Conditions of Friendship

The recent blow up with my sister has highlighted a massive difference between me and her.  In her eyes, friendships are conditional upon acceptance, and acceptance is conditional upon understanding.  I want to try to break it down a little as the whole of the last sentence has left me a little bewildered.

I tend to make friends in the moment.  When I first came to London I used meetup groups and munches and made many friends that way.  These days my network is large enough that it shrinks and grows organically via existing friends, work colleagues, fellow students or fellow charity volunteers.

I have conditions for acquaintances to turn into friends.  They have to be pleasant people to be around.  Not mean in any way, to any demographic – and by that I mean not racist or homophobic or biphobic or transphobic, not ageist, – in a nutshell – not prone to stereotyping entire groups of people.  I have to feel safe around them – they have to have demonstrated enough open mindedness in the limited pre-friend-stage interaction, for me to have felt safe enough to divulge my unusual romantic and/or sexual relaionship(s).  They have to be quite non-judgemental.  They have to be non-proselytizing – by which I mean, if they are religious they must not be prone to trying to convert people.  And if they are vegetarian / vegan, they have to NOT be a hard-core animal rights activists ala PETA/BUAV etc.  (This last one is a requisite because I work in medical research which includes animal research – I will not feel safe with someone who is aggressively anti animal research).  They must not be interested in me romantically – and if they are I have be able to trust that they will respect my boundaries.

Put together, what this last paragraph summarises into is that that I have to feel confident that they will accept me for who I am before I offer to convert an acquaintance into a friend.  These conversions happens in many forms, most commonly with a mutual agreement to add each other on facebook.  What facebook is is really just an easier way to stay in touch without very much effort.  I get a glimpse into their everyday lives and them into mine, and we both gain an easy way to contact each other directly should we want/need to.  With many people this may kinda just stay that way until the next time we meet in a larger group eg a scouts camp etc.  Even for facebook, there requires a good amount of trust that they will not harm me.  From facebook or mobile members it moves on to messages and to coffee and other meetings.

So far this has all been about acceptance.  I need to trust that I will be accepted before I let people far into my live.  I do not need very much in common…. unless this shared mindset of non-directionality and non-judgement is a big requirement – I don’t know.  I have friends who are demographically very different from me who are very close.  I have friends very similar to me who are very close.

I do not know what the process is for other people.  My requirements are my trust of their acceptance.  That they will not try to change me or convert me in any way.  Perhaps that is why I do not have many religious friends.

My sister’s process seems to be markedly different to mine.  She appears to have to feel understood in order to feel accepted.  In her view, the fact I haven’t allowed her to explain her choice of political party or charities to donate to (both of which I do not agree with), and repeatedly telling her “we are different and that is okay” and “we are different and that is what makes the world interesting” was not understanding therefore non-acceptance when what I was trying to say was “you don’t need to defend yourself, I understand that we are different and I accept that difference.”

When I tell her I don’t want to talk about subject X, she will ask why and how and what the history is, and why and how it is a trigger, in an effort to avoid future triggers – which is very noble, but as anyone with ptsd can tell you – triggers can be totally unpredictable and knowledge of one doesn’t necessarily mean predictability of the next.

When we talk about personality disorders and she says they are manipulative and I say well it might not be their fault, she then wants to know everything I have ever read about the subject and why I have the views I have.  Ditto if I talk about working class are really generally majoritily NOT benefit scroungers.. i end up having to provide examples.

I am a bisexual, female, trans-supporting, sex-worker-supporting, intersectional feminist.  I am also a BSc Microbiology, MSc BioPhotonics holding microscopist.  I have worked in medical & biology research and I volunteered as a diagnostic laboratory technician in Sierra Leone for Public Health England during the Ebola outbreak in 2015 (and have the military medal to show for it).  I was assaulted in sierra leone and had post-traumatic anxiety.  I have massive emotional and psychological damage from when I was a child.  I am a trainee rogerian person-centred counsellor.  I support many causes, some of which I know very well because I have been reading and following the subjects for many years, and some I don’t know so well because I have only been reading and following them for a short while.  I wear many hats.  If every time I express a view I had to explain my reasoning behind that view, it is exhausting.  And it HAS been exhausting in the past.  And annoying because it is WORK.

When I make a new friend, yes I have conditions, but none of these conditions are based upon their understanding of me, or my understanding of them.  I don’t expect a friend to explain their entire lives to me.  I don’t expect to have to explain my entire lives to them.  A friend is someone to spend time with, to enjoy life with, in the moment.  And my condition is that they accept me and will not try to change or hurt me.  In return I accept them for who they are and will not try to change or them.  I’m not an argumentative person. We enjoy the things we have in common, maybe moan a little about work or other people.  We spend time together.  Life isn’t a political debate.  Life isn’t understanding everything.  Life is love and empathy.  Life is happiness and joy.  Life isn’t just words, it is emotion and feeling.

Friends are just people I feel safe to spend time with.

So the question is.. is understanding required of acceptance?  To me it isn’t.  What is your view?

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