Friends fair weather or foul?

Friends fair weather or foul?


Friend: what sort of friend are you? Are you an extroverted friend or an introverted friend? In the lead-up to Social Sciences Week, and I am a social scientist, it seems fitting to address a fundamental need that we each have: to have a friend and to be a friend.

“Along with good friends who are present, loyal, and honest, most people want friends who are trustworthy. If you can’t count on a person, it’s hard to consider them a good friend. Each person must set his or her own criteria for what it means to be a good friend” *

Media AllianceLast month, I had an opportunity to test friendships with several people in my life. One I have recently met through work but as she has been in my Sunday community for a while, I have ‘sort of’ known her for a while.

I asked each to accompany me to an event for free which I knew they would each individually like. I gave them plenty of lead time and opportunities to be in touch either by telephone or email. My intention was to spend time with them as a friend and to get to know them better – even though we have ‘technically’ known each other for a few years.

To my surprise, one of the ‘friends’ was in contact only the week of the event. This happened even though she is not on holidays, has a working email account and is definitely still in town. She is recently retired and has oodles of time on her hands. She had not been in touch for two weeks. Clearly, you might say, I must think more of her than she thinks of me.

Another friend contacted me by email after not appearing at a coffee date earlier that month to say that she was currently ill but would definitely be better in time for a different event on the same day I’d organized mine. There was no offer made to reciprocate with a coffee or a free event. Clearly, I thought more of her than she thinks of me, I hear you say.

The third friend I contacted had also not appeared at a coffee date I’d arranged last month but did email two days after her absence to say that she had mixed up her diaries.  So, I thought I’d give her the benefit of the doubt and invite her too to the free event. “No, sorry … busy that day,” she said. There was no offer made to reciprocate with a coffee or a free event. Clearly – yes – I thought more of her than she thinks of me, you say.

My thoughts on this friendship ‘thing’

…will you excuse me then when I do not arrange coffee chats and free tickets to movies and market stalls for people I thought well of?

Perhaps only when the ‘friends’ I mentioned have to pay up-front themselves or arrange the events themselves do they show that they really mean it about being a friend? … I am definitely confused by their behavior towards what I thought was a friendship. Remarkably, if they each read this aide de memoir, they’d say in their defence, “But I’m only human!”. Perhaps they think I’m not human?

I know what you’re thinking – “get some other friends” … push the boat out … say “get some quality friends” … but the thing is, these ‘friends’ promote themselves as being kind, humane, virtuous, loyal and caring.

My wish to catch-up with them to chat is clearly just not convenient with each of them. But their standing me up for coffee chats was not convenient to me … and not responding to the invitation until the last minute just let’s down the team … (“… what team?”, you say …).

So, if we need to convenience shop for a friend, what would the friend look like?

Friends come in all kinds of guises and intentions. I certainly do … But then, it has been winter so, the wool pea coat I wrap around me keeps me warm when the friendships I seek out turn out cold. I like to be a part of things and have living friendships.

What to do about this?

One criteria for a friendship is definitely that the person values friendship. I clearly value friendship and seek it out. The second criteria, is that a friend says what they mean and means what they say. None of the … ”Yes, I’ll meet you on Saturday at 10am at the corner café” … and then not show up … not give an apology or not offer to arrange a make-up coffee to apologize in person. Making it up to someone – also known as ‘making good’ – is important in friendship.

It could be that my upbringing with lessons about friendship, taught by my female relatives, has skewed my vision. It could be that the ‘friends’ I sought out for coffee or company at free events do not come from the same background or upbringing.

Even though the world tells me that we are all equal under the sun and must treat each other with respect, I’m finding that attitudes to friendship are different amongst people of different castes and education.

Orange Sky LaundryThe fact that we each might share the same faith does not positively impact on attitudes to friendship. Furthermore, it could be that there is a mismatch of expectations and their expectations are not met with this aide de memoir.

But, if my disappointments created by the three individual ‘friends’ are not pointed out, would you expect me to sit in silence and accept this poor treatment shown by the ‘friends’? Perhaps you’d be happier if I was to stick my nose in a book and pretend it never happened?

Have I shown them poor friendship in an earlier situation, do you think? Or do some people do this to everyone and I’ve just woken up to it?

Maybe I’ve been lucky with my friendships up until now.

Robert Frost (1874–1963).  Mountain Interval.  1920. **

A Time to Talk
WHEN a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?    
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

I would make a friendly visit to help a friend. So, how do you find your ‘friends’ in fair weather or foul?

If you did know any the three individual ‘friends’ of whom I write, would you perhaps take a pause for breath … and review as I did last week?

Or would you just shrug the whole thing off and go off to read a good book or go for a bike ride?

As a social ecologist, I think I’m more of an extroverted friend than I realized. Perhaps that news sounds people-friendly?




Text copyright Fiona Rothchilds 2019.
Photographs of floral images copyrighted by Fiona Rothchilds 2019.
Uploaded 3 August 2019.

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