by Sheila Connolly
I just returned from the mystery mega-conference Bouchercon, which is a rather overwhelming experience—the estimate I heard was that there were 1,200 attendees scattered among multiple hotels in Albany, all trying to find their way through a convention center with little signage.
But I was happily surprised to find how many friends I have made over the past few years. I think this was the first year I could actually introduce people to each other and remember both their names. You'd think writers could keep names straight, but maybe we're too busy naming our characters to bother with the real people standing in front of us (if I snubbed anybody, I apologize). Since writers so often labor alone, the broader writers and readers communities are important to us, and it's a pleasure to have meals or to attend panels with a whole array of people, both familiar and newly met.
But before the event I had been thinking about an advice column from a recent Boston Globe Sunday magazine, titled "Betrayed by a best friend," written by Robin Abrahams (AKA Miss Conduct). Someone wrote to her to complain that she had been dumped by a friend of over twenty years, who suffers from a mental illness and, to put it kindly, had not been a very good friend at any time.
That's hard enough. I'm sure we've all had friends who suddenly turned on us for no apparent reason, and there's no way to find out why since that friend is no longer on speaking terms with you. But the rejectee seemed extraordinarily troubled by this rejection: five years later she is still haunted by the betrayal, to the extent of having nightmares about the former friend at least once a week. This can't be healthy.
Miss Conduct wisely said: find a therapist. The writer has to come to terms with what happened before she can move on, which she has so far failed to do (and five years seems like a long time to nurse the hurt).
But what stuck in my mind was a more general comment Miss Conduct made:
We don't have a cultural bank of stories about friendship gone wrong. We have stories (and songs and quality cable dramas) about bad parents, bad lovers, bad bosses. Our culture doesn't offer up many templates for "bad friend" stories or songs about breaking up with your best buddy.
Why is that, I wonder? In one way we have more "friends" than ever, if we use social media at all. We've turned "friend" into a verb: will you friend me? On the other hand, that friendship is about a quarter of an inch (or 140 characters) deep. We probably know more about our friends' pets than we do about them.
Friendship takes work. It takes time to meet face to face, and talk, and share. And listen. There should be give and take. There should be sympathy and support in hard times, and applause for the good things that happen. That kind of durable relationship doesn't happen quickly.
I feel very lucky that I have held on to a few friends for several decades—one from high school, a few from college. We still get together from time to time, to catch up. Even if we don't always approve of what they have done with their lives, they still hold shared memories, of the people we were when we met. We don't want to lose that.
If a friend turns toxic, grieve and move on. But cherish those who are true friends.