Sunday, September 19, 2010


I have few friends, mostly by choice. Over the last five or six years I’ve trimmed away some people, nice people, I might add, but ones who in one way or another demanded too much, were opportunistic, or had little to offer. A good rule of thumb is that I don’t really want to be around folks who infringe on solitude while not alleviating loneliness.

Often, the trimming is mutual. Friendships ebb and flow, I think, as does most everything else. What is initially fascinating in a person becomes mundane. The irreverent questions might be charming at first but quickly lose their appeal, and what was at the start an endearing trait or quality becomes an irksome character defect. Someone, I forget who, once said that in the initial phases of any relationship—friendship included—my representative is meeting your representative. That makes a lot of sense. Most of us are guarded and reticent; we don’t like to share things that really matter. We allow our respective ambassadors to conduct lengthy negotiations in the hope of finding a common ground to grow on. Sometimes we find one, more often than not we don’t. Friendships—true ones—are rare and take years to erect, and though they may endure decades, they also remain as fragile as cut crystal.

There are friendships too that begin with an infatuation of sorts—a passion or fascination we thought unshared with anyone else. We’re delighted to find a kindred spirit and the friendship will endure as long as the common interest does. I’ve had many friends like that, people with whom I’ve played music, fished, hiked, studied or worked. There are also friendships built around a third person—a child, a teacher or mentor, someone ill or dying. Those are strange, temporary friendships that by definition have no future. They may serve an immediate situation but don’t have legs.

I once witnessed with great sadness the disappearance of many friendships at once. When my mother died in France, the friends she and my father had maintained over their married decades vanished. My mother had been the glue that held relationships and links together, and when she was gone so were the bonds. My father was left to fend for himself, and I was shocked by how quickly this happened. There was a lesson to be learned there. I never could quite figure out what it was, but it made me wonder if Lord Samuel, the British liberal politician, was right when he said, “A friend in need is a friend to be avoided."

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