Sunday, May 19, 2013

Foul-Weather Friends

For as long as I can remember I've been taught the little importance that can and should be given to fair-weather friends: friends who are always with you when times are good but desert you the moment you’re in trouble. The implication, of course, is that all other friends are perfectly fine. In other words, if F is the set of friends you have and W are all your fair-weather friends, you would be better off leaving that set out and hanging out with all your (F-W) friends instead.

If only things were that simple. Fair-weather friends may deserve to be shunned but foul-weather friends aren't much better.

What is a foul-weather friend? A friend who’s with you only when times are rough.

Why that sounds like the perfect friend, you might say. After all, who doesn't need friends when they’re in deep shit? And it’s true. Life is full of crises, the big ones like the death of a family member and the little ones like when you've lost your car keys. In either case, it’s always best to have a friend by your side while you deal with whatever life chooses to hurl at you.

But that’s not the reason people make friends. If that’s all you want in a friend, you’re better off taking out an insurance policy. Does exactly the same thing but a little more reliable and much more helpful in real times of need.

No, people make friends so that they have someone to talk to and have fun with. Important as it is to have a friend in need (who, most of the time at least, actually is a friend indeed), it’s just as important to have a friend in those times when you want to enjoy life, when for just an hour or two you want to forget about the fact that you’re financially dependent on your parents, hence robbing you of any kind of independence, financial or otherwise, that the fact that they raised you automatically exempts them from any blame should you happen to be dissatisfied with life and that any expression of the same on your part is, of course, willful, immature, irresponsible behavior that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you've been spoiled rotten.

It’s important to have a friend to laugh at the stupid things with because God knows you've been made to feel stupid and inadequate so many times that you’re convinced you constitute that little bit of floating scum in the gene pool that natural selection is designed to scoop out before it has the chance to spread.

It helps to have a friend you can objectify women with because, after all, it really doesn't matter how you treat them seeing as you’re branded a misogynistic chauvinist pig the moment you’re born and any attempt to prove that such a branding is unwarranted through acts of courtesy and kindness are gladly accepted and easily forgotten. Then, just when an easy smile convinces you that perhaps you've met someone you can have a nice quiet conversation with, the same smile tells you quite sweetly that you mean nothing to it. You can’t object, of course, the smile is so kind and understanding and full of pity.

Not that pity without action is worth a damn thing. No, those people who say they pity you and then ignore you for the next six months because they, of course, have more important things to do with people who are more interesting than you and then ask you in an accusatory tone why you've been ignoring them all this while rendering you speechless at the injustice of it all, those people are just another species of the foul-weather friend.

A word now on why the foul-weather friend is just as abhorrent as the fair-weather variety. A foul-weather friend is a friend in times of need. Only in times of need. All those times I've told you about, they’re never around for those times. Or perhaps they are there but not because you called them. No, they’re there because they called you, they made the plans, they call the shots, you’re the guest. Because much as people try to deny it, there is a hierarchy, even in friendships.

But those times when you want to hang out, they’re too busy. And you can’t blame them for it. After all, they have other friends. Ones who are a lot more fun to hang out with. Who don’t need to check and double-check with their parents before they can make it for whatever outing they've been invited to and want to go for. Who don’t need to borrow cash and feel humiliated while asking for it. In fact, ‘borrow’ isn't even the right word. That money’s a gift and don’t you forget it. And it won’t be forgotten, no not by a long shot. Even if the guilt of having it in your pocket doesn't eat at you, rest assured, it will be brought up again in the future. Repeatedly. Disapprovingly. Not that you can say anything about it, of course. That would just be ungrateful.

Friends who have cars that they can drive to people’s houses. Friends who don’t need to study because their parents force them to, holding them up to a yardstick their elder siblings have made but not for this purpose, surely, or because they honestly worry about the future, lying awake at night wondering what they could possibly do for a living, what they don’t suck at, what they’d be happy doing, what would pay well.

Friends who can stay late. Friends who can laugh in their parents’ faces because they haven’t been made to feel acutely exactly how much they owe them, even if it wasn't done consciously.  

Friends who smoke. Friends who drink. Friends who steal. Friends who break some law or the other sheerly for the thrill of it. Friends who can silence that little part of their brains which tells them what could go wrong, what could get them in trouble, what could kill them.

Those are the friends foul-weather friends like to surround themselves with. The ones they keep in touch with all their lives. The ones they call over to their houses and in whose houses they seem to spend half their lives. The ones they make up little nicknames for. And you can’t blame them if they have those friends and you don’t. After all, that’s your problem and your fault.  

God help you if you’re not one of those friends. Because then you risk being reduced to an accessory. Oh, you’re tolerated but that’s about as far as it goes. Sure, there are vehement proclamations of undying friendship but they’re usually drowned out by all those times you've been kept waiting by the phone for three hours for a call that, when it finally comes, is only to tell you there’s been a change in plans and you can meet up with the gang later if you want to. You can’t though, of course, the venue’s been changed and you’re not quite sure what you’d do in a group which clearly has been doing perfectly fine without you for the last three hours, thus making you painfully aware of what Amitav Ghosh once called the ‘inequality of needs’.

