Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The long tail of a short defriending

Today I went to the facebook of a friend, wife of a former-friend, to leave birthday wishes for their daughter. The former-friend and I go back over 20 years, and although that has been an up-and-down relationship, usually down when he took offence at something I was doing, failing to do, or not doing well enough and let me know, recent times saw us meeting up a couple of times a year with our families.

Our wives and daughters built relationships. It is those I am most disappointed about as I reflect on being defriended.

I have been in other defriendings - both ways - but usually the impact is marginal. Someone I know through a friend, or knew a little years ago, and in nearly every case due to deep divisions over how we engage with the muslim world (or how we, being the friends, engage about how we engage).

This one was about kale, as far as I can tell. After my friend mocked my exercise efforts he showed us how he blends kale into a drink every day. Plainly, that's awful, so later in the afternoon I mocked the kale a couple of times, serving back the dish I'd been greeted with.

These gibes were low level, in both directions, and we also chatted quite genially at other times at what was a larger gathering with friends. Yet I did leave feeling like he was dwelling on something. And then, several weeks later, I was defriended. I can only assume he dwelt on whatever it was for those several weeks.

Facebook is just facebook, yet because this happened without fanfare or explanation, and was not in direct response to, say, one clear shirty altercation on the web, it was immediately slightly uncomfortable, even creepy. These things are different when they happen among groups of friends, in the intersections of many people including partners and children.

Immediately, it became awkward to catch up with our families or in that group of friends. This impact will either have suited, or not been seriously considered by my former-friend, as that is how he lives life. An arc traces back from this to the exercise niggles, an issue on which he's been competitive for some time. We both have small children, but one of us felt free to leave our wives to the household several times per week to go to the gym, then kickboxing classes. As pictures of former-friend started popping up replete with six pack, or posing with his foot lodged in someone's ribs, the 'gentle' digs about me being housebound and comments about how good he feels slipped out each time we met up.

While I complimented him on his efforts (for the most part) and expressed genuine interest, I couldn't help wonder how I would ever make a similar routine work when I wanted more time, not less, with my family. Yet while I might have mocked kale (seriously, kale, ffs), I never returned fire on this issue. The ability to make personal attacks about the most sensitive matters was something that, looking back over 20 years, remained an almost-entirely one-sided affair.

Which made the defriending all the more petulant.

In any event, as he lived his life, centred around himself, so he also made the decision that impacted our wives and children. He did not mention it to his wife, who found out months later when she suggested we all catch up.

And I find that group of friends, in which I was always an 'outer' member, a third or fourth wheel, although we likewise go back decades, now continues on without me. They know (and more than one has privately agreed) it was not my doing. But there are tiers, and mine is more dispensable.

In a year of deep, harsh, lessons, about schools, community, work, people and life, this one must be added: at a certain point, if you have put a lot of time in with people and are still a second-tier participant, it is time to shift your efforts.