Thursday, August 29, 2002

Friendship Halitosis

Recognizing that I have Friendship Halitosis has been a difficult but necessary part of my early thirties. From 4th grade onward, I found I was markedly deficient in friendship skills. My chronic Foot in Mouth Disease, coupled with a relentless honesty that came across as tactlessness was bad enough. What made it worse was a prodigious vocabulary, eccentricity, and way too much reading. These combined together to give me the Stench of Social Outcast; which ultimately led to what I like to call Friendship Halitosis. 

What is Friendship Halitosis? It is desperation, coupled with a demanding spirit. Even now, years after those bleak years in primary education, the fear of finding myself lonely again will push me to heroic feats of friendship. I truly love to be involved in my friends' lives, but on a subconscious level I feel I must perform to be acceptable to them - remembering birthdays, invitations to see movies or watch TV, helping them move, attending Pampered Chef parties, baked goods, backrubs, awesome Christmas and wedding presents - but there is an aura, a smell of fear that I give off even when I am being the best friend in the world, and it turns me into Pepe Le Peu. Friends can't get away from me fast enough. 

The unfairness of it all - how very hard I've worked to keep up "my side" of the friendship! - frustrates me, and so I call, or email, or suggest an outing, or an invitation to lunch or dinner. And they refuse, or do not respond at all. Which makes me angrier, and more frustrated, so I try even harder - I silently demand that they reciprocate my friendship in like manner. The halitosis is great enough at this point to floor a superhero, so of course everyone in my vicinity heads for the hills. It is a self-perpetuating stench, which only recedes when I collapse from exhaustion and give up. 

Having finally understood the pervasive nature of this disease, I make the best effort I can to back away when I start to see the metaphysical wincing of my nearest and dearest. It takes an enormous effort of will to not give in to self-pitying flights of fancy and childish daydreams of "how sorry they'd be if I were dead." To indulge those thoughts is to feed the disease. No, it takes a firm brushing with reality and a concerted effort to find solitary entertainments, like endless stacks of videos from the library or a reeeeealllly good cross-stitch project. I feed my Inner Geek for a while, and eventually may venture out again, bearing firmly in mind to make no demands lest halitosis begin to pervade my life again. 

This is not to say that my friends haven't been unfair or disappointing - it's not always my fault - but how I choose to respond has been like that of an adolescent. I may have been reading James Mitchener when I was in 5th grade, but I traded that in to behave like a 5th grader in my twenties and thirties. I may have the best intentions in the world, and truly enjoy my friends, but self-consciousness and self-interest still play way too big a part of my interactions with people.
"There is luxury in self-reproach ... When we blame ourselves we feel no one else has a right to blame us." -- Oscar Wilde