And of course, true to their name, foul-weather friends will help you out when you’re in trouble. But after all you've come to know about them, you wonder if it’s out of any real concern for your well-being or simply another ego-trip, a way to feel superior by lending a hand or some advice to the oddball.

Oh yeah, that’s what you are. Didn't you get the memo? The one who’s privately mocked for being such a pussy. The one who always needs to be talked into doing fun stuff. The one who always seems to be busy. The one who won’t shut up when he isn't. You know, the guy everyone likes but only in small doses.

And of course, just like with your parents or with girls who very sweetly reveal to you that you’re less attractive than that sweaty guy with half a brain and an iPhone who thinks Shah Rukh Khan is quite possibly the world’s most versatile actor, you can’t really complain. After all, they've always helped you out when you've needed it. So where do you get off complaining?

If it’s really that big a problem then it’s undoubtedly your fault. Unless the same problem affects them in which case it is, again, your fault. Either way, you better have an appetite for humble pie.

And it is your fault really. You’re the one who’s spineless. You’re the pussy.

If things haven’t been working out for you, it means your strategy is wrong. Being yourself won’t get you friends, pretense will. If you have a problem with that, that’s your fault.

If you have trouble attracting people, you’re not treating them right. You have to trick them into liking you. If you think that’s demeaning their intelligence, you’re wrong. People have to be deceived. Either that or you need to show dominance like some goddamn silver-back gorilla. Because women don’t have more than half a brain to judge people with. Not that you can ever accuse them of it. No. And not that you can apply the same logic to them. No. That would be stupid. And that would be your fault.

Don’t complain either. That would be sulking. Or being melodramatic. Or being whiny. Or thinking life is like the movies. Grow up. If you haven’t, that’s your fault.

So now that you know what they look like, can you figure out if you have any foul-weather friends? Or if you’re one yourself? It shouldn't be too hard to work out. Sooner or later, you learn how to recognize them. How to spot the warning signs.

The first ones are friends who mock you for being polite. If you've ever said please or thank you or apologized to a friend without being forced to do so, if you've ever consulted them before doing anything that involves them in any way, if you've ever asked for their permission before using their stuff and had them laugh in your face for it, that’s a warning sign.

“Friends don’t do that.”

It’s true. But if you can’t force that kind of comfort either. You need to let it grow. And laughter’s no fertilizer.

Because that reveals a certain something about people. On some level, people are going to take you for granted. They’re going to assume you’ll always be free, that you’ll go along with everything they say. And if you don’t, they’re going to assume it’s because you’re a bad friend. Or if it’s because you need to listen obediently to your parents sometimes and not your friends, you’re weak. Contemptible. Laughable.

And then the next thing you know, you’re the afterthought. The guy who’s invited minutes before the party begins. The guy who isn't missed when someone’s forgotten to invite him. The guy who sits at home all day and reads because no one calls.

The good thing is, you can learn to live with the knowledge that you’ll always be that guy. No matter what you try, you’ll never be the kind of friend they’ll hang out with. Not without compromising on a lot of your principles.

So learn to be that guy. Learn to block yourself off from people. Learn to find pleasure in work rather than human company. Learn to enjoy your own company. Or, if you loathe yourself too much for that, learn to distract yourself. Work out. Watch a movie alone. Start a blog that no one reads. Basically, keep yourself occupied.

And then, one day, you’ll find that because you secluded yourself, you’re the best in your field. And that’s when people will start flocking to you. Most of them will be fair-weather friends, but it’ll be a nice change of scene after all the foul-weather ones. Cultivate them. Or don’t. Shun them, openly show your contempt for them, treat them like dirt. People love that. Especially girls.

You’ll find life is a lot more fun when you’re convinced it’s meaningless. You’ll find people a lot more likable when you hate every single one of them. And you’ll find you have a lot more time to work on something big, something people will remember you by, something that’ll ensure you’re never forgotten. Most people have kids for the same reason. But then you’re that little bit of floating scum in the gene pool that natural selection is designed to scoop out before it has the chance to spread. So that option isn't really open to you.

Never mind. You probably wouldn't be able to respect anyone for marrying you anyway. And God knows you’d hate your kids. Probably screw them up worse than your parents screwed you up, well-meaning as they were.

No, better to die a bastard surrounded by people who loathed you but are forced to say nice things about you because of the void you leave in the world after you’re gone. Either that, or reconcile yourself to a futile unhappy existence unpunctuated by the occasional satisfaction derived from hurting the people around you.

Especially the foul-weather friends.

In conclusion, we live in a cruel, superficial society, quick to judge and quick to punish.

About time you got with the programme.

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