In writing Jewish Luck, my sister, Meryll and I mused endlessly about friendship. We observed how Alisa had catapulted herself out of Vera’s universe and empathized with the emptiness both women felt until their reconciliation. During the writing process, Meryll was traveling as often as possible to be with her friend, Sandi, as she slowly slipped away Even on her worst days following radiation, Sandi could offer a loving critique in her inimitable fashion.
In the past few years, I have been fortunate – and friendships have remained steady ---until recently. Thanks to the magic of social media, I found myself verklempt and not in a good way, like SNL’s Linda Richman on Coffee Talk discussing Barbra Streisand.
Verklempt in this case referred to feeling overwhelmed with sadness and disappointment. What had happened? I was disappointed by the snarky response from someone I believed to be a very good friend. Then, thinking back, I have been disappointed for the last couple decades by the responses of that very good friend, which led me to believe I had misclassified this person as “a very good friend.” Thus, it was my error, which turned out to be comforting.
It was helpful when I thought about the “Friendship Circle” Scheme, which I devised for my clients out of desperation to keep track of the vast and ever changing relationships of middle school girls. This simple penciled drawing has a point in the center (the client) and three concentric circles around the point showing three levels of positive relationships from intimate/close to nice people to hang out with. In each of the four corners was a rocket ship that one could put people on to send them to imaginary planets, out of one’s sphere of attention. The point is – you choose who is in the circles and where people belong. If you don’t like the way you’re treated, you can either address it or move the person to a different circle.
I delegated to my husband Harry the rendering of our dog Steve's "Friendship Circles" sample . There are some mistakes which I shall point out. For example. Steve alone should be at the very center of his inner circle. His canine brother, Romeo, is in the innermost circle. Harry drew family members in the next circle though I think we belong in his innermost circle. Second circle should be anyone who lets him sit on his/her lap. Third circle is anyone who has eye contact with him. Outside the circle is my sister, Meryll (who is in my first circle), because she is dog-averse. And on the circles that should be rocket ships are Mushu the cat and lightning, which Steve tends to anthropomorphize.
What did I learn over years of following the same clients?
- Dogs stay in the center. Every child needs one. Because everyone else may change.
- Pencil is a good idea. People come. People go, especially in middle school.
- Siblings tend to be on an elastic band that can go from the inner circle to a rocket ship depending on the day.
- Deep distress is often caused because of a rupture in the inner circle.
- If one gives energy to the people from whom one receives energy, life is especially happy.
So what about my circles?
One of the great things about being nearly 60, aside from having a pretty interesting collection of clothes, is that I also have a rock solid collection of friends. Friends that have been there for over thirty years who remember the events in my life better than I do, and who adore my children and dogs. I always allow some access for new friends to freshen things up. There is staying power at this age, and now I think I could draw my circles in pen.
It is jarring when I realize that someone that I thought was in the first or second circle is misplaced. Such an error leads to continual disappointment if he/she doesn’t come through for me as I would expect. If this happens a handful of times, who cares? If it is the pattern, then I’m simply inaccurate in my appraisal and I feel stupid. As I readjust the circles to reflect reality, it feels better, and now that person is “just somebody that I used to know” and I wish the person well and recover peace of mind.
Ah, yes, it was no accident that I used the title to Gotye's great song, "Somebody that I Used To Know."