Betrayal and friendship

21 May

Sometimes, I sit and watch people as they go by.  It’s the most fun when I’m totally unnoticed, so if I’m dressed like one of the street people, I become invisible to most as they walk down the street.  Funny how that works, I guess they are afraid I’m going to approach them and ask for money.  I become just one more person that is a “problem” that they don’t want to address.  I am just thankful that after my time observing people, I can go home, take a shower and relax with four walls and a roof over my head.

I find watching people interesting, and I’m sure they would be somewhat embarrassed if they realized how much they tell a casual observer as they go about their business.  What amazes me is the sheer number of people I see that are entirely wrapped up in themselves, with absolutely no regard for anyone else or anyone else’s feelings.

This is somewhat an alien idea to me, this total focus on one’s self and elimination of concern for others.  Perhaps its easier, after all, they don’t have to answer the phone at 2 am when a friend or family member is having a crisis, let alone DO anything about the crisis.  Then again, do people like that even HAVE friends?   I suspect that all they have are “social contacts”, “business associates”, and “professional contacts.”

I can’t help but think of a country song, the artists names & name of the song escape me, that came out a  year or two ago that talked about friends, and such things as middle of the night calls for help, about camping out on someone’s couch, about a bus ticket when things go horribly wrong somewhere.  That’s what friendship is all about, its a bond made by choice, not by blood, but it still runs deep and strong.  I’ve gone to rescue a friend in the middle of the night, I’ve had friends arrive on my doorstep in the wee hours looking for sanctuary, and I’ve defied abusive spouses on my own doorstep and sent them packing on a friend’s behalf, shaking in my shoes the entire time.  I’ve dropped what I was doing because a friend was in need, and I’ve loaned money when I couldn’t afford it because a friend needed it more than I did.  And, guess what?  It usually comes back tenfold to benefit me, in ways that cannot be measured.  True friends either pay money back or give explanation of why they can’t.  The other kind, well, $20 is a cheap way to get rid of someone, right?  It’s funny how that works, too.

Greg and I did have a very negative experience regarding friends & going out of our way, and in the process got a reminder that not all friends are created equally.  A friend (now former friend) had an adult daughter, nearly my age, who was going through breast cancer treatment and generally having a hard time, after having lost a job, among other things.  In the early stages of all of this, her car died.  Greg’s old car wasn’t something we needed in particular, although at the time, we could have really used the money from selling it for a fair price outright, we chose to sell it to her for a very nominal price, and taking payments on that, all without contracts & paperwork of course, relying on the old fashioned method of a verbal agreement.

The car turned out to have some unexpected problems, and their payment went into fixing it, as our primary concern was that the car, while it was ugly and old, would be very reliable.  We knew the brakes were good, and that it was in generally good condition-Greg had driven it for years, and had recently had the brakes repaired.  Having spent most of its life in the North Eastern part of the USA, it had rust like a redhead has freckles, but we had been very honest about the car’s lack of aesthetic appeal.  It was an old car, but we were certain that it would be reliable for her until she was back on her feet and able to go back to work, buying time until she could get a  better car.  After all, what would you expect for $400 on payments?

It didn’t go all that well, as they were in a huge hurry, and Greg isn’t  a mechanic, which means that it takes him a bit longer to do certain things than it would in a shop, even though a friend who had a shop was helping him get the repairs done and predicting that this deal was going to go sour and that we were nuts.  The repairs were done, the car was pronounced sound, and they picked it up.  A few hours later, we get a very unpleasant phone call with name calling and accusations of fraud–none of which was fitting with what I had believed to be true from my friend.  We finally find out that the car had had something fall off and it was making noise, and where the car was located at.

