July 23, 2006

Do you know who your friends are?

ONE of the pieces in the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine last weekend caught my eye. It was entitled “Confidant Crisis” and talked about how Americans, in a 2004 survey, said they confided important matters only to two “core” confidants. Apparently, this was a drop from three in a 1985 survey.

Who would’ve thought considering Americans are among the friendliest people in the world? Sure, we Filipinos are friendly, too, but we only smile a lot. Americans actually chat you up. It can range from a simple “Good morning!” from a couple of senior citizens you pass by while jogging, or having an entire conversation in an elevator about why people don’t talk in an elevator. Both of these actually happened to me while I was in the US and in a Tokyo hotel, and as I was still in my Pinoy mode, they were kind of unnerving, initially. And by the way, who invented Friendster and MySpace, two of the most popular “friendship” sites on the Internet these days?

But the NYT piece discusses that despite the gabbiness of Americans and the institutionalization of these popular Internet sites, Americans can still make a distinction between real friends and just ordinary friends. And that they value deep and lasting bonds over otherwise shallow relationships. Having two confidants don’t make a case for social isolation.

Which brings me to my friend M. He is one of the chattiest people I know, to the point that he can actually hog a conversation. I think I am one of his best friends but I don’t feel the same way. He is just too self-absorbed that I notice when I do the talking, his eyes dart everywhere else and becomes impatient as he wants to get in a word edgewise. And he always forgets stuff that we’ve talked about. Maybe it’s just an early onset of Alzheimers or ADHD. But he considers everyone he meets or knows, whether it’s just a new acquaintance, or an old friend, a friend. He tosses around that tag “friend” like there was no tomorrow, even if I know they don’t feel the same way about him.

I’m an Aquarian. To me friendships are very important. I value them even over intimate relationships with men. In fact, I’ve realized over the years that the reason I feel bad about an ended relationship with a man is that I lose a friend and a confidant, and not really because I miss the holding hands or the sex. When I’d go out on dates or hang out with my man of the moment, I’d usually have friends who tag along. I am fortunate that most of my lovers have been understanding and don’t mind chilling out with my friends. (So pardon me if I can’t relate to women or gays who suddenly forget all their friends once they’re in intimate relationships. I’ve known women who absolutely refuse to even introduce their boyfriends to their friends. To me that just means that they’re probably ashamed of their men, or worse, their friends.)

But unlike M, I make a distinction between real or best friends, ordinary friends and mere acquaintances. As I sit here writing this piece, I am thinking of how many real honest to goodness friends I have. Those who are willing to go to the bat for me, maybe take care of me if, God forbid, I get some terrible fatal illness and I’m all alone, or perhaps take a bullet for me if by some weird twist of fate, I get targeted for a rubout. (Sorry, that’s just The Sopranos talking in my head.) In the same manner, I am thinking of who among my friends I’m willing to do those things for.

I guess I’ve compartmentalized my friends into certain categories. Yes I have the “core confidants” –two women I tell my whole life story to, my problems and issues, and who know all my hang-ups and pet peeves in life. They take me for what I am in the same manner, I do them. I will go out of my way to help them and even if I don’t, they will understand why I didn’t or wasn’t able to.

They are women I will be able to stay up yakking the whole night with or just listen to their problems on the phone over and over again. And yet if I fall asleep on them, they’ll forgive me. We don’t see each other every day or talk to each other four times a day like Oprah and her best friend Gayle, and yet when we are together, it’s like we only saw each other yesterday.

But are they my bestest of friends? I realize that those two still don’t know some of my deepest darkest secrets and only an ex-boyfriend of mine actually knows all of them. So fudge. I must find that guy and have him shot pronto! But seriously, after a few sad experiences with some so-called best friends, I’d rather not give everything of myself anymore and keep a few good places inside of me just for myself. Would I take a bullet for those two? Maybe. But spill all my guts? Maybe not.

Then there are the good friends--people I like hanging around with. Sometimes I would tell them my life story but leave out other matters not relevant to them. These aren’t necessarily life-threatening issues, just stuff I’d rather not talk to them about because these don’t belong to their sphere of experiences. These are people I just like laughing with and having a good time with. They are usually people I’ve also worked with but over the years, I’ve become close to them and seen them at their best and worst, and the same thing goes for them with me. I can live with them in a retirement home when we’re old and grey, but I definitely will not take a bullet for them.

Of course, there are the acquaintances. People I’ve just met or have known for a long time but who I’m friendly with. Normally, I would not have any patience for them. Maybe they’re just here to provide me some amusement in this lifetime or help me work out my karma. I can’t help it that they’re around me. They just are. But I like them enough. No bullet. I will probably pull the trigger. Joke!

“Friend” is a tag I don’t take lightly. To be a friend or to call one a friend infuses that person with some superhuman strength over you. What they do matters to you and what you do matters to them. It gives that person insight into your entire being and the power to make your life happy, or a living hell. But friend that you are, you will endure.

(Originally published in the Business Mirror, Something Like Life, July 21-22, 2006. Photo from www.kalioglou.sweb.cz)

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