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Let’s hear it for annoying friends!
My mother and I know a person who is very opinionated, in a terrible way. She insinuates her views into every conversation and can make discussions miserable if she disagrees with you. And she often smiles while she’s doing it, like she thinks it’s very cute… except that, as a woman in her 60s, it’s rarely cute and sometimes kind of sinister. In a cute way.
Let me ALSO just say, this is a person to whom life has not been kind, but more importantly, this is a person who is sometimes helpful in very nice ways. She cares about the children and takes an interest in how they’re doing (to the point of driving the big kids crazy sometimes). She often buys birthday or Rosh Hashanah presents for the younger kids (usually clothes), has babysat when I needed it, and when she’s invited as a guest, most graciously brings and brings and brings whatever I request, sometimes to the point of embarrassment (like last year, when invited to one seder and she brought almost a lifetime’s worth of grape juice). She is a smile and a close neighbour whose steps we like to sit on and while away summer hours.
She ALSO thoroughly believes she means well in every possible way, though, like the rest of us, she’s completely human and has many glaring flaws.
But my mother was saying last night that she doesn’t feel comfortable calling this person a FRIEND. Because they disagree so vociferously, or rather, this person voices her (often wrong) opinions so loudly, that my mother can’t consider her more than an acquaintance or neighbour.
(Here’s a good small example of a wrong opinion: Today, I was admiring a garden we were walking past, which I admit I do just to get her goat, because unlike me, she claims to despise all things in nature. So she asked, “there aren’t any BEES, right?” I just gave my standard response: a smile and the assurance, “Well, you wouldn’t want to live in a world without bees.” Another fact: She memorialized her long-dead son not only with a yahrzeit light in shul but also with a tree in a local park… so go figure.)
And my thought, after my mother left was, if this person was a family member, she’d be an ANNOYING family member, but we would still keep her. We wouldn’t kick her out of the family, we’d just smile and nod and keep on inviting her for family occasions as long as she didn’t do or say anything evil or hurtful.
And I started thinking that’s a good way of thinking of a friend, as well. If someone is good to you and your family, and you like them enough to keep them around, then when they are dumb or annoying, you don’t have to ditch them: they can still be a friend… just an ANNOYING friend.
Now, I also admit that some of the things she has said to my mother have been INADVERTANTLY hurtful. Mostly about Eli’s care, I think, where she has implied that if my mother took more interest, he could be rescued (perhaps, at the cost of my mother’s own sanity and lifestyle because my brother can be incredibly destructive).
That IS hurtful, and I would never say such a thing to someone in my mother’s situation.
So I doubt my mother has enough distance to see where this woman is coming from: her own son died of cancer at 10. She divorced soon after and never had any other children. And she probably, PROBABLY thinks she would do anything for her son if only she could. She probably feels like she would do anything to rescue a son – anything up to and including losing herself in the struggle to keep him alive and functioning. Not realizing that mommies also don’t live forever. That mommies have to keep themselves strong and functioning, also look after their other children. That mommies really CAN’T do it all and sometimes, the right thing to do is, not give up, but let go a bit – or a lot.
I can totally see both sides of this, even though it’s NOT two-sided. What she said is wrong and hurtful, period. And I know that it has been words like these, strongly felt and poorly chosen, which have severed most of the friends and even family relationships that this person has ever had. She’s getting older and has almost nobody.
Does that mean I’m sticking around because I feel sorry for her? Well, no, because she does reciprocate and is usually interesting to be around. But I don’t think feeling sorry for somebody is necessarily a BAD thing. So for now, I’m sticking around, even if it does mean staying laying claim to (at least one) really annoying friend.