Dear Belladonna Rogers,
I don’t have as many guys as friends as I used to. Sure, some die and others move away, but I’ve been thinking that maybe I’ve played a part in getting where I am today. My wife and I don’t get invited places anymore. What makes people end friendships or drift apart? I know I’ve made my share of mistakes. What I’m wondering is: have I made them all?
Lonely Guy in Las Vegas
Dear Lonely Guy,
Friendships end in many ways, none of them pleasant. Other than the strains of geography or lack of any sense of commonality, friendships die when one friend reaches a boiling point, a point of no return, a point beyond which apologies and promises just don’t matter anymore.
To stay in a friendship after mistreatment that goes beyond one’s limits is to invite a tsunami of drek that even an ardent masochist would decline.
Some of us have lower boiling points than others, but under the following circumstances, almost anyone would say, “Basta! Enough!”
Note: This column concerns only friendships in your personal life, and does not apply to professional relationships in the workplace.
Here, then, are eight surefire ways to destroy friendships with your male friends. As it happens, they’ll work equally well with women. Few friendships will survive affronts such as these.
1. LIAR, LIAR PANTS ON FIRE
There he was, Mr. America, lying to our faces, as if the entire adult population of the United States agreed with him that fellatio wasn’t a part of sexual relations. Our mistake, Mr. President! It must be — what? Part of preparing interns for paying jobs? Would those be in the private sector or the public?
When you lie to a friend, thinking he knows less than he does, he realizes that you’re lying. You’re not only lying, you’re also insulting him. This is why telling serious lies is both insidiously wounding and oafishly boorish.
Lying is just another way of saying, “I think you’re so dim, you’ll believe anything I tell you.”
It’s the “you’re so dim” part of lying that really gets to people.
Here, we’re not talking about the “white lies” that help make life agreeable, or at least livable. We’re talking about a friend looking you in the eye and telling you a whopper, and a whopper that takes you for a fool, as whoppers are wont to do.
2. IN YOU, WE CAN’T TRUST
Trust is at the core of friendship; without it, your friends are better off confiding in a doorknob or an avocado.
Here’s why: your buddy Art tells you that what he’s about to divulge to you is between the two of you, that you’re the only one he’s telling, and that it should go no further. Next thing Art knows, Bob’s heard every detail. Gee, how did Bob hear? Since Bob was one of the subjects of what Art told you in confidence, your yammering has ended two friendships at once: Art’s with Bob and Art’s with you.
Why would Art or Bob — or anyone they know — ever trust you again? Gossiping, betraying confidences, not understanding the meaning of “in the vault” are great ways to turn a loyal buddy into someone who wants nothing further to do with you. Do this once or twice and word gets around. No one wants a blabbermouth for a pal.
As an another example, someone who knows you’re close to the action asks you why Lou was fired. Just because someone asks you a question — and you happen to know the answer — doesn’t mean you have to tell everything you know, unless you’re on the witness stand. You can look the questioner in the eye and say, “Discretion is the better part of valor,” and then exercise your right to remain silent.
People often spill the beans to impress others, or in the mistaken belief that it will gain their trust, but it produces exactly the opposite (also known as the “fake-out”) effect: it’s a flashing neon sign warning them to listen to you but never to tell you a thing.
Paul Revere on his horse was trying to save his countrymen. Your average bigmouth is just trying to sound like a know-it-all to project that ineffable something known as power. It doesn’t work that way. It will boomerang faster than a cheeseless pizza in a headwind.
The first day we moved to our neighborhood one of the neighbors came by, introduced herself, and began telling me every shred of gossip about everyone. When she was finished, she said, “What about you?”
“Me? I’m off to the supermarket,” I said, “our fridge is empty!” Except to say hello, I never said another word to her. Why would I? To have her repeat everything I said with her own special spin? If I wanted everyone in the neighborhood to know what I think, I’d write a column for PJM.
You don’t want to have to watch your back with your friends. As Oscar Wilde said, “True friends stab you in the front.”
3. BITE OFF YOUR FRIEND’S HEAD ANY TIME YOU WANT
You know those times you’re so busy and hassled you don’t have time to be anywhere near the ballpark of polite? Whether in emails, on the phone or in person, treating your friends to your nastiness whenever you feel like it doesn’t make the cut. No one enjoys being the target of Rumpelstiltskin-like rage.
Knowing that any communication with you will trigger the bite-your-friend’s-head-off response doesn’t encourage anyone to stay in touch. Interestingly, a quick, gracious email takes no more time than a snarky one. Why not go with amiable over abrasive?
Of course, friends understand that their buddies have times when they’re out of sorts.
But when irascible, grouchy, and intemperate conduct is no longer the exception but becomes the rule — complete with self-indulgent growls as the inevitable reply to any efforts at communication — your friends may just stop communicating.
Doormats are like toilets: everyone wants to have one, but no one wants to be one. Friends don’t demean their friends with brusqueness and rudeness.
Don’t expect a big crowd on your birthday or, later, at your funeral if you go in for backstabbing. Backstabbers make many mistakes, in addition to backstabbing itself, but the biggest is the one that underlies their conduct: depravity so flagrant and obtuseness so dense they actually believe their targets will never find out who did it.
Backstabbers are like vampires working in darkness, thinking no one can see them.
But when dawn breaks – as break it does — no one is invisible. You’re revealed for what you are.
Backstabbers are so devoid of understanding that they fail to recognize one important fact of life: not everyone is as rotten as they. To be sure, some people are, but 99 times out of 100, one of your victims’ loyal friends will tell them exactly who stabbed them in the back.
