better. He just wanted to talk about his own life and activities. I decided my time was too precious to indulge him, and that it was time to end the relationship.
But how could I do that without seeming nasty and self-centered myself?
I decided that I should just tell him I was busy when he called. He only called about once per month, so I figured I could successfully use that tactic. But the first time I turned him down, he called again in about a week. So I made up some excuse. The third time, he was catching on to the fact that I was avoiding him. Rather than taking the hint, though, he asked me if something was wrong. At that point, I didn’t think it was fair to lie again. Here’s how the conversation went:
Randy: I get the feeling that you’re avoiding me. [you think?]
Me: Well, I guess I am. [Duh]
Randy: Was it something I said or did?
Me: Randy, I don’t know how to say this without hurting your feelings. But it seems that when we get together, the only person who talks is you. You don’t ask me about myself, my work, my life. You don’t seem curious about who I am. So our conversations are pretty one-sided. [I tried to keep my tone moderate and kind.]
Randy: Wow, that’s pretty hard to hear.
Me: I’m sorry. That’s why I’ve been avoiding you. I just don’t think we are a good match as friends.
Randy: I guess not. I’m sorry to hear this.
Me: I’m sorry to share it. And I wish you well.
And that’s the last time I ever spoke to him.
There is actually a happy, or at least productive, end to this story. I was visiting a woman who was a friend of both Randy (not his name) and me, and she mentioned that he told her about what had happened. (I’d never discussed the matter with her.) That my talking to him had changed his life, particularly since he was going to be ministering to people. That as painful as it was to hear what I had to say, he’d learned something important. That you must be, and behave as if, you are sincerely interested in the other person.
You just never know when you can impact another person’s life for the good.
* * * *
Since the Group Writing assignment was to writing about “Best and Worst,” it’s only fair to add that although I won’t single out one person, I have a few people who demonstrate the best qualities of being a great friend. A couple of them are on Ricochet. They are people who are kind, considerate, funny, deep, intelligent and we share a reciprocity in wanting to share with each other. There is a warm connection that transcends our individual quirks and preferences. My friends are concerned with my wellbeing and with my journey in life, and I feel the same way about them.
I don’t have lots of friends, but those I have do indeed bless my life, and I will forever be grateful for them.Published in