I’ll admit, the name calling and shrieking on the phone was not bringing out the most charitable of responses from me, and it was probably a very good thing I wasn’t the one on the phone.  Greg is much more tactful than I am, and generally less volatile as well.  Still, I asked him to go have a look and see what was wrong now, more for our peace of mind than anything.  It turned out that the exhaust system had apparently snagged on something, like the rough railroad crossing she’d driven over, and had been ripped loose.  Not an uncommon problem, especially in an older car, and it would require a little bit of work.  The stickler was that they were demanding their money back because we had cheated them, but we had spent their down payment on fixing the car to ensure it was reliable rather than selling it as it was.

I deeply resented accusations of fraud, I was angry about the abusive nature of the telephone calls, and to make it worse, the email that claimed we were ignoring their calls.  I found the remark in the email that I was giving up our friendship for the money truly insulting.  Even if I had the money to return to them, our friendship had been destroyed by the week’s accusations.  Demands for a refund and to take the car back weren’t reasonable considering it was just an exhaust issue, and I had known from the start of the process we were unlikely to see the rest of the money for the car.

In hindsight, I should have realized how it would go to try and help them.  Both mother and daughter had frequently made remarks about how other people mistreated them and took advantage of them.  I hadn’t taken it too much to heart, after all, there really ARE a lot of assholes in the world.  As the daughter went through one job after another where she was verbally abused and mistreated by her bosses, I had paid little attention.  In hindsight, there was a pattern emerging that I should have seen clearly.

I had never had a friendship with the daughter, having only met her in passing, hearing more about her from her mother as we talked than I had ever heard in person from her.  Mothers can often perceive a situation as abusive towards their babies, even when the babies are fortysomething.  We’re just like that.  What I didn’t notice is that it was a case of like daughter, so is mother, and that she too was often the intended target of some sort of attack.  It’s a victim mentality, and a mentality indicative of a mindset that thinks the world owes them something.  The fact of the matter is, the world doesn’t owe us, and its not going to pay up anyhow.

I was disappointed in my friend, I had honestly thought highly of her and had expected better.  Perhaps that’s why it was somewhat hurtful for her to fail to be objective at all.  I know there are times we will side with our offspring, even when they are wrong–I’m a mother too.  This went beyond that, to accusing me of motives that had never existed and that if anyone had known that, she should have.

It’s been nearly a year since we made the mistake of trying to help someone when we had virtually no spare money ourselves, and we truly went well out of our way to try.  I’ve not heard from my former friend since the email that informed me that I had sold our friendship for the price of the down payment on the car.  I’ve thought about it off and on, usually with a lot of regret about even mentioning we needed to get rid of the car, let alone offering to deal with them.  I’ve thought about that email she had sent me, and I’ll sigh again.  I now realize, I didn’t sell out our friendship for a few hundred dollars, she sold it out for bragging rights that are worth even less.  I had valued our friendship highly, which was part of the utter shock at the abusive nature of the phone calls and the unreasonable demands over the exhaust.

Then there is the other issue.  Greg knew how to fix it, it wasn’t a difficult repair.  However, because of the abusive calls and early accusations, I had threatened him with severe repercussions if he even dared offer to fix it for them.  I saw no reason for us to invest more effort into it-it was not being appreciated already.  My faith in my friend had been shattered, so there was no longer concerns there either.   We had made it all way too easy for them, and when we drew the line on helping, they became angry.

In hindsight, we would have been just fine if we’d asked a reasonable market price, insisted on cash on the barrel head, anda contract that stated “as-is” with no warranty and no recourse, and to the first buyer with the cash.  We would have tripled our money, Greg wouldn’t have spent a week working on the car, and we’d not have had harassing phone calls and emailed accusations afterwards.  I’d also have never been made aware of the shallow depths of the friendship I had believed was sincere.

