Sunday, June 08, 2008

We choose our friends?

We were talking about D and J the other morning, and quite what the nature of our friendship with them is. We were by no means unequivocal. They are our dear good friends with whom we feel quite at ease, and they drive us mad.

Be assured, they will will not read this; she has little understanding of or interest in computer-related matters, which therefore are a pointless waste of time, he, in his mid-eighties (she is somewhat younger), is remarkably competent and quick to pick things up, but his interest in computers and the internet is purely practical. Also though, the idea of reflection on oneself or other matters, the examined life, of seeking to understand more deeply, which I think this kind of blogging at its best should lead one to, is alien to both of them, I think. They simply don't understand why I do it, are dismissive of it, and so I no longer try to talk about it.

I explored the idea that I see the relationship with them as a little like that with my parents. Some of the dynamic that marred things between my parents and myself is present with them too: they have, in my eyes, a tendency toward prejudice on certain matters verging on bigotry, a mental and spiritual laziness giving rise to glibness and conviction as to the rightness of their own opinions, and, with J especially, an exasperating tendency to repeat herself and go over matters from the past which we know all about already and didn't find very interesting in the first place. All this, of which I'm probably equally guilty but blind to, or I will be when I'm old, triggers a reaction of irritable impatience and smart-arsedness on my part worthy of any stroppy adolescent, which I usually curb but not always. Yet there is the kind of safe familiarity and appreciation that they will always be themselves and one will always receive a welcome that is the positive side of a good parental-filial bond.

Another way in which they may be akin to parent figures, at least within my experience of the family model, is that they rather form the central connecting knot of our friendships with other, generally younger, people. We may really like and admire B and D better, for example, yet we have a little trouble relating to them without reference to D and J, and when we see them on our own, frequently end up talking about the older couple, often with a degree of rueful exasperation. This is quite reminisicent of siblings, I feel.

D has no children, J has sons around my age, not in France, daughters-in-law she gets on well with, but no daughters. She and I sometimes go shopping, have coffee, exchange novels, recipes and non-malicious gossip. On a day to day level, she knows me quite well, but little of my history. She is fairly incurious, I am fairly guarded, but if one is in reaction to the other, or if that is our general default position, I'm not sure. She is one of the few people I am quite at ease with on the 'phone. When I answer and it is her, my voice lightens with relief, she hears this and laughs, and we slip into comfortable chit-chat for as long as we feel inclined, even if we're seeing each other later.

So, it could be seen that we are a little like surrogate mother and daughter. Yet there are important differences too. J is a very positive person, a galloping extrovert and seems very secure in her self-esteem. She is good at asking for what she needs, but not emotionally needy. She never drains me. We sometimes feel quite exasperated at her adoration of her favourite son, who seems incapable if fulfilling any commitment to her except for occasionally flashing his money about, and that not as often as he says he will, but she genuinely seems to feel no sense of disappointment or reproach. Indeed, reproach, like malice or jealousy, doesn't seem to be much in her nature.

By contrast, my mother was a sensitive, thoughtful, perceptive person, very considerate of others and tactful, but with wounds deep down to her self-esteem that could never really be healed, only ignored or covered over for a time, but which erupted painfully when life, especially in the form of her family, disappointed her, and as the skin of her spirit grew fragile with age. Reproach was a fairly large part of her being, certainly by the time I was growing up. The more keenly I felt this, the more I pulled away from her, and then the more she had to reproach me for. I am a far better surrogate daughter to J out of goodwill, than I was a real and dutiful daughter to my mother. Am I trying to make amends? It may be so.

J is undergoing chemotherapy at the moment, as I've mentioned before. Fear, exacerbated by a Job's comforter or two distressed her at first, but now the treatment is underway, she's embarked on it with a notable degree of positivity, treating it rather as a creative project, something going on round which to organise her life and busy herself finding ways to make as bearable as possible.

"Come on Monday, D'll appreciate the drinking company, and I won't feel like socialising for a bit after Tuesday's treatment."

"Couldn't make the the Tuesday's, the white blood cells were too low, so I took advantage of the week's parole to do such and such... and it means I've still got a bit of hair for a bit longer."

"I went to the material shop and bought some pretty bits for scarves..."

