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Better Than Nothing

March 3, 2013

I got an email from someone recently in which she said “I hope you’re doing well.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I hadn’t actually been asked a question.

“Hope you are doing well” sounds great, sounds like something a thoughtful friend would say, but actually it’s almost worse than not saying anything at all. I mean, it kind of relieves the well-wisher of any responsibility to do anything if the answer is less than optimal. Without having actually asked how I’m doing, she doesn’t have to give a shit or to offer to help me in any way, even if it’s just to listen. But she can go away from this interaction feeling like she’s been a good friend because she’s wished me well, even if it’s in a “Have-a-nice-day” sort of way.

Of course, if I complain about this, I’m needy or greedy or hyper-critical or whatever. You know the drill. “People love as much as they can.” The idea being that even a bad friend is better than no friend.

I think anyone who can be satisfied with this sort of pseudo-caring must be one of the “better than nothing” ilk. Fill in the blank: “Bad _____ is better than no _____.”

Well,  I beg to differ. Bad friends are way worse. I’ll take being alone any day of the week over being neglected. Over being around people who actually make me feel lonely, which, when I’m by myself, I almost never feel. I hate this idea that seems to have permeated the culture that we should cater to the least common denominator, even if it’s inside ourselves, be satisfied with less, water down our standards for just about everything because, well, it’s better than nothing.Where on earth did this come from? Some kind of cultural guilt that makes it impossible to push one’s plate away and say “Thanks but no thanks, that’s not good enough. I’m not going to lower my standards, and I’m not interested.”

Another weird interaction recently. A neighbor of mine decided it was okay to just yell & scream at me periodically. She did this a couple of times and I quit talking to her. When she’s not yelling & screaming she’s actually a nice person, but I got out of the habit of letting friends alternate yelling & gift-giving a long time ago. I mean, if I wanted that, I’d still be  married. I’d really rather forego the presents if it means not being yelled at. But of course she’s furious now, because I don’t talk to her anymore, in the way only someone whose really unappealing terms have just been rejected can be.

I figured out a long time ago that every relationship, whether it’s lovers or people arguing across the table in the board room, boils down to one thing: The person who needs the least has all the power. In the above situation, the one with the yelling neighbor, I needed less and therefore had the power in that negotiation. I find this to be behind a lot of people’s anger in relationships–and especially at the end of relationships. That loss of face, that moment when they realize they’ve lost a negotiation they didn’t even know they were involved in. People never actually say: “I want to be in a relationship, and here are my terms,” but that’s exactly what’s happening. Yelling lady was saying “Here are my terms: I get to call you my friend, and you put up with me alternating screaming and bringing you flowers.” My ex said the same thing. I said “No” to both, and they’ve never stopped being pissed off.

As for Well-Wisher, the negotiation with her went something like this: I get to call you my friend, and you come see me all the time but I never come to see you.” As absurd as this proposition sounds, I actually did think about it for awhile. In the end I said “No thanks, sounds like a shitty deal.” Now I’m the bad guy because I got offered a car with two wheels & said I’d rather walk.

The balls of these people. Talk about asking high. Everyone is hoping to find that great friend who expects nothing. OH! There, I’ve said it. The “E” word. When did expecting something from friends get such a bad rap? When was everyone supposed to be forgiven everything because whatever they can come up with in the way of friendship is, well, better than nothing?

I continue to have expectations of people who call themselves my friends. That makes me an asshole, I know. But I feel that to do anything else is to cater to the worst that person can be. To start expecting less of people says I think less of them, think they are not capable of much, have lowered the bar. I don’t think that does anyone any favors, least of all the other person. It’s downright insulting, though I continue to be amazed at how many people would rather be insulted in that way than stretch themselves as human beings. I continue to expect the best from people I think highly of. It’s the best way I can express my respect. The moment I tell you that I think what you have to offer is “better than nothing,” it means I’ve given up on you. Accepted that you can’t do any better. Are not worth my time.

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From → Manifestos

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