Sunday, 17 April 2016

It takes two...

…unless you choose to go it alone, or there’s no other way but go to it alone…

A personal plea.

8 June 2015. I called my friend to wish her all the best on her birthday. Beforehand I noticed facebook did not remind me of her anniversary. I broached the topic in a conversation. She told me she had removed the date from her profile to get fewer, yet only sincere wishes and urged me to do the same. I followed her advice.

11 December 2015. The day I ran a reality check. I could do without several hollow birthday wishes posted on the wall, yet I expected a single-digit number people to remember about my anniversary, just because I had always remembered, without aid of technical remainders, about their birthdays. The outcome was kind of brutal – no one, except for my parents remembered, virtually no one. Had it not been for a fantastic party I attended in the evening, my memory of my 28th birthday would have been bitter, yet I strive to remember mostly the good things, yet those worse not always can be filtered out.

That nasty day with pleasurable ending must have prompted a question why things had taken such course. It actually trigged the whole string of questions, many of which remain unanswered until today. The first one was relatively straightforward – had it been my fault or had it been just a coincidence? At first sight the situation looks simple – I care, other people do not reciprocate it. Actually, the circumstances were probably far more complex and my “forgotten birthday” was the aftermath of people being busy with their own affairs, pre-Christmas and pre-weekend rush and over-reliance on technical aids (facebook notifications I had turned off) fellow people got too accustomed too. Oddly enough, the friend who had persuaded me to switch off the birthday reminder, also did not call me.

As some time went by, I decided to look critically at my relationships with people, to find out whether they were reciprocal. Any relationship, no matter if between family members, spouses, friends, workmates, must be fostered by both people involved in it if it is to last. It simply takes two, if only one person cares and the other just follows, its is meant to break.

So over the course of my review I realised some facts I had not been aware of before: generally (in more than 80% of instances /not mistake for specific relationships/) my friendships had been nurtured by me – I had proposed and most often organised meetings, I had called first instead of waiting for another person to call me, in initiative to keep up relationships had been over 80% of time on my side. What about the other people then? How had they felt about it? Had it been convenient to them to have it mind sooner or later I would call them or ask to meet up? Or had they simply been indifferent about friendship with me? Had I been imposing myself on them and out of politeness they had not told me to f**k off?

So in early February I decided to run another reality check and carry out an experiment: wait until friends feel they need to get in touch with me. Needless to say I have not talked to most of them since then. And needless to say I gave in and called two of them to wish them happy Easter, such strong was my need to talk to somebody. This is turn prompts a question how much such relationship is worth… What should I tell them if they finally get in touch and ask why I was not calling?

Last weekend, I hit up on another idea. In less than a month ten years will have passed since high-school leaving exams – why not meet up with my former classmates to celebrate? I called two friends who were moderately fond of the idea, yet I offered to be in charge of organising the event. I created an event on facebook, suggested timing and venue, yet underlined openness to alternative ideas. Out of 21 people invited, 5 declared they would come, 3 clicked ‘maybe’, 13 remaining did not react at all, no one wrote a single message. Since then the event is idle, no one bothers to show any initiative. The bottom line is that chances of meeting up are tiny, yet I do not feel hurt much, since I treat this as an experiment, which at best could result in a nice social gathering, at worst could have a cognitive value.

I have also realised my perception of recent events is affected by past experience of two relationships with people who I thought were close friends.

My friend Mateusz (name not changed). We hit it off in middle school, had similar passions, interests, pastime activities, could have talked for hours, would meet at least twice a month, holidayed together, supporting each other when troubles emerged. In 2007 Mateusz headed off to Germany to take up studies there. Our friendship by dint of distance naturally loosened up, but we called each other regularly and met up each time he visited his family in Warsaw. In early 2011 I rang him a few times I row (it was quite natural, since it was cheaper for me to make an international voice call to Germany than the other way round for him, with his student budget constraints) and each time he promised he would call the next time. Once I gave him a chance to dial my number. This was my first distressing reality check. In 2012, as his father was dying, I gave in and visited him a few times before and after the decease, I also attended the funeral. Since then we once occasionally ran across each other in town, he would call me with birthday wishes once a year, I did the same. Last year I gave up on keeping up the pretended friendship, he did not call me as well. My father bumped into Mateusz in town last month. As he passed on to me, Matuesz’s behaviour has not changed, he still keeps up appearances of a well-behaved young man. That friendship (after many years I believe it was a true friendship) has instilled in me allergy to feigned politeness…

My girlfriend Ilona (name not changed). Nearly two years older than me. We first me accidentally on my first day at high school. After a few weeks we began to go out together. Teenage crush like many. As we parted on the last day on my first school year, nothing signalled the forthcoming end, even the last song we heard in the same pair of headphones (incidentally, 12 years later, I identify more with the lyrics than at that time). After that ordinary afternoon she did not answer phone calls from me, did not reply to my SMS and GG messages, did not open the door as I went to visit her. As the new school year kicked off, we pretended not to notice each other. After a few weeks she approached me and suggested to finish the childish game. I grudgingly agreed, yet after some three months again we were turning our eyes embarrassed as passed each other. Without a word of apology, nor explanation what had driven her behaviour, I could not forgive her.