Unable to take alcohol, she has become a connoisseur of fruit juice blends,

"... and now I've bought a blender to make smoothies. It's good for D too, he's so lazy about eating fruit."

She told me about the blender on the 'phone the other day, and we fell to talking about these. They were, I recalled, among the first bits of motorised kitchen gadgetry to appear, after hand-held mixers and before the full-blown food processors. My mother had one, a Sunbeam I think, she was always a great one for electrically powered kitchen hardware. I recounted how she used to do our milk drinks in it to make them frothy, and that my brother's preferred cold Nesquick chocolate sometimes finished with buttery bits in it, since, as the second wave of post-war and rationing offspring, we lived off the fat of the land, including gold-top Channel Island milk with everything. (This probably accounts for the relatively svelter shapes and better looks of my older sublings...). J, who lived in Guernsey with the second of her three husbands - another area in which she differs significantly from my mother - concurred on the tendency of Channel Island milk and cream to turn to butter at the drop of a hat, or third turn of a whisk.

"It was nice, though," I said "coming home from school to frothy warm chocolate. My childhood wasn't bad really."

J laughed

" I can see you suffered terribly!"


Lesley said...

I enjoyed this so much that I read it twice. I recognise many of these traits in myself and my friends, especially the "mental and spiritual laziness giving rise to glibness and conviction as to the rightness of [my] own opinions, and, ... an exasperating tendency to repeat [myself]."

Jen said...

Ah, as a good Jersey girl myself, I smiled at those globs of fat and stiff milk.

Your post has reminded me that our friends are the family we choose. It's an essential of life, even when they drive us bananas.

Food for thought, thank you. X

Anonymous said...

Wonderful reflection. Thank you for your insights.

I've sometimes felt that "friends" have chosen me and have found it difficult to modulate the relationship to one which does not make me uncomfortable.

An examined life makes such things easier, in my experience.

Anonymous said...

Lovely, thank you!

Zhoen said...

We have to love those we love entire, don't we?

Catalyst said...

That's a wonderful, thoughtful post, Lucy. Thanks for making me think.

Rosie said...

I am told that only children treat friends rather like substitute siblings. It is true that I am still in contact with friends I have made from childhood onwards and a very varied lot they are too...warts and all! They all seem to be younger or my age though...No parent substitutes.Perhaps I should advertise.

HLiza said...

Lucy, when I read this..I feel relief that I'm not the only person in the world who doesn't have perfect parents..or admit not having it. And friends too..

Pam said...

Yes, I spend quite a lot of time with my mother, and though she's lovely, and amazingly fit and bright for her age (86) I do find myself mentally compiling lists of things I must try not to do when old, such as to complain about the way the country is going down the tubes and to overreact to minor problems ("I've had another disaster..."). Interesting post.

Lucy said...

Ah, thank you people! Goodn't get on last night because the blasted internet went down...

Leslie - hello! Don't I sound terribly judgemental? Yes, I've certainly started to repeat myself. Sometimes I think it's OK, as when one observes and remarks on the same seasonal phenomena every year, there's a comforting familiarity. When I was younger I would have found it deeply sad and annoying though!

Spiral - I only just found out youcame from Jersey. We do choose our friends, of course, but I'm not quite sure how much control we have over it, as other comments here too bear out. There's another less well known saying 'our friends aren't necessarily the people we like the most, there just the ones that got there first'. But once they're there, we have to make what we can of it I suppose, and I have found it often takes me, at least, a long time to establish friendships, so there is an investment there which is valuable in itself.

rr - great to see you. I think to some extent for certain kinds of people, the examined life is something you don't have any choice over, so the question is to find the best way to live it. I quite envy the people who really don't have to do it, like our friends, because of course it can be a torment. D says when he wakes in the night going back over his past as old people do, he does so without pain or remorse,quite neutrally, whereas the same experience for my mother was hellish.
I sometimes think I opt for friendships that offer little challenge, the easy people, for comfort, when I should be prepared to take on more difficult people who may be more rewarding. And then there is the phenomenon of 'couple friends'...

ML - thank you for reading!

