Boyfriends And Girlfriends and Enemies

Posted: October 14, 2013 in Identity, Scribbling On Foucault's Walls, Uncategorized, Writing
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‘Boyfriends/And girlfriends/And enemies/Those upon which we rely’ – Low

When I was a child I treated friendship as sacred. If I were to attempt some clumsy psychoanalysis of myself, these many years later, I might begin to see why. My parents broke up when I was four years old, and my world collapsed. (Unconsciously then), I think I decided that in my own life people would not be so unstable, unreliable, so breakable as my parents. But of course they were.

I say ‘child’ but this dangerous belief has of course followed me round through adulthood, so that when friendships (and romantic relationships) have broken down, I have felt a loss, an inadequacy, an anger, a shame, akin to that first big break-up of my early life. It wasn’t my fault. But nobody told me that at the time. And, even today, in the complex world of adult relations, I tend to blame myself deep down, for most things that go wrong.

But there is in me, and it is getting stronger, (thanks in part to some recent and very helpful psychotherapy), an ability to step away from that ‘guilty’ child. To see life, and people (including me), as complex and unpredictable, and to accept that. Not all friendships (or romantic relationships) last forever. That doesn’t necessarily diminish them. I broke up with my ex partner over eight years ago now, but it is only very recently I have been able to feel happy and grateful that we knew each other, were very close, had some laughs, were best mates. A Buddhist might find my revelation amusing, for they know that if life itself is temporary, the things within it are hardly going to be permanent. I always was a slow learner.

I don’t think I am the only one afflicted with a perfectionist side when it comes to friendship. I can think of one or two people out there, who are probably even more ‘extremist’ (and less reflective?) than me. They hold onto this romantic notion that if someone is not utterly wonderful and nice and the kindest bestest friend in the world, they must be some kind of devil. Freud knew about this dichotomising amongst friends and even admitted to doing it himself:

‘An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable requirements for my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy coincided in the same person.’

I think if we want to keep our friends, and to make new ones, to keep open to life and love’s possibilities, we have to acknowledge that negative aspect in people and relationships. In hindsight, I think my ex understood it better than I. After a row, or an affair, or a terrible sorrow-filled night, when I thought nothing could be salvaged from the wreckage, he would always treat me exactly as he had before the crisis. He didn’t seem fased by our ability to be ‘enemies’ at times, as well as lovers and friends. Maybe he had a bit of Nietzsche in him, and thought:

‘The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.’

I’m not quite there yet. I still have a slightly rose-tinted view of friendship. And I still get crushed by messy imperfect reality on a regular basis. But I am learning to accept, much more than that heartbroken four year old could at least, that humans have frailties and that’s ok.

  1. Nice Nietzsche quote. Funnily enough in my ‘privy’ reading (a bad habit, I know) this morning I opened the page at:

    He [Freud] wrote to Pastor Pfister: “I have not found much good in the average human being. Most of them are in my experience riff-raff.”

    Its from this book I’ve had ages but not read properly ‘Consciousness & Society’ by H Hughes. To be fair to Freud he had a right to be grumpy when he wrote it at the end of WW1.

    Glad you’re back on the Twitter.

  2. Muggins says:

    Don’t know if it helps but I can relate to an awful lot of this – the attitude to friendships and some of the background to it.

    People are funny creatures. I wonder why I couldn’t have taken a different attitude when younger. That poor bloody kid – even the adult version of him is criticizing him!

    Maybe having stubborn beliefs (that go against the grain) can exacerbate the whole thing. A woman I chat to a bit said recently that if she had a son maybe she’d understand “bloody men” (she has a daughter). Had a brief moment where I didn’t know how to respond to that, heh. But it’s all good.

