There comes this moment, in any relationship where you define what the relationship is, and it isn’t. In romantic sorts of relationships, this is fraught with peril but at least has a somewhat predictable trajectory. At the definition points – are we actually dating and what does that mean – should we formalize this through marriage, some sort of domestic partnership, or are we comfortable with planned ambiguity – you make choices and you have to talk to another person to do this. At least in romantic relationships, there is language and an expectation that you will have these conversations.
I suppose what I’m really saying is that I can point to a conversation where Mr. Spit and I started dating, I can remember the moment where Mr. Spit asked me to marry him, and I can point to the day that I did marry him. I can, for the record, point to times where we have consciously chosen to stay married, in spite of other options.
What of friendships then? I am genuinely curious. Did any of you ever approach a friend and say “I’d like to make you my best friend?” At least in my life, it just sort of happened, and we fell in with each other and rubbed along. In some cases rubbing along turned into friction and the friendship moved in another direction, and in some cases we are still rubbing along. I have a friendship that started off wonderfully, we simply clicked, and now it has turned into a thing of convenience. I have no expectations of them, they are fine with this; but perhaps don’t realize that the result of having no expectations of them is a friend that you can’t rely on. Where you can’t rely on someone, there is no sense of mutuality. Thus while it becomes easier for them because they are free to get in touch or not, say they will do things and not do them, you move them to a level of convenience. “I will talk to you if I feel like it, if I am not busy, if I don’t have something that I want to do more.”
And unlike a romantic relationship, the friendship just moves in that direction. You get hurt, you move the relationship away from being so close to your heart – to a level where you aren’t hurt any more, but you never quite say “here’s what this means. Is this what you want? Because honestly this isn’t what I want and I suspect that in the next six months I will quietly drift away. In the interim, let’s not make this out to be something that it’s not.”
I have a fairly significant set of nieces and nephews – 9 of them- and it’s worth pointing out that most of them – something like 78% of them – aren’t related to me in any way at all. I’ve just kind of found them in various ways, realized that maybe I had something to offer them, and taken them on. There is no formal process for this – there was never a moment where I said “I’d like to adopt you as a niece or nephew, if I may. Here’s what I will do as your aunt: I will feed you and listen to you and offer you care and concern, advice, mostly when you want it and occasionally when you don’t”. No, I just started signing my name as Aunt Cheryl to cards and treating them as a niece or nephew. In some cases they call me Aunt, and in some cases they don’t, and either way is fine.
And then there is friction of a sort, and maybe there’s blame on both sides, and you realize that this kid is family to you, even though you want to strangle them with both hands, you realize that you are invested, and being an Aunt is not a matter of friendship – I owe you my fealty and care even when you don’t want it. Let’s not make this out to be something that it isn’t.
The challenge is, when you say “something that it isn’t”, it seems to be that there are times you need to talk about the semantic meaning of “something” and “isn’t”. Those conversations, I am finding, are not so easy to have.