Z - I guess we do, and the acceptance of that comes with maturity, though there's still been times I've buggered up, thinking I can do more to change people, or that I love them more than I can... I like the new portrait, btw, you look like a 19th century novelist or poet!

Cat - thanks me dear.

Rosie - probably inevitable with marrying much older not having kids and coming here too, that a lot of my friends are older. Also being the child of older parents I think disposes one more to the company of older people,though that's varied through my life. But I've also acquired a few lots of younger friends in the last years who are very important to me, Princeling's mum, my young students... Old friends are a bit like siblings though, in that they've been there almost all along, and are irreplaceable.

Hliza - more universals, I think! I suppose I wish I could have done more to look at and improve the relationship while they were still alive, but you go on learning! And it's sometimes a case of finding a balance between being honest and being positive.

Isabelle - you make me laugh as ever! I'm already doing the bit about how the world's going down the tubes, changing country just widens one's perspective a bit... I'm glad your mum's still well!

Helli said...

nice one Dear Loot !

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late here.

What a thought-provoking post. I always got on best with my grandparents rather than my parents. My mother and I are very distant these days. I did go through a phase of having a few older friends and I think that was after my grandparents died - a sort of subconcious need for a bit of replacement therapy. I don't anymore.

My ex-inlaws lived in the house where Ken Wood invented his Kenwood Chef! I've had a fondness for food mixers ever since!!!

apprentice said...

I'm glad your friend is taking chemo in her stride. It is good to do nice things when you feel good and to rest up when you don't.
And to chalk each one off and celbrate being nearer the end of it.

I like to idea of surrogate mothers, mine died young and sadly most of the other women of her generation I've met including my MIL have had major issues/problems. But I'm now coming across women in their 70s who are very inspiring, whether it be coping with their bi polar children or looking after their difficult,ill men and yet still managing to fully engaged with life.

vicki johnson said...

That "Channel milk" sounds marvelous!! Like the delectable stuff i grew up on...we would leave clean gallon jugs on a table inside the dairy farmer's barn and return the next day to pick it up...with it's thick, layer of cream on the top...but Channel milk sounds even richer than ours!...and...since it's blazing hot here today, i'm remembering more about the milk: In our endless summer heat there in the American desert southwest, my mother would put the milk in the freezer until it turned into a slushy, icy treat to be poured over bread (i blogged about that in my foodie blog) or drunk with cookies...Oh! i'm salivating even as i type!!

Lucy said...

Helli, thank you!

RB - what one learns! I never knew the Kenwood Chef was invented by someone called Ken Wood. I have reacted rather against my mother's penchant for motorised things in the kitchen, and dislike large food processors. I have a Braun multipractic hand held job I find very handy though!

Apprentice - yes, she's doing OK, and finding things she can enjoy to replace what she can't do, a trip to the beach instead of a meal, for example. She's more relaxed about the hair loss than she expected, and looks quite elegant in scarves and hats, though she's quite pleased with her wig she doesn't feel the need to wear it all the time. Those brave upbeat older ladies do offer some hope, don't they?

Zephyr - the milk came from Jersey/ Guernsey cows,it was lovely in many things but not so good in tea. One usually had to pour off the top part and use the rest separately. The blue tits (like chickadees?0 loved to raid the bottles on the doostep, pecking through the gold foil tops to get the cream. J said an old Guernsey woman delivered the milk to them, they'd have one gold top and two semi-skimmed, and the old lady would always say rather contemptuously 'One bottle of real milk and two of that other stuff!'.

Elizabeth said...

I've had many a surrogate mother/friend in my life. I lost my mom when I was 12. My older sister and I are still very close...we 'took care' of each other for a long time. I had surrogate grandmothers, too. I used to go around the neighborhood "visiting" in the afternoons...playing dominoes and watching baseball games...learning to sew and knit and crochet...WHAT a blessing!!!
God Bless, EJT

Bee said...

I've read this post several times over the last couple of days . . . and have so much to say about it that I am tongue-tied.
First of all, you have a way of describing things that is simple, but also very eloquent and graceful. The paragraph about your mother was such a perfect description of my own mother -- and the feelings that I have about her -- that it left me feeling slightly shaken (but in a good way). I don't fear examining things; at least I think I don't.

