I had time to kill yesterday, so I went to the downtown Borders Books. Borders is one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon, and it has been ever since the only bookstore I knew was in downtown DC. My dad would sometimes drive us into the city on weekends, take us to the business district and point out all the neat places he remembered from when he used to work in the area. Inevitably, we would end up at Borders, which at the time was this unheard-of idea for a bookstore: a place with comfy chairs and coffee and nobody hovering over your shoulder expecting you to buy something. We would spend hours there. After a Borders and a Barnes & Nobles both opened up near our house, we stopped going into the city as much. We called those places "the library".
So yesterday I was up in a corner of the Big City's Borders, which sits right in the thick of everything, and I was curled up in a corner on the second floor, next to the ceiling-to-floor windows that overlooked the scurrying pedestrians and hot dog vendors. I spent two hours reading a book called Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Relationships
. As per my usual method of browsing and reading, I had picked up the book, along with a large stack of others, from the Psychology/Self-Help section that always seems to beckon my narcissistic self. Since it was my first find, I started in on it first. And never moved on.
I've been thinking a lot about friendships lately. I had one friend from school whose friendship might be fairly described as contentious. This friend was a guy, but not that
kind of guy friend. Just a kind of easy to hang out with dude who always seemed to be available for lunch or drinks and was one of several in a circle of friends I've made at school. He was nothing like me in most ways - his political beliefs were undeveloped but ran conservative, and he was quick to make offensive jokes. He also came across like an asshole to most people, at least at first glance. But he was friendly in his teasing about my six highlighters that I used to highlight class notes during Crim our first semester, and didn't seem to draw the distinction between me and our younger, more sociable section-mates that I had mentally drawn for myself. So I liked him and we hit it off. On the other hand, T was never a fan of this guy, mainly because I have a history of making friends with jerks, and probably because he suspected this friend's motives (which I didn't otherwise I wouldn't have been friends with him). Yet we remained friends for the first two years of law school, traveling as we did in the same circles.
Long story short, I "broke up" with him as a friend because of something he did that pissed me off and crossed a boundary. But more than feeling pissed off at what he did, I have also felt pissed off that he ruined what I thought was a good friendship. It hurts, maybe as much because I should've seen it coming as because it happened at all. I'm mad at myself for letting myself become friends, once again, with someone who isn't looking out for my best interests. And that is, perhaps, why I found myself relating best with the The Sacrificer
Sacrificers, according to this book, are those who put their heart and soul into a friendship, in an attempt to develop closeness. They often feel shortchanged when their friends prove not to be as dedicated. It's not the same as a martyr ("The Doormat") who constantly suppresses her own needs and wants in order to avoid conflict and go along in the name of friendship. But it definitely involves a great potential for power imbalance and letdown that isn't necessarily due to the other friend being "bad" but simply not living up to one's expectations. Sacrificers are often quick to move on from friendships that don't pay off.
The book helped me to understand why I felt so pissed off at this friend - it's because I thought we were friends who were considerate of one another, and it turns out he didn't feel the same, or at least not in the same way I did. It wasn't worth it for me to talk it out with him, but it still leaves me feeling shortchanged. I go through this transaction countless times on a smaller scale. I make acquaintances with someone, get excited about potential friendship, and then start to feel like I've invested way too much too soon and realize that the other person isn't as emotionally invested. Then I back off. Move on.
It's the backing off part that I am struggling with: when to do it and when not to. I frequently don't back off soon enough. I'll hang on to someone as a friend long after it's become clear that they aren't good for me in one way or another. See supra. And other times, I'll back off far too soon, misinterpreting a tone of voice as disinterest or an awkward conversation as incompatibility, never giving the friendship a chance. Occasionally, I get lucky and talk myself out of writing someone off just long enough to see that it's a friendship worth continuing to hang onto. And then being right about it.
Everyone says that friendship is like dating. What a cliche. How true. T and I had a long conversation about it last night, during our fantastic dinner date. We were talking about the differences between guy friendships, girl friendships and guy-girl friendships. As we sat and talked about it, between sips of wine and covert laughs about the bizarre wait staff, I looked across the table at him and wondered: how did I land this amazing friend? At the end of the day, I know that I am capable of making genuine friendships with some people, because I have a couple already. If they're all the friends I ever end up with, that's okay because they're all I really need. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying. I really want to get better at this friendship thing. But part of getting better might mean investing more in the people who have already shown that they care. It makes me think I have some phone calls to make.