A few weeks ago I linked to a news item about the sharp rise in the number of children calling a UK national helpline because they feel lonely. Many of the kids who called said that they had no friends. This got me thinking about friendship. Actually it didn’t start me thinking (I’m always thinking about friendship) but it got me to create a “tag” for friendship. (Tags are ways of organizing contents on this site according to topic so, say, you go to the “Health” tag and find all the pieces and news items that have appeared on this site on the subject of health.)
When I registered my “private school” to comply with California homeschooling laws I gave it the name of the elementary school that I went to. The minute I got the electronic confirmation for creating my school I emailed two of my friends from that school to give them the news. My friendship with these two goes back to when we were four years old, in preschool. We are still friends with many of our schoolmates from those times and thanks to the internet we still manage to stay in touch, although most of us are now scattered around the world. And this is the circle just from that school. I have close circles of friends from high school, college, and graduate school, not to mention family friends whose parents were friends with my parents. To me, friendship is what makes life tolerable.
As I am writing this my son walks over and takes a peek at what I’m writing. “Remember what I told you about friendship?” he asks me. I can’t recall it so he repeats it for me: “Friendship is a way of hatred.”
Say what…? I don’t remember hearing that. What does he mean by that?
“Friends get jealous of each other and start making fun or hurting each other because they get jealous of them hanging out with some other friends,” he explains. “Unless they are true friends… If you are true friends even if you have a fight you usually forget about it and become friends again.”
This is interesting. I started this blog to write about my own ideas – and really, nostalgia – about friendship and my son comes over and punctures my writerly bubble. (Aren’t they good at that?!) I was not going to write about jealousy. But now I’ve got to explore it with Jack. I ask him if he has true friends. “Yes,” he says, “Dylan, Chris and Evan.” What makes them true friends? “They don’t get mad at me if I play with other kids. They don’t get jealous.”
There was one boy who wanted to be Jack’s friend really badly a few years ago. “You’re my best friend, right? Right, Jack?” he would endlessly repeat. Then this same kid became one of Jack’s tormentors (not part of the bullying gang but equally hurtful). Jack said that this boy became jealous when Jack played with other kids and avenged himself by saying nasty things to Jack. I knew of this story and I asked Jack if he got the idea of friendship creating jealousy from this experience. “No,” he said. “I already knew that. Everyone knows that.”
I wish I could hear more about this but Jack says this and walks away. I call him back. He doesn’t want to talk any more. “I told you,” he says. “Friends get jealous and hurt each other.” But I insist. I want to hear about how to be “true friends.” This is his final words of wisdom:
“You hang out with them until you’re sure they’re your true friends. If you’re not true friends just hang out but not too frequently – just hang out without being friends so they won’t get jealous.”
This is as much as I can get out of him. He just derails my blog and walks away!
So where was I…? I was going to wax eloquent about my own wonderful friendships. And it’s true. I do have many deep and deeply satisfying friendships. Were there no jealousies? Yes there were. Two of my friends especially come to my mind and some of that jealousy friction still exists between them. There is a long history of hurt between them and although a sort of competition for friendship with me has at times been caught up in it, their troubled relationship does not really have to do with me.
What’s confusing about Jack’s comments is that jealousy is the last thing that comes to my mind when I think about friendship. Yes, it was an element that did creep into my friendships at times but it did not play such an important part in the making and breaking of friendships. Is there a major difference in mindset between me and my son?
What I remember doing as a child – and what I hear my son expressing as a desire – is playing with many kids, having many friends. So there’s no difference between us there. Could the difference be in the expectations of our milieu? Could it be that back in my childhood non-exclusive friendships were more accepted than they are now? Could it be that including and excluding individuals in and from groups are more part of this generation of kids than they were of mine?
I think perhaps the culture of friendship has changed. Perhaps friendship is now modeling itself after romantic relationships – where else is the element of jealousy coming from? And perhaps, worse than that, being part of groups – belonging to gangs, in a way – is what’s defining friendship.
Could that be it?