Like you, I think, I've always had friends who are older than me. I've always had such a variety of quite disparate friends that I feel that I could never have one big party and invite them all. There is simply not enough commonality there. It fascinates me how we form friend-bonds -- and that each friendship brings out a certain aspect of our own personality. Like you, I am very loyal to longterm friends; indeed, I can never bear to let anyone go.

Last thought: I think that if you are a "questing" sort of person, always working to figure out your place in life, it is very comforting being around people who don't ponder or fret about such things. (People who don't suffer from "dark night of the soul.")

Best wishes to J as she undergoes her treatment.

Lucy said...

Elizabeth and Bee, thanks.

Elizabeth, what a blessed and brave soul you are, I'm so sorry you lost your mother, I can't imagine what that was like; what ever gripes I had with or about mine, at that age she was there and the thought of losing her would have been terrible. That you found blessings and comfort with the surrogates says much for them, but even more for you.

Bee - yes, it's so true that those peole are restful, even if they're sometimes a little tedious. It's always amused and surprised me how J manages to be both!

Only quite recently have I made any attempt to mix and match friends, I used to compartmentalise the people in my life to an almost pathological degree, that was very hard on them and on myself. Even now, I know there are people it would be nice to see again, but I hold off inviting them because I'm not sure how they'd fit into things now... I think some of us are just more sensitive about this, others seem to be able to throw different areas and parts of their lives together without the need to take responsibility for how they get on.

jzr said...

I also have friends like this who could care less about computers and especially blogging, but they are my age. Friendship is a very strange thing indeed and I have found through out my life that they can change. Friends as those I can learn from as well as cherish for who they are. I change, they change too and they seem to drift off onto their own paths, which is not bad. Others just grow closer. My favorite friends are those who I haven't seen in years and then we get together and it isn't evident that any time has passed. We just pick up where we left off!

Avus said...

Perfect reflections, Lucy. Parents are thrust upon us, but we can choose our friends. That does not mean they are perfect, but an oyster needs a bit of grit to make a pearl!

Anonymous said...

Loot this is from Brother Chris! - It's high time I commented on your blog. I haven't because I feel its been something of a work of art, beautifully constructed, so that others like me might feel unworthy of it. You have in a way exposed yourself and used your diary (I can see that the blog is less private than a diary inasmuch as it is instantly accessible to more people) to reinforced your persona, your self image, stitching words and pictures together to entertain and delight yourself (somebody said that writing was the most fun thing you could do on your own) as well as your readers and contributors. Its a thing that enables you to examine yourself as well as the ideas that pop up.
You know that about fifteen years ago I took on board the idea of pilgrimage as a route to self-expression and self examination. I'm still not sure if it helped me find myself or whether it helped my self-esteem, for in my dreams I am constantly afflicted by self-doubt. It's been more the stuff of history, an examination of ones ancestral culture and origins, and I feel I ought to move on into the present. Maybe your blog is helping you do soething I should be doing.
Your piece on the nature of friendship has prompted this response. It's a fairly brave thing to do as its almost taboo outside of ones own house. I don't know how many of us examine the nature of our friendships in your terms. We hold opinions about them, we need them, sometimes we just let them go for no good reason. Invariably as couples we are puzzled by other couples, how and why they survive, what attracted them to each other, and we might favour one over the other. The point is sometimes the dynamics of their relationship are as interesting as the couples are as individuals, although I suspect we would be slightly offended ourselves if we thought other couples were examining our relationship in the way we do them. The couples we get (or got)to know best might be our mothers and fathers yet most of us don't look to replace them when they're gone, although I'm not surprised if you think youi might have, it's just part of where you fit in to an older family.
It's the consensus that as daughters Mum demanded more from you than from her sons although I've not been able to work out why, or even if this is normal, or whether its been a reluctance on the part of women of her generation to allow a degree of liberation to daughters in the next. She always knew what was best for all of us and sometimes she was right, but nobody enjoys having their strings pulled and some of us were able to disappear into the sunset on our motorbikes, seeking the gratification of members of the opposite sex who might have resembled our mothers but we didn't notice because we had other things on our minds.
As an older person (and I think A feels the same) we don't tend to graduate to people older than ourselves, although we have a few older friends, for the reasons you suggest, that they tend to have a more fixed view of the world and a lack of curiosity. The young obviously have more vitality so we like to tap into it, although we might feel slightly about that and fear making prats of ourselves. I'm really pleased when younger people apparently want to befriend me. Apart from the vitality of youth which we crave, we tend to admire creative people and for that reason imagine they will make better friends. It may be the case that they are less likely to hold views that are fixed or bigoted and they may as people simply be more stimulating. Yet how many of us would make creativity a prerequisite for friendship? Mostly we seem to acquire friends in a random or accidental way although I'm sure the impulse to forge friendships changes as you move through life. Childhood friends or old friends are not the same as new friends. Friends through work are not the same as friends made on holiday. Friends in adversity or illness often have a stronger bond. Friends for business purposes are different again. Can we ever have enough friends? Sometimes A and I have been known to say that we have enough friends when probably what we mean is we have enough friends in the same category, which may be the fault of our lifestyle, or just that we're a pair of intolerant old buggers (am I allowed to use this sort of language on your blog?)Our problem might be that we're not active friend makers in that we don't go out looking for them with the purpose of creating a framework which gives our lives deeper meaning, we sometimes get drawn into somebody else's framework when we feel we might prefer to be reading books, having stimulating rather than mundane conversation etc.
I think one aspect of friendship was demonstrated to us recently when A was in hospital and some of her friends found visiting very much more difficult than others, as if visiting an ill person would somehow rub off on them, sap their vitality. Was this to be taken as a measure of their friendship, or a measure of their aversion to hospitals? Sometimes friendship may be measured by how friends react to extraordinary situations. When couples separate sometimes one may be apportioned blame which justifies terminating a friendship, which may or may not be fair. We can't always see each other through the eyes of our friends, their understanding our our deeper selves might be quite limited, especially if they find our hobbies or other lives a source of mystery or confusion.
Blog on regardless. Brother Chris.