  3. […] that I share with most of my dear family. As I have said in a recent post, I’m getting more realistic about friendships and romantic relationships, and it’s making me – shock horror! […]

  4. krentz says:

    I relate to most of this, and I agree with some of it. While I didn’t experience the kind of early life emotional trauma that must accompany the splitting up of parents at a young age, I have, at the very least, experienced consistent social isolation to varying degrees, which, combined with the deep and intellectually challenging relationships I had with some people (not least of which my father), led to a sense of me feeling ‘different’ and ‘out of phase’ than most people. One might argue that teens and youths are disproportionately solipsistic and egocentric by their nature and physiology, but when your ‘little world’ doesn’t seem to resonate with those of others it can be a disconcerting experience.

    As a result I can certainly appreciate the idealism and perfectionism that accompanies your attitude towards friendships and relationships. Certainly, I have much of this myself. One might argue that looking to other people with expectation and deference indicates weakness of character and an inability to acknowledge that we are each responsible for our own troubles. Given that we cannot control others it is similarly folly to expect them to accomplish the impossible by playing the roles we think will help us, but ultimately will not. I particularly like Freud’s comment. There is a certain danger, perhaps, in approaching some of the youthful ideals we have held so close, as they are reinforced when they can ultimately only inevitably collapse. Of all the transient friendships that have ended, the most painful were the closest ones that ended in disillusionment due to misplaced expectations.

    The prospect of sexual and intimate encounters only serves to magnify this a thousandfold. The very ‘outcome independence’ that enables me to express the full spectrum of my personality (and hence create attraction) is inhibited and castrated by fears that arise from attachment that only serve to reflect my weakness and insecurity. Such behaviour could only ever serve to murder any spark that was once present. In reality, I was chasing the impossible. And yet, I felt so close to attaining that elusive and illusive perfection, despite my delusion, that the impact of having lost it still weighs upon my heart like an anvil. I am unsure which causes me the greater distress; the perceived loss of an important relationship or the knowledge that my ideals regarding them were terribly naïve and misinformed.

    I do, however, draw certain lines in the sand. I don’t think blaming yourself is necessarily a bad thing, although I don’t think it’s the blame that’s important as much as an acknowledgement that responsibility is rarely one-sided. I have noticed a trend among certain kinds of women (more than I would like, though most pronounced in feminists) to absolve themselves of personal accountability and responsibility for their actions, instead electing to place blame on any number of external states such as their ‘feelings at the time’ or they are ‘learning through experience’ or whatever self-indulgent tripe. I understand full well the importance of maintaining a degree of tension and mystery in a relationship but I refuse to tolerate any explicit infidelity. There is a certain degree of honesty I demand as a prerequisite, and I openly deride those who will not admit to their own failings due either to a lack of self-esteem or a lack of conscience. It’s a direct affront to the trust that so many love to pay lip service to, but do little to earn.

    Ultimately, it’s about a personal focus. Realistically, I am not likely to find all the traits in others that I desire, nor would it prove to be the solution I have, at times, deluded myself into thinking it is. At the same time, I have certain boundaries and self-respect, and minimal tolerance for bullshit. Perhaps this, among other things, contributes to my not being the most tantalising prospect for a relationship (while I have found that my obstinacy and in some ways unyielding nature can lead to attraction in some cases, I invariably fall victim to infatuation and my own impossible expectations). However, I would prefer to stay true to my convictions as opposed to attaining greater external success at the cost of cognitive dissonance.

    I am glad, though, to see women unafraid to speak out in opposition to the hypocrisy and disingenuousness of feminism, particularly the third wave. The theoretical worst case scenario is a generation of emasculated men raised by emotionally destitute single mothers – themselves chasing after a succession of dominant dickwads – and subsidised by the state. While I have little desire to see women return to a position of veritable slavery, I will always take exception to the shortsightedness of the misandric rhetoric inherent to feminism that ultimately robs women of the men they claim not to want or need. I feel that it is also important to accommodate alternative expressions of sexuality, but neither do I think that feminism has all the answers, nor do I wish to see the death of the nuclear family as collateral.

    Interesting blog. 🙂

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