Sunday, November 28, 2010

Can we still be acquaintances who never speak?

Hannah Pool has an article in today's Observer on a topic that fascinates me: the breaking up of friendships. I don't have a lot to add to what she says here, really. I've tried both of the "techniques" for breaking up with friends that she describes and agree that neither of them is pleasant. I've also had them done to me. Not so much the slow one, because if I call you a couple of times and you don't call me back, then I stop calling you pretty quickly (and by "call" I also mean email/write/whatever). And then if I hear from you months down the line because you've either changed your mind about breaking up with me or because you genuinely were busy or depressed or something, that's fine.

But the quick one I've had done to me twice. At the time I was extremely hurt by one of these breakups, which was done by letter. It came as a total shock to me and I was very upset to read the words "I don't think we should be in touch with each other any more". This was like a real breakup. (Subsequently the person in question did get back in touch and we did meet up a couple of times, but we both realised that his initial instinct had been correct and we haven't been in touch since. Still, nice to have everything put on a more civil footing.) The other time, I was out for a drink with the person and we were arguing about personal politics. I was finding these meetups less and less enjoyable every time we had them, but I basically liked this person and I was living on my own at the time, so I was reluctant to lose contact with even more people than my divorce had already cut me off from or allowed me to lose contact with, depending on how you look at it.

At the end of the evening I suggested we meet up for brunch in a couple of weeks (I preferred brunch because there was less chance of drinking and therefore less chance of argument) and he just said "yeah, brunch doesn't really suit me any more. Look, don't worry about it." And that was it. We never called each other again. It was a massive relief. Sure, we've seen each other on the street a couple of times since then, and we've said hello and exchanged highlights, but that's it. So civilised.

Anyway, that was all apropos of not much really. I wanted to save that article and I wanted to save the comments too. Some interesting stories there. I'm particularly interested by the person who starts her comment by complaining about using the word dump to describe breaking up with friends, then says she's had this done to her several times by people who are cowards, then talks about how awful people are who break up with friends. I don't know this person, and I don't like to be judgemental (or rather, I don't like people to know how judgemental I am) but I already want to break up with her and I've not even had to be her friend for any period of time.

People also talk about how Facebook and Twitter makes this all much more complicated, and it probably does. But for me, as for a lot of people, Facebook and Twitter are an aid to maintaining casual contact with people I care about very much who happen to be far away. I see the minutiae of their daily lives, comments from other people they chat to, and it makes me feel connected to them. It also makes it easier to keep that connection, so I don't worry so much that I don't have time to write a letter.

These are things, as someone points out on the comments page for the article, that rear their heads at this time of year, both for those of us expecting people home for Christmas, and for those of us who are coming home and don't know who we''ll end up having to talk to when they hit the pub on Christmas Eve.


Kell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mylescorcoran said...

Interesting piece and a good response to it from you.

I can't think of my friendships that 'broke up' in any other fashion than neglect and growing apart. My Swiss cheese brain may just be hiding the past from me however.

I agree with you about social networks and, more generally, email and other electronic media. I'm more connected to friends far away than I was and need those connections more than ever.

Queenie said...

I have been dumped several times by male friends but it was always shortly after their wedding day, so I suspect it is something to do with the pairing act.

If you discount the person who I unfriended one day for a minute because she was using her birthday to fundraise for her workplace and I didn't want to contribute and she reacted by unfriending Himself thereby unleashing my killer protective instincts and destroying a twenty year friendship, I haven't dumped/ been dumped by a girlfriend for a long time.

Or have I?

Personally, I think I am probably too far away and too obtuse to notice.

Trish Byrne said...

This kind of thing always generates comments, wherever I see it appear. It's obviously a subject that's very tricky for people.

@Myles, I really value the friendship that you and I have. We don't see each other face to face very often, but when we do it's comfortable and fun and a great laugh, and nobody tries to make anyone feel guilty about not getting in touch more often. These are key elements in maintaining a friendship, it seems to me.

@Lorraine, absolutely dying to know who you're talking about now. Luckily I won't have to wait long to find out.

Prenderghast said...

I can't recall ever having broken up with friends, but it's conceivable that friends of broken up with me without me ever noticing, which I think is a considerate way of doing it and also a demonstration that they knew me well enough to realize I wouldn't notice. But obviously I've neither proof nor recollection of that.

Breaking up with partners, on the other hand, is something I have LOTS of experience of. :-(

Prenderghast said...

"have broken up with me," obviously. It's early.