Lucy said...

Chris, much matter here!

In fact, I don't feel as if I really said that much here, but obviously what I did say touched a chord with a number of people, and led them to respond with their own reflections and experiences, which is what the best blogging does, best in the sense of most fruitful, most successful. It is about self-expression but also about communicating.

There is no question of your not being worthy or welcome here, (on the other hand there's no obligation to visit or comment either!), I happily receive visits from all sorts, and all ages, from about 22 to about 82, and have come to love that about it. While I accept really I want it to be a crowd-pleaser, and as a public space, I will never be over-boldly intimate or confessional here, nevertheless, the bloggers I know are, I've found, gentle, caring, unjudgemental people, many of whom have been brave enough to share quite difficult things online, and I generally feel this is a fairly safe place. When I first started the very idea that I had anything to say that people might want to hear seemd a bit strange, but one's confidence grows.

One of the things you said in your comment which really made me say 'oh yes!', was that actually often we are as interested in the dynamic of a couple as we are about the individuals in it. I'd never quite recognised that before, but of course it's utterly so, and explains a lot!

Also the 'enough friends' response, that really we mean 'enough friends like that'! Sounds very cynical but it's true, isn't it? Because actually when someone comes along who's a breath of fresh air we find enough time and affection for them no trouble!

I sometimes think the people one befriends living here are a bit like the books one reads, not necessarily what you'd have picked out of a whole library shelf, but as they've come your way, you find they're quite interesting!

I think for other kinds of people, their default setting is sociability, they feel restless and miserable if they're not getting enough. I have to make an effort towards it, even with people I really like and/or feel perfectly comfortable with. The other day there was a question of resuming my regular morning coffee with Fi, which had lapsed for a week or two, and I said really I'd just as soon stay at home and write poetry. So, why don't you? was the inevitable response. Two reasons: 1)I'll enjoy it when I get there, and feel cheerful and happy afterwards, and 2)being sociable is 'getting out there', and as such is a justifiable activity which constitutes 'doing something', staying home writng poetry is total self-indulgence which I probably won't feel I can spend a morning on without feeling guilty, so it won't be successful anyway.

The people I've 'met' blogging have done a lot to reassure me about the positive possibilities of ageing.

I'll stop there for now, but I'm sure we'll continue this anon...

Zhoen said...

Stop by here sometime,