“Are you friends with so-and-so? Well then I can’t be friends with you because I hate her guts.”
“Why are you talking to that guy? He’s an idiot. I can’t believe you’re friends with them; I’m not sure if I can be your friend.”
“If you become her friend, we can’t be friends any more.”
I’ve been part of, as well as listened in on, enough conversations by now to hear this bit of drama on a regular basis.
What does it mean when someone bases their friendship and acquaintance decisions on who is in your circle? Is the six degrees of separation not, as I would think, separate, but actually intertwined?
I have been party to both sides of the coin:
1) I have been told by a handful of people not to associate with a certain colleague. They were people I trust and like, and we share similar interests. However, either because I’m stubborn or just a masochist, I am one of those people that, for some reason, has to learn on their own. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and hope that my friends’ experiences with that person were singular and unique to them, and somehow my interaction with that person would turn out differently, in a positive way.
Of course, I was wrong. Wait… Should I have written “of course” there? Should the majority consensus rule my decisions on how something turns out? No. But in this particular case, they were right, I was wrong — and I made the appropriate phone calls of apology for not having listened to them. I licked my wounds from learning on my own, knowing that my friends were thinking in my best interest.
Would I listen to them again? Perhaps. But more than likely, no. I’m just one of those people that think that each interaction is different. I’ll probably have to lick my wounds again… but luckily, my friends are those that will not judge me when I go against their advice. They’re like me, and when I make those mistakes despite their better judgment, they will accept my apology with open arms.
2) I recently was the one on the other side of the fence. I had told someone that a mutual acquaintance was someone whom I did not trust. I made sure that I told the person that it was up to them whether or not they talked to this person who had wronged me, because who was I to dictate who my friends could and could not see? If they got along, great – if not, I would be there for them. I’m able to be friends with people who are friends with people I don’t like; not everyone gets along with everyone else. Punishing someone because they get along with someone you don’t like isn’t compassionate, now is it?
Unfortunately, the person and I had a falling out of our own, and when she migrated to the person who I had warned her about, she shared my distrust of her newfound friend. It resulted in receiving some hate mail from the person I had warned her about, including some rather strong physical threats. I sent a polite email back stating my position, and ignored the rest of the messages that were sent my way. After all, I don’t say anything about anyone I wouldn’t say to their face.
I am not sure if they are still “best buds” or not.
What did I learn? Did I learn that I shouldn’t warn people about others? Did I learn that I should keep my mouth shut and not share my experiences for the possible benefit of others? Rather, I learned that if you’re going to dole advice, or pass judgment, even if you leave the decision making up to the person you are talking to, you better be able to back up your claims. I was able to, so I was also able to walk away from that drama without humiliation.
So, what’s the lesson here? If I could pass along some of my own advice, it would be this:
- If you care who your friend’s friend is, then you probably have more time on your hands than I ever will. Perhaps a hobby might be in order, or a nice book?
- If you make your friendship decisions based on who your friend’s friends are, then, well, you probably have no original thoughts. Do you really like being a lemming?
- If you need to warn a friend about a questionable person, business, or product – be able to back it up with facts. FACTS. Not hearsay, not supposition, not idle obsessive “deduction”. You know what they say about assumptions.
- If you do warn a friend about something/someone who is suspect, and they decide to try it anyway, be there for them if they decide they made a mistake and come back.
- If you do warn a friend about something/someone who is suspect, and they decide that they are compatible, then be happy for them. Don’t chastise them just because they succeeded where you failed. They were able to find a connection that you were not able to achieve — whether that’s good or bad, is dependent on the individual. Not you.
Yes, I know. I mess up from time to time too. But reminding yourself that not only do you falter but so do the people around you as often as you can, can be the difference between a bitter, lonely person and someone who is willing to forgive, embrace change, and bend. Making sure that the six degrees of separation are indeed separated rather than a tightly wound bundle of sticks means that when arguments arise, that bundle doesn’t go up in flames. Allowing others to live their own life, while allowing them to enrich yours in their own way, without interference, may be a utopian ideal but is definitely one that I feel we can’t stop striving towards.
Have you had any interactions where your friendships were questioned? Have you questioned someone’s friendships? Were you able to rise above, or did you let your selfish motivations get the better of you?
More on this, and how it applies to social media, marketing, and business in general to come for you to read…of course, unless you’re a friend of anyone I may not like… j/k.