Losing a "Friendship" III
Bill Long 6/27/07
You have to have read the previous essay, and especially the email exchanges between John and me, in order to understand this final essay. When I received John's email yesterday about noon, I had a number of reactions. I felt a little hurt. I felt that he had tried to attack me, putting the "blame" for everything that may have gone wrong with us on my shoulders. I felt that he was manipulating the concept of friendship--holding it hostage, as it were, to my willingness to do endless and perhaps unnamed tasks for him. I felt, also, that the way he worded the initial sentence was telling. He was trying to say that it was my problem (I had alienated HIM). Isn't it more of an act of friendship to say, "I feel alienated by what you have done..." or something like that? When you say, "You alienated me," it forecloses discussion. Indeed, as you see by the tone of the note, it does want to foreclose discussion. It wants to say: "Here it is, Bill. YOU have alienated me. It is YOUR problem. You have sown the discord. Friendship over. And, by the way, I don't want to discuss it." That is the tone. It even bespeaks to me a sort of panic, a sort of sense that since I hadn't done exactly what he wanted in giving him the resources that he wanted, he was now in a real pickle. But, most of all, it told me that my suspicions, my feelings for several months were true. I was valuable to him only as a source of information that he couldn't otherwise easily obtain. When I willingly gave him the information, I was his "friend." When I balked at it, I was almost a betrayer. I had "alienated" him. I had ceased acting like a true friend.
That is how I read his correspondence. So, how do you respond, if at all? He was certainly trying to pull a power play in the email, where he framed the issue completely his way and then said, "And this ends the discussion." His way or no way. And, I am to blame. I think it actually sounds pretty immature.
A Final Response
I decided I needed to respond, only if to clear my own conscience and to say what I thought was important in a summary way. So, I wrote the following email. I don't know if he even opened it. I am sure he won't respond to it. But I wanted to say by it that the rules don't work as he wanted them to work. I, actually, can "discuss" it, even if he has his hands firmly on his ears. So, here is what I wrote back to him yesterday afternoon:
"When I friendship ends, I want to have it be the occasion to remember some good things that the other person has brought into my life. I will, below, mention a few of my difficulties, but let me mention the things that I think were valuable for five or six years that we met together.
I enjoyed your hospitality and seemingly genuine interest in me, both from a professional and personal perspective. I enjoyed meeting [your partner], and felt that she and I connected in some very vital ways. I appreciated the opportunity to work with you on the latter days of [your book] and make comments on your work. Finally, I am appreciative of your writing a letter for my file about 2-3 years ago when I was thinking about moving elsewhere in academia. All these things will make me think positively about our relationship in the past.
As to more specific comments on breakup, [John], I would say that the relationship became unbalanced, from my perspective, in the last few years. That is, I got the feeling that you expected me to do research for you, for free and without much acknowledgment. I did it at first--clarifying issues in the ...book, writing reviews in [various journals] --because I wanted to be "of help." When you started to ask me to shag references for you from various federal statutes, I began to think that you were overstepping--I did it, however, because I could do it without much effort. But you continued asking, and even pushing, on more and more things. Had I fulfilled your request on the [institution] search (after I told you how you could do it twice--through OJIN), I fear you would have asked me to run off cases for you...and would have found even more things.
I think I saw these things as emblematic of a relationship of unequal proportions. I would do professional work for you; you would give some general advice about women to me. That is how I felt about it.
I think also that the form and tone of your last email isn't in keeping with the [person I knew] at least the one you tried to present to me over the years. Your first statement--that I have alienated you--is really not a good way of framing it. The better way to say it would be that you felt alienated. Perhaps if you framed it that way, you would have been able to ask yourself the question of whether you had contributed to the alienation.
So, we can leave things as they are, but it leaves me with the sense of you as a carping, critical, ungrateful person. I don't know if that is the last word you want to send."
So, how did I feel about things? I think I went through a number of emotions yesterday--from incredulity, to hurt, to wondering, to anger, to calm reflection (the mood in which I wrote my response email), to a sort of dull pain and then, today, to feeling free from it. I hope this experience won't make me shun male friendships. Indeed, I think that the entire idea of male friendships needs to be revamped in our day. I believe that men need to learn how to express tenderness to each other, to touch, to write notes that might be more expressive of emotions, than really is "permitted" in our relational jungle today.
You learn a lot about yourself through good times in life, but you som etimes learn even more through hard times. I learned through this that I will approach friendships with as great sincerity and eagerness, but that I think I will be more "up front" with people throughout the relationship about "my interests." In any case, however, this was a pretty jarring way to end something that probably was destined to end anyway.
So, do you have any reaction to this? Let me know if you have time.