Yes, friends can … get the extra benefit of a doubt, change their minds, disagree with your decisions, forget what you told them, give unsolicited advice, and be just a mess of a person. All is forgiven, all is forgotten, and the friendship survives, moves on, and gets stronger.
Why is that? Why do we let friends get away with things that we wouldn’t allow other people to do?
Partly it has to do with the backstory. Every time something happens, every time someone does something, your mind creates a story about it. If it is a stranger, you have nothing to go on, so you just free flow a story, maybe based on your mood or their shirt or the weather. If it is someone you don’t like, the story you create is filtered through a laundry list of previous wrongdoings or slights. Ah, but if it is a friend, your mind reaches for the backstory, your history together, their personal history which explains or defines their actions.
When friendships are first starting the backstory that is taken into consideration is the other person’s history. When something comes up that may cause me to get mad or walk away from the relationship I think about what that person has shared with me about their childhood, their romantic relationships, the way they feel about themselves, and the way they view in the world in general. I give leeway based on an understanding of where they are coming from. As the friendship develops and we create a shared history, things that irritate or anger are shaded by memories of good times or of long talks or of crappy times that we endured together. I think about times when the other person has been there for me, when they have been understanding of my crap, and they get a pass.
What is about me that wants to say, yes, yes, all of this is true … but …
But if what the other person is doing is no longer being a friend to me, what then? I’ve walked away from one friendship in my life, and I can tell you that when I walked away it was because I felt used and unappreciated. I felt angry that the other person was so concerned with what was going on in her life that she didn’t see or consider me at all.
This woman and I were friends for two, three years, and just about inseparable. During a time of stress and uncertainty in both of our lives she did something that I couldn’t forgive. I cut her out of my life and refused to have anything to do with her. I can’t tell you how many times I have played this over in my mind in the twenty some years since it happened. It was so unlike anything I had done before or have done since. I am not the one who walks away.
I can’t say “Yes, friends can …” until I reconcile what happened between me and this woman. If friends can do things that would be unacceptable from other people, then why didn’t she get a pass? We certainly had enough of a history together. She saw me through some rough times, and I was there for her when she needed me. We drank together and decorated Christmas trees together and sang “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” together. But were we friends?
Maybe every friendship starts with a couple of scales, one for me and one for the other person. On one side of my scale is what I get from you, the good stuff. On the other side is what I accept from you, the things that I wouldn’t take if we weren’t friends. In the beginning it’s balanced, and in the best of friendships it stays pretty much on an even keel. This one friendship, not so much so.
When the scale came crashing down I had been feeling not supported by my friend in a major decision I had made in my life. Friends don’t have to agree with every decision you make, but they have to agree that you are the best person to make that decision. They have to understand that once the decision is made it is you, and not the decision, that is most important. I didn’t feel that from her. And so I used the next convenient exit point to make a break.
Yes, friends can … but sometimes they can’t.