I have no problem admitting my relationships with people have been driven to some extent by fear of rejection and fear of imposing myself to other people. The former, if not overwhelming and paralysing is natural, as rejection, as long as it does not strike too frequently, is a natural experience in inter-human relationships. Yet for me it matters how I am rejected. In simple terms, a few times I was told straight away to f**k off and… got over it. The moment I was dealt a blow was painful, yet the pain, though intense, was easier to cope with. When it hurt much more, I was rejected by means of silence, inaction and indifference. Maybe if your friend cheats on you, backbites you, harms you directly or shouts in your face they hate you, this helps rationalise the suffering and get over it…? I suppose most people prefer to avoid telling unwanted or getting too close friends to keep their distance, but the want to put it across in non-straightforward way. If they take such path because it is easier, shame on them. If they think they will hurt someone else less, shame on them twice as much!

Hardly ever friendships last forever. They come and go. But as one grows older, the friendships old go, while it gets harder for new ones to come. It is not about not meeting people having all makings of close friends. Over the recent two years I met many such people who I can call soulmates, yet in our relationships there is a distance hard to bridge. The reason is that those people have families or are in long-lasting relationships, they have family and household duties, are usually over-worked like me and their social needs are met by their families, boyfriends or girlfriends or small circles of close friends, the same since many years. So the new relationships, though I am thankful I have met those people, are shallow, though have potential to grow, but I feel the unbreakable barrier on the other side. I cannot hold it against them that their spouses or children are a priority for them and they want to spend their free time with them.

There is a strength in me. In realised it when I had two awful weeks while my father was at hospital (he has only one kidney and was taken there after urinating with blood) and my mother was nearly immobilised at home on account of severe radiculitis. I had to share my time between hospital, home and work (home office) and managed. With hindsight I realised apart from asking my uncle and aunt to look after grandpa (duty normally shared between my father and his brother) I did not tell anyone about my predicament, nor asked for help. OK, I have learnt not to share my troubles with anyone, this is bearable. As the old saying goes, “a friend in need is a friend indeed”, but what if there is no one with who you could share pleasures?

On Sunday morning two weeks ago, I spent over an hour ironing. The radio in the kitchen was tuned to PR1 and broadcasted a mass. A priest in a sermon spoke of Jesus showing has wounds, as a symbol of weakness. Though I am not religious, I interpreted this metaphor as an universal word of wisdom. The authentic intimacy consists in laying bare your fragility to a fellow man.

The confessions above may create false impression of a pitiable life I lead. Don’t get me wrong. There’s the bright side too! My job offers me self-fulfilment, broadens horizons is rewarding and though it is time-consuming, I draw lots of pleasure from what I do. If the work-life balance is not struck, work encroaches on life’s territory only because there is some empty space where life should be. Nevertheless, there is no boredom in my spare time. I go to the swimming pool, read, write, attend dancing classes, play volleyball, cycle, visit interesting places. Sometimes I wish I had any companion or had an emotional bond with my companion… I could enjoy it more…

You could only argue how many of these activities create opportunities not just to meet new people, but to build more than shallow relationships with them. Well, the more opportunities, the more chances :) Still, most situations in which I meet new people are work-related, but given how overloaded with work I am, I usually look like the grumpy cat and the first impression when somebody meets me must not be positive ;-)

So how about those relationships. They need to be taken care of, but not at any price. I want to feel they are reciprocal, I do not want to feel not holding on all the time would mean letting go instantly. So much and so little I am asking for…


Michael Dembinski said...

"Oddly enough, the friend who had persuaded me to switch off the birthday reminder, also did not call me."

A very poignant post, a reminder that "no man is an island".

My approach to this issue is - as your final cartoon shows - to let go. Let things take their course, be cool, fret not. Select your aims (the more world-enhancing the better) and whoever walks in step with you as you move forward decidedly to make the most of your life - embrace them. Those who are half-hearted or have different (shallower) ambitions - don't bother about them.

Just keep marching towards YOUR goal(s).

student SGH said...

Indeed, the post was heart-rending, yet it was far better for me to let the bitter feelings out. Sorrows shared are sorrows that wane.

The timing of getting it off my chest was not haphazard as well, just ahead of a three-day off-site somewhere far away, during which I met several new people. Grumpy cat's mask left in Warsaw. "Smile to the world and the world will smile back to you" does work ;-)

Some time ago I mulled over a hard reset of my life. As I slept on, I opted for a softer version, which would not involve giving up on my job, not a perfect one, yet rewarding and bringing self-fulfilment. This post made me realise to do the soft reset I need to just cease holding on to the (maybe) worthless friendships. I put the word "maybe" in brackets, since there is still some hope when some people realise they also need to foster the relationships with me, the relationships may thrive again.