Musical Monday vol. 9: Musical taste vs friendship

Exchanging forms of entertainment is a sign of true friendship. We all do it. We'll see commercials for a movie--or more likely fast-forward through them thanks to DVR--and say "meh". But once a trusted person says "Hey, you really need to check this movie out," we'll seriously consider watching it. In a way we never would have considered it based on the merits of the commercial.

For instance, if it hadn't been for Amber, I never would have gotten into the Liaden Universe. (Link is on the sidebar.) If it hadn't been for Geds, I never would have listened to The Waterboys. If it hadn't been for Myke, I never would have watched Mirror Mask.

But it occurred to me recently that I myself don't actually go out and read, watch, or listen to things in order to recommend them to people. I'm almost exclusively a second audience rather than a first. The only cool song I've heard recently that my peeps aren't already into is Bo Burnham's Love Is. (You should go watch it. It's awesome. A couple of off-color jokes, but nothing that'll throw your conscience for too much of a loop, I think. One of the more egregious examples is: "I need you like New Orleans needs a drought / Like Hitler's father needed to learn to pull out.")

Makes me wonder about the responsibilities of friendship. When you're a friend, do you have a responsiblity to your friends to serve as a test audience for those types of media which fall most directly in your areas of interest? Or is that one of those side benefits of friendship that gives one bonus friend points but is not necessarily required?

It's a topic that's been on my mind lately, because I haven't been so good at keeping friends. Making them, no problem. But when it comes to keeping them over a long period of time, one of two things tends to happen. Thing #1: I get freaked out because my friend is unreasonably fixated on me and break it off. (This happened with Myke.) Thing #2: I get all low self-esteemy because I feel I have nothing to contribute to the friendship and stop contacting them. The Thing #1 situation, as far as I can tell, tends to be the result of mutual dysfunctionality which I can prevent by changing my behavior. In other words, not trying to get self-esteem by indulging in emotionally unequal relationships where I set myself up as an ersatz therapist to someone who would benefit more from seeing a real therapist. To avoid Thing #2 I have got to get over my feeling that I'm an innately inferior person and hence, unworthy of being befriended by somebody cool enough for me to want as a friend. And in order to do that, it's important that I come to understand what characteristics and behaviors emotionally healthy people expect from friends.

Interpersonal bonds of intermediate strength have always been a problem for me. What seems instinctive for other people is totally counterintuitive for me. I feel like I'm trying to reconstitute from scratch something everyone else is born already knowing. Which is certainly untrue in practice. On an intellectual level I try to see things in as many shades of grey as I can resolve, but emotionally I am always fighting the fear of something I know I don't undertsand. A person expects reasonable variations on what they've seen in previous relationships. If I can infer their expectations from their own actions plus those of their relationships I have been able to witness, then I can glean some knowledge about the limits of behavior to which I am expected to conform. The less of that information I've had access to, the more uncertain and easily scared off I've become. On the flip side, if I know a lot about a person's relationship history, it's difficult for me to envision myself living up to an imaginary, inferred standard. Kind of a Catch-22.

Which is what has resulted in Thing #1 for me above in the past. If someone is desperate for a confidante and convinced no one wants to be their friend, they'll be willing to spill all their hopes and fears to the first person who offers a handy shoulder on which to cry. So all the things a relatively healthy person would hold back in the interests of personal privacy, an emotionally vulnerable person will offer as their "show cards" in hopes of convincing a potential friend of their sincerity. If my fear of potential rejection is so overwhelming that I won't commit to a friendship unless the other party puts more on the line than any rational person would, then I condemn myself to unequal friendships with people who are more needy than I'm able to handle.

So if I want to be a better friend, or at least, develop a sense of identity in which I feel I'm worthy to befriend people who have something to offer beyond dysfunction, I too need to have something to offer beyond dysfunction. I've got to be interested in things that I think are exciting and cool enough to recommend to others who haven't heard of those things. And I need to think well enough of the things. I care about that I'm not embarrassed to recommend them.

Hooray self-esteem.


Amber E said...

My take on this is that in healthy friendships people like to hang out and talk about cool things but they also expect you to be a 'person of your ownself'. Thus a healthy friend assumes you have interests and hobbies that you pursue because you like to. Then, in the course of that if you find something, a geode, an algebraic equation, a novel, a plot for world domination or a boy band that sounds original if you think your friend might like it you should share. Like you did with me about hey, this KOL game is funny, try it.

An unhealthy friendship would expect you to do 'homework' for the friendship researching things specifically for the fixated person so they could feel secure in the co-dependent idea of you looking up random factiods for them during the rare moments you were not spending time with them.

Either way you share cool things with friends that you think they will be interested in.

You know all that corny marriage advise you might have heard about sharing from sufficiency instead of clinging from neediness. Well it actually applies to friendships too. I'm not great at this but as you develop your interest you may find new shiny things that your friends didn't even know they were interested in yet.

Like I don't want to go to Antarctica. But I would love to talk to someone who has been or wants to go. You know I'm interested in learning to keep bees. People who have no desire to do that still seemed very intrigued when on the occasions I mentioned it. Okay, I'm sleepy and losing my train of thought so love you and will catch up later.

Fiat Lex said...

Your take on this is right on the money. I like your point about the bees especially. If one's friend is really, passionately interested in something, even if I have no talent for / drive towards doing it myself, their enthusiasm will put me in a good mood. It's just plain nice to see people being made happy by things. I remember reading a wonderful article about Antarctica on Project Galactic Guide a few years ago, but apparently it isn't there anymore. Ah, well. The Guide is still a fun place for random things.

I think as many of my problems with friendship have come from my own issues than from the unhealthy expectations of my chosen friends, though. Like, I used to have that thing where if I didn't have contact with a person for awhile, I'd reflexively assume they were mad at me and didn't like me anymore. After much training away of that one, now all I have is the lack of self-confidence that spawns it.

Y'see, an unhealthy friendship might have a guilt or intimidation-backed requirement for one to go around doing specific research in order to have things to contribute to the friendship. But even so, sometimes that's something perfectly healthy friends do for fun because they feel like it. The difference is, a healthy person spends their primary effort going around finding things in which they themselves are interested. And searchings on behalf of friends would piggyback on this, if and when it should occur.

It's the former thing that I need to do more of. The being interested in things for my ownself, and then going around doing and looking at things related to said things that bring me happiness. I have indeed begun to try!