One of my friends relishes news stories of “stupid criminals” – felons who think they’re really smart but who make tiny, tell-tale errors, such as this: a burglar who failed to log out of his Facebook account into which he compulsively logged in – using the crime victim’s own computer, which he didn’t take with him, to satisfy his urge to connect with his FB “friends.”
That’s what back-stabbers and liars have in common: they underestimate their friends’ intelligence while overestimating their own.
When it comes to a backstabber, as the vivid Southern expression has it, “I wouldn’t piss down his throat if his heart was on fire.”
Moving right along, we come to one of the all-star members of the Friendship-Torpedoing Hall of Fame…
5. BIRD- DOGGING
This one never fails to alienate everyone it touches, and it touches a minimum of four people including you. It may begin innocently enough — at least on the surface — when you, the wife, and another couple go out to dinners, bowling, or anything else as a foursome. One night in the moonlight when you’ve driven to Tahoe for the weekend, you begin to show just a tad a too much gusto for your friend’s wife. Before you know it, your ogling escalates to lusting.
The next thing anyone knows, you’ve maneuvered your friend’s wife into an elevator. You’ll later claim that you “didn’t know what got into” you. In the elevator, you try to cop a feel, steal a kiss, or do something else that you’ll later describe as “just playing around.” Right.
“Playing around” is what’s known as a “gateway” behavior. “Just playing around” is a little too close for comfort to foreplay, which, in turn, is a little too close for comfort to sexual intercourse. “Playing around” with your friend’s wife isn’t playing. She’s not a toy or a pet.
Like all offensive conduct, this one’s an equal opportunity friendship-ender. Both married men and married women put the moves on the spouses of friends. If there’s a quicker way to torpedo a friendship, I don’t know what it is.
Along with its many other odious effects, this behavior puts your friend’s wife in a painful bind: does she tell her husband of 15 years that his friend of 30 years has put the moves on her? Does she force her husband to choose between his loyalty to his bird-dogging “friend” and her? And what about her friendship with your wife? Does she tell her how loathsome you are?
The only thing that can be said in favor of your behavior is that it’s efficient: you alienate three people with a single vile act. Nice going, there.
If you feel you absolutely must commit adultery — in which case, before doing so, I refer you to several of my previous columns here, here, and here – for crying out loud, lay off your friends’ wives. If anyone should be off-limits (other than your relatives – you know, your children, siblings, aunts, uncles, parents) it should be – hello? – the women your friends have married.
6. THE BICKERSONS
If you can’t keep your marital disputes within the confines of your own bedroom, stay home.
To expose friends, even your closest friends, to rounds of mutual recrimination, arguing, and verbal abuse is beyond the pale. Even loving married couples who adore each other have adequate exposure to marital discord without becoming unwilling witnesses to yours.
One of the worst variations on this theme is when there isn’t a fight: there’s only one spouse verbally assaulting the other, while the abused sits too stunned or frightened to reply. Friends shouldn’t have to referee such excruciating acts of cruelty.
You may be among the couples who engage in this form of friendship-abuse in the bizarre belief that you’re entertaining your friends with reprises of the classic marital-discord sitcoms of the 1950s, I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners. You’re not.
7. WHAT PART OF “NO” DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?
Let’s say you have a friend who’s made clear he doesn’t like seeing photographs of Nazi barbarity. So, when you find some truly grotesque photographs on a website of Nazi atrocities, you send them to him. He tells you again that he cannot tolerate seeing such pictures. A month later, you’re surfing your favorite sites and find that Life magazine has just released a cache of recently discovered photographs of Nazi atrocities. Entirely disregarding your friend’s insistence that he wants to see no more of these, you send them.
This is unacceptable. Listen to your friends and pay attention to what they say or email. Then respect their requests. If you don’t, you’re going to have fewer friends.
Just because you find such materials fascinating doesn’t mean everyone does. Far from it. For some, they’re horrifically painful. You can’t be expected to read anyone’s mind, but when you’re given precise information about what is unwelcome, either in word or in deed, don’t do it and expect your friend to be eager to hear from you again. Ever.
8. TAKING OUT YOUR ANGER AT YOUR FRIEND’S WIFE ON HIM
Your friend John is married to Jane. Jane supports some causes and takes some positions you oppose. News flash: John doesn’t control Jane. Don’t blame him for his wife’s actions or beliefs. The reverse is also true. Wives are married to their husbands; they’re not their husband’s puppeteers, any more than husbands can command their wives to think as they do.
Many couples who vote together cancel out each other’s votes and then go home and make love, not war. Hi, Mary!
Don’t take out your anger at your friend’s spouse on your friend. Just because people are married doesn’t tether them together ideologically, politically, or in any other way but one: they’re married. They don’t bear responsibility for each other’s actions, unless they’re in a criminal conspiracy together, which is unlikely to be the case with John and Jane.
By repeatedly carping about the behavior or political orientation you deplore in your friend’s spouse, you’re ignoring one big fat fact: your friend loves his wife. He’s not going to divorce her because you don’t like her or her views. If he can live with them, butt out.
You’ll only cause your friend to be so exasperated by your intolerance of the woman he loves that he won’t divorce her. He’ll divorce you.
* * *
There are many routes to the end of the road with friends. It’s disappointing, if not heart-breaking, to reach that point, but we all have our limits.
As the French poet Jacques Delille (1738 – 1813) wrote, “Fate chooses your relations, you choose your friends.”
— Belladonna Rogers
Send your questions about personal, political or any other matters to Belladonna Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence with her is confidential, and all names, locations, places of employment and ages of the parties will be changed to protect the privacy of the readers who write to contribute questions.