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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, September 10, 2007

Breaking up is hard to do

Mrs. B and me are fine.

But I am breaking up with a friend. Seriously. I meant to write this last week, upon making this decision. But I forgot, and a good friend - not the one in question - wrote something about it on her blog, reminding me to do the same.

So for the better part of nine years I have had two close guy friends, who have been about as close to best friends as possible for me. I say "as close," 'cause I'm just not 100% sold on that whole best friends thing, not since elementary school anyway. I'm like comedian Rick Reynolds, the guy who used to do the "Only the Truth is Funny" monologue: My friends have to earn their "rank" on a sliding scale. And I'm only half kidding. I don't need friends to do things for me. I need them to be there for me. More on that another time.

Anyway, the three of us have been like the Musketeers, or the Stooges, since the day we met at a journalism conference. The three of us, along w/four others, I think, had been invited as "emerging" writers, whatever that means. We have always been typical in the sense that we laughed over drinks and cigars. We debated women. We occasionally pursued women together. We could talk politics and sociology. We could talk the basest, crudest talk about romance, and snicker like school boys. We could talk religion. If one was physically threatened, we all rolled up our sleeves and prepared to give or take a thrashing, one for all, all for one. And if one of us was down and out, we could count on one another - right along with our girlfriends (at the time), or relatives - for emotional support. Our friendship reflected that biblical principle that says a true, close friend, is "closer than a brother."

I even had one old girlfriend joke that she had never seen guys comfortable enough in their own skin to open up to each other like family, the way we three had. Some guys would get squeamish at her comment. I took it as a compliment. I know who I am.

But our friendship has always had one problem: one of the guys has no filter. He doesn't know when to speak, when to bite his tongue, or how to think analytically the split second before speaking. And his internal issues - those he hasn't really shared - are such that to rein himself in would be "selling out" in his mind.

When he's on, he's a cool guy, a stereotypical good buddy. When he's off, he can be downright mean.

On the one hand he has joked with gradually increasing seriousness that me and the third guy are corporate shills, driven each day by "the man." On the other hand he regales us from time to time with his efforts to climb the ladder at his own company. It's different, he argues, for him, because he's climbing grudgingly and we appear to enjoy "the game."

For years we've made excuses for his untimely comments in mixed company, his insults to us, flung under the guise of him keepin' it real by always, always, speaking his mind. We've always said to each other "Oh, that's just (him) being (him)!" That line even became a mantra of sorts. And when he'd cross a line, one of us would check him. And, inevitably, after a short argument, he'd sheepishly apologize, say something like "I get it now," and then say how good it was that three guys with such different backgrounds could be friends 'cause it kept us grounded. We'd forgive. We'd all have a drink. We'd laugh it off. We'd move on...till the next incident.

But recently, he crossed the line one time too many with me. At a celebratory event, he blurted out some nonsense about questioning the need for us to be friends. It would have been harmless in any other setting. It took the wind out of the sails at this event. It soured the mood in the room.

We had our usual conversation afterwards, in which he insisted he meant no harm but he had to be "real."

Then the following day, at another event, he did it again. And something snapped in me. I've had enough. I'm done. Friendships shouldn't take this much work. I'm married now. And my wife and I don't have this much grief between us.

I spent the next couple of weeks out of touch with this buddy. And I finally reached the conclusion a few days ago. We can't be friends. I share some of the blame for this happening. If I had checked him harder back in the day and told him to grow up already, he either would have, or we would have decided long ago that we couldn't be friends. But I gave him pass after pass, because he always said sorry later. In a strange way I was a little bit of an enabler.

It's weird. I've never broken up with a friend before. I've had friendships that sort of faded into oblivion. But I've never made it a point to end a friendship.

I have to though. I'm too grown and too tired to keep sparring with this guy over his inability to filter himself sometimes and his lack of confidence that compels him to put down other people for trying. If he truly is just being himself, then he's gotta be him around some other friend.

Weird situation. Really, the old breakups with girlfriends? Those were tough. But I always got over them quickly and easily, because, frankly, I knew there was another young woman around the corner.

It's different with a plain old friend though. I don't like many people enough to consider them friends. And not many people other than my wife or my relatives can tolerate me enough to be my friend, my true friend.

I think, for the time being, my friend level will remain the same. I'm not taking applications for new ones. I'll continue to develop friendly acquaintanceships as they come my way. But for now no new friends. Too much work.

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  • Rule one: Don't be an ass. You can be true to yourself and not be an ass. If you are in a situation that makes you want to blurt out something inappropriate, leave; if you don't understand what's inappropriate, then stay at home. You're a menace.