That’s another thing about friends.  Being a friend requires work and character, and the better you are as a friend, the moer friends and the longer term your friends are.  I’m not a particularly social person, and I totally suck at keeping in touch long distance, but I have one friend I still talk to regularly from my high school days. Another girlfriend has been close for about a decade, and we call each other whenever something good or bad happens.  I’ve had her on the phone crying so hard I didn’t know what had happened, and she stood with me when I was divorcing my first husband so long ago.  She totally gets my frustrations, and we can laugh together about “if we knew then what we know now, we’d have had puppies!”  (We both have a daughter, and anyone with a daughter knows the trials and tribulations of which we speak!)   We laugh about the fact that my mother ALWAYS calls her by the wrong name, having assigned “Audrey” to her, even though her name is Autumn, to the point that its a standing joke, and she’ll refer to herself as Audrey when speaking to my mother.  I have a handful of other close friends, friends that I know I can call and ask to camp out on their sofa for a few days…and know I’m welcome.  I can call and ask for some money to help out in a pinch, and they know I’ll give it back as soon as I can.  They know they can call me and ask for something, and if I have it…it’s theirs to use or have.  I know I can cry on their shoulder, and even though the guys might be really uncomfortable about it, they’ll do their best to reassure me and make it better.  That’s what friends are for, and that’s the things friends do.

When you meet someone and a friendship is building, pay attention to their other relationships, otherwise known as friends.  Unless they are new to town, they should have a few.  (These rules also apply to other relationships, even those of a romantic nature.)  How do they talk about their friends, past and present?  Do they have any?  If they have no clsoe friends, hang a warning label on that friendship.  It’s a sure sign that this person does not know that they have to BE a friend to have a friend.

Betrayals hurt, and sometimes it causes more than hurt feelings.  Friends who betray us can wreak real havoc in our lives, emotionally and in other ways too.  These false friends often retaliate by trying to destroy other people’s perception of your character, bad mouthing you to mutual acquaintances and worse.  Other friendships take a beating or are destroyed over the rumors they spawn, sometimes marriages or other relationships are even damaged.  I once had a friend accuse me of an affair with her husband, among other things.   For me, this was particularly awful, since her husband & I had a very sibling-like relationship, it really DID feel like I was being accused of incest.  I was angry over the accusations, and even more angry when I realized that the behind-the-scenes rumors were being well fed about the supposed affair and other insidious activities I was supposedly involved in.  I had been unaware of the situation at first, and had left an organization for related but not directly so reasons involving many of the same people, which had only fed the rumors of an affair that ended badly.  Had I realized everything that was going on, I may have chosen to delay my inevitable departure, but the departure was inevitable anyhow…so I may have chosen to leave anyhow.  The knowledge would have at least explained what I was perceiving as downright weird behavior from a number of acquaintances.

Exposing my “dirty laundry” in terms of the betrayal of friends isn’t about a confession, so much as an illustration of how things can go.  I have mostly fantastic friends that I trust implicitly.  I have some friends that are probationary, you might say, as their trial-by-fire has not yet occurred.  I don’t trust people as easily now as I did before I endured the recent rash of betrayals, and I don’t leave myself as open to be betrayed to these untried friendships.  I have a lot of acquaintances, most of whom I trust just about as far as I can throw them (remember, I’m nursing a severe shoulder injury, so throwing a feather even is a difficult task!)

Friendships are work.  They are two way streets.  You can’t expect more than you are willing to give, and you shouldn’t consistently over time give more than you get either.  Friends are people that are in your innermost circle, that truly get to know you and your bad habits, and that you know them and their bad habits too–you just accept each other as you are.  I don’t have a LOT of friends, but I have to say, I have damn good ones!  I’ll admit that I love my friends too, as deeply and profoundly as I love family members.  I believe they love me too, without a doubt, and I trust them in situations where I could be potentially at real risk.  I depend on those relationships as my support system, my core network.  I get advice from them on areas of expertise, I share my woes with them, and then I turn around and give advice on my areas, share my triumphs, celebrate with them, and share their woes.  I know their spouses, and often, I even like them.  (Not a requirement, btw!) The funny thing is, my friends also understand loyalty, friendship, honor, and the virtues of those three things.  Over time, I’ve noticed that many flaws can be ignored, but if a friend does not understand loyalty and honor, the friendship is merely an illusion.

So, may life grant you a handful of true friends, and a bushel of acquaintances!

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