Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Ex-Friend Doctrine

A number of years ago I ran across an individual who used to talk about 'ex-friends'. The very idea struck me as somewhat puzzling. I had never come across, nor seen the need for such a notion before. Granted, there have been people in my life with whom I have been friends, but then have lost contact with. There have been other former friends whose lives have taken paths different from mine, such that over time, there was no common ground, thus making the friendship obsolete. Occasionally, I will run into people of both these types and it is still nice to hear what is happening and how they are doing. However, in neither kind of case does the term 'ex-friend' seem quite applicable.

When I made enquiries about the basis for this odd idea, the story was that these were people who had been friends, but who had, for apparently mysterious reasons, suddenly ceased to act in the normal friendly manner. Until recently, I was still very puzzled by this set of circumstances. Now though, I think that I am beginning to understand it.

The individual who proposed this idea probably counts as an ex-friend to me now, and I probably count as the same to them. Actually, as I have begun to understand this novel state of affairs, it is not necessarily a bad thing. This particular person has undertaken certain behaviors that are troublesome, meddlesome and extremely hostile towards me. By contrast, I have done nothing negative in return. Anyone who behaves in such a manner, for no apparent reason, probably deserves the title of an 'ex-friend'.

The individual in question has a number of slightly curious personality traits, that appear to have contributed to this circumstance. The most significant of these is the fact that they have an extremely rich fantasy life, that at times, they believe constitutes reality. It was when attempting to assert my true self, as opposed to meekly accepting the fictitious role I had been assigned, that the troubles began. I do not like to be attacked for views that I do not hold, or to be saddled with false assumptions. Newton's Third Law, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction", applies in such cases. My guess is that such 'breaking away from assigned character' is what made the other people in this person's life ex-friends too. They just got sick of putting up with the individual in question. As this person is strongly disinclined to admit fault, or accept blame, once such a circumstance is reached, no remedy is possible.

Unless some substantial personality changes occur, it seems likely that this ex-friend will retain this status. They like to be the center of attention. They feel a need to claim success, where there is none. They also believe that they are gifted with various kinds of 'special insight', that they actually lack. They profess clear and sound judgement, when fickleness and confusion are actually better descriptors. It is still a shame though. Insisting upon living in a fictionalized version of the world may have psychological advantages in the short term, but in the longer term, it will of necessity have real consequences, many of which are likely to be negative. To give just one example, alienating friends and allies can never be a good strategy.

As I have been reflecting upon this situation, I keep being reminded of certain lines from W. B. Yates, most notably from the poem "Easter 1916", although in many ways this poem addresses another topic. The lines I have in mind are:

"That [person's] days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
[Their] nights in argument
Until [their] voice grew shrill....

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone...

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?"

I'd be interested if anyone else has ever come across the 'doctrine of the ex-friend'. Any comments, or thoughts would be welcome. In the meantime, let us revel in the joyous New Year and leave weird ghosts of the past to their futile wanderings.

The CP


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