    Sorry this went south on you. Good friends are worth their weight in gold, a good friend who can't rein in his BS is onlyu worth his weight in asswipe.

    By Anonymous og, at 5:58 PM  

  • What's "real" is diplomacy.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 9:33 PM  

  • You know what? I completely understand. I'm sorta at that point with a friend I've had for a long time, but haven't seen nor talked to in anothe long time. And I realized she pisses me off more often than not. She's a diva, not that I may not be, too, but it always revolves around her stuff, and she can be a snarky bitch when it isn't time to be a snarky bitch.
    She's also my pastor's wife, the church I haven't been to in awhile for a variety of reasons. Having spoken with others now I know why.
    But, anyway, the friend dissolution thing is hard. But has to be done at times.
    Good luck.

    By Anonymous Kim, at 9:59 PM  

  • I understand all too well. Everyone doesn't deserve the title friend. I happen to have some great ones, but I also have cut back quite a few. Some people are just toxic.

    By Blogger Lex, at 10:02 PM  

  • Sadly, this sounds like an idea whose time has come.

    I was in the same position recently with someone I've known since we were teenagers. Despite the fact that we have different value systems and that I have never liked any of her other friends, I put up with her constant put-downs on the basis of longevity.

    As you said, it was too much work (for too little reward.) I haven't replaced her. You don't really replace a person. But I took a stand because changing my life is always going to be up to me.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 10:36 PM  

  • I'm with Og on this one. Practicing tact at various degrees depending upon the situation does not mean you lack integrity.

    It doesn't sound like your friend was supportive. The situations you allude to also makes it sound as if he has pointed opinions regarding aspects of your life that have little to do with morality or judgement and therefore have little to do with playing the part of a concerned friend.

    Still sucks. Sorry to hear it.

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 11:23 PM  

  • I love my friends, but I have one or two that I could probably do without. As I get older my patience grows thinner for people that I have try to like. I think you did the right thing James. At this time in your life your going to need all of your sanity.

    By Blogger captain corky, at 6:29 AM  

  • James,

    It sounds like you're firing this man for being retarded--and that's what's sad, too.

    It sucks to get dropped by a friend but I dunno. Does this guy have a condition or something?

    By Blogger M@, at 10:33 AM  

  • Og, like I said, I blame myself a lot 'cause I let him get away with this crap for so long. One female friend teased me that I treated this like an abused woman making excuses for her brutish man. I don't know if I'd make that stretch of a comparison. But it's hard for me to argue her point.

    Sarc, agreed. It's easy to blurt out anything that comes to mind. Not so easy to exercise self control. I think it is. But I guess it isn't, from what I've seen.

    So Kim, what are you gonna do? Will the friend(s) in question maintain that title, or is there another step coming?

    Lex, "toxic" is a perfect word to describe what was going on here.

    HeartsinSanFran, you're right. Can't replace the bad friend. But then again, you're never really looking to replace, just to "upgrade" or add to what you already have. Excising an old friend should be a last resort, I think.

    Queen, this friend's biggest problem was that he had image issues. He felt like any effort to mix, mingle, and "play the game" at work constituted being fake. But he only felt that way about other folks. About himself, he's always been in denial. It made for an annoying game.

    Corky, "sanity" is worth the separation.

    Matt, if he was genuinely retarded that would be one thing. But this guy had no diagnosable condition. He just didn't want to grow up.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:42 AM  

  • I completely understand as I am in a similar situation.

    I thought I'd already posted a comment about it.

    By Blogger Turnbaby, at 12:18 PM  

  • I've been through this. I'm sorry it's come to this for you, but making the decision to protect your boundaries is a good thing.

    By Blogger katrice, at 1:48 PM  

  • Hard to thing to do to kill a longterm friendship. But it appears your differences are too far apart to bridge with the standard pass.

    Hard as it is, it is probably the best thing you can do as a friend to end the current status quo.

    By Blogger dennis, at 4:33 PM  

  • This may be a duplicate reply, but I'm still chicken and haven't decided on any particular "positive" step. Things are just hanging right now.

    By Anonymous Kim, at 2:57 PM  

  • Wow, I can totally identify with what you're saying, and it must be difficult... Kudos to you for taking your feelings seriously, and taking the initiative to make a change.

    Great post!

    By Blogger Aunt Jackie, at 4:00 PM  

  • I know it for a different reason (abusive boyfriend) but being 'real' or as my boyfriend used to say 'honest and open-minded' can be a way to cover up abusive language. The way you can tell it from being 'real' for real is the intention behind it and the intention here is to hurt. Then you understand (as you did) that what is important is what he did, not what he said he did.

    By Blogger sillysquirrel, at 2:05 PM  

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