Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Life is Friends! Or something.

I've never been much for self-help books, but I picked one up on a whim at the library the other day anyway. It's called "Life is Friends" and was written by Jeanne Martinet, author of other instructional tracts on areas of personal deficiency like "The Art of Mingling." (BAH MINGLING.)

"Life is Friends" is basically one giant exhortation to socialize, with subheadings like "How to Create Friendship Flow Energy," "The Five Fatal Guesting Sins," and the somewhat disquieting "Playmates for Life." In no uncertain terms, Martinet orders us talk to strangers, chat up new friends, host dinner parties, and host house guests. I can't think of anything I dread more.

Like many of you, I am finding it harder and harder to make friends as I go through life. What used to be simple ("Hi. I'm Anne. Do you like sand?") has become dishearteningly complex ("You live all the way up there? And you have three dogs, two small children, and a parakeet? And you're only free Tuesdays at 9:00 PM?"). I do have a wealth of lovely, already extant friends, but an unfortunate majority of them live in other time zones.

Martinet's book reassured me that I've got the basic techniques down (test lines, laughter, low-stakes platonic dating), but illuminated my rather profound shortcomings in the area of effort. The effort required to make new friends outside of a university setting is just so...EFFORTFUL. Never turn down a party invitation, Martinet orders. Invite people into your home. But socializing is so draining! Hosting house guests sucks, and you have to clean twice!

Nevertheless, Martinet (her last name is hilariously suitable) has bullied me into resolving to do better. I will do better! I predict this resolution will last at least 45 minutes, until I have to decide whether or not to attend tonight's retirement party.

I hope the following sticks with me longer, because for all that I'm attuned to the differing positives of differing friendships, I can be obtuse about the negatives:
"One of the areas that gives us trouble is our expectations when it comes to the people in our lives. Often we are disappointed by a friend who [sic] we feel has not behaved the way we believe a friend should, and that disappointment hinders our continuing a relationship with him.

"It is very helpful to realize that you cannot expect all friends to be the same. Some friends will give more to you than you feel you are giving to them; some friends you will give more to them. Some people are better listeners than others; some are more entertaining. Some friends can offer sympathy; others can only provide practical help. Some friends can help you solve a problem; others are wonderful at showing appreciation when you help them..."
and so on. This I found less useful:
"So there you are, floating down the river of life in your canoe. What can you do, if anything, to cause friends to flow toward you more than they flow away from you? ...let me put it this way: You have to make your canoeing look good. People trying to navigate in their own canoes aren't going to want to get too close to you if you are flailing around, causing dangerous waves and splashes, and yelling, "Help me, I don't know how to steer this thing!"
I like the cranky splashers. Makes canoeing more interesting.

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