Have you ever had a bad friend? The question is so inane as to be laughable. There are plenty of bad people in the world, and many other people who have the potential to be good but who will treat you poorly in actual practice. You would have to be incredibly lucky and an impossibly good judge of character to have never once extended your friendship to a person who did not deserve it. To err is human, and we all err in our personal relationships from time to time.
Many reams have been printed and many songs have been sung about the art of ending a relationship with a lover. Comparatively little is said or written about the ending of bad friendships. This is statistically peculiar; it is hard to imagine the hermit who is so addicted to sex that he or she has had more lovers than friends, so long as we count friendships that are as emotionally superficial as the relationships they maintain with human bodies that just happen to double as human beings. Even the ending of a relatively superficial friendship might prompt a sense of loss, which then leads to the feelings of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance observed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. The best outcome would be to zip through the stages in order to reach acceptance as quickly as possible. To do that, you must accept your former friend was only a friend in your imagination, created by the generosity of your spirit, and contrary to the way that he or she behaved in reality. With that in mind, let me recount several ways a friend might be the opposite of a friend.
The Harmful Offer
Friends want what is best for you. Have you ever had a friend who offered you something that was supposedly meant to be good for you, but was actually terrible for you, and great for them?
During the early stages of my career I was made an offer by an older, more senior person who behaved like my friend as well as being a professional peer. He asked me out to lunch, then invited me to apply for a job where I would report to him. Though he knew what I was making and what I was capable of, it was only after I successfully completed a long multi-part application process involving several activities and interviews that I learned the pay would be £5,000 less than I was currently making, because it was significantly more junior.
Lending Your Friendship
John can be friends with Jill, and Jill can be friends with Joan, but that does not mean John owns Joan a favour. Some false friends will treat you as their property, expecting you to help others in their stead.
A seeming friend of mine once begged me to help with a project in Saudi Arabia. I had no interest because I was busy enough already, and because no sane person would choose to spend time in Saudi Arabia without being extraordinarily well compensated. As a consequence, my friend kept making increasingly lavish promises, whilst seeking sympathy by highlighting his struggles with completing the project. It was only after I landed in Riyadh that I learned none of the promises would be kept because my role in the project was to be the dogsbody for somebody else entirely.
The Endless Favour
Friends do favours for friends. Real friends know when the favours need to stop. False friends treat a favour like a blank chequebook – they reason that if several have been successfully cashed then there is no limit to how much they can withdraw from the account.
One of my old friends fell upon hard times so I conspired to secure her a well-paid position at an old employer of mine. She called me for advice the week before she began, which was only natural. We talked for well over an hour about the people she would encounter and how she might approach them. She also telephoned during her first week at work, leading to another hour of briefing, talking through the decisions she needed to make, with my explaining what I would do if I was in her position. Then she called the week after that. And the following week. Two months after she had begun work I started to question if I should have just taken the job myself.
Sometimes a friend will literally break the law, which may make you question if you want to continue being friends with a criminal. It is even worse if the law was broken by somebody who was supposed to be helping you.
I needed a job done around the house, and one of my friends had long boasted he was the best in the business. The work was done well enough, but rather a mess was left behind, which I had to tidy up. That would have been fine, if the rubbish had not included evidence that my ‘friend’ had actually supplied me with stolen property.
The Thoughtlessness That Counts
It is good to spend time with friends, and it is also good to do things with friends, especially because shared experiences will increase the strength of the bond. However, some friends expect you to do all the planning and preparation for every rendezvous, so they can be spared the effort.
An old friend was back in town and wanted to meet up and do something fun, like we always had in the past. I said that would be fine, but that I was going through a busy period so she needed to pick the location. It was no surprise that she chose an art gallery showing an exhibition of special interest to her. The gallery was out of my way, but I was looking forward to both seeing my friend and the art. I arrived on time, she was late. I might have gone inside to escape the heavy rain, but I could not. The gallery was closed because the exhibition had ended weeks before.
A Friend In Deed Only
Sometimes you must be wary about unexpected invitations to parties and other social gatherings, because you may only discover that you have volunteered to provide a service only after you have arrived.
An odd but seemingly harmless acquaintance asked me to join his family as they went canoeing along the river by their house. When I arrived I realized that I was the only other adult male, and the only person from outside his family, which included his incapable wife and their self-absorbed children. Hence it was apparent that I was there to haul the canoe to the river, a task they had never been able to perform before. My reward, in theory, would be to join the first contingent to try the family’s new, and seemingly pointless, vehicle. I sat in the canoe, waiting for its maiden voyage. However, my friend’s incompetence was demonstrated by his capsizing the canoe before we had even left the bank. It then proved impossible to right it again, or to lift it back on to land from that place in the river. I thus had to swim several hundred yards down the river whilst pulling the canoe behind me, looking for where the riverbank would allow me to drag the boat back on to land. After I had done that I returned to the side of the river to retrieve the acquaintance, who was unable to lift himself out.