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Friendship is held to be the severest test of character. It is easy, we think, to be loyal to a family and clan, whose blood is in your own veins. ~ Charles Alexander Eastman
For a while, she worked for me and we became friendly with one another. At that time (many years ago) we both smoked out on the porch of the office where we worked. I’ll call this woman “Cheryl.” (I am now a long-time non-smoker.)
We both left the company after we’d been working together for about a year and a half (I was just a change management consultant there). We both said we’d remain in touch. We had lunch a couple of times, then we both got busy at our new ventures. But after about a year, I heard from Cheryl again. She was in trouble and needed some help in finding a new position, which I gladly did with her.
By this time, I was in the process of going through a divorce. One thing I found out when I was going through a divorce is just how few true friends really exist out there. As I had helped Cheryl through one divorce and two messy break-ups, I thought the favor of a listening ear might be returned. But Cheryl was far too busy to spend any time. We lost touch again.
Then a pattern, which I finally broke, developed. When Cheryl was in trouble, I’d get a call. I’d help her, then she’d vanish from the face of the Earth so far as I was concerned. I might add here that I was not attracted to Cheryl, and did not ever try to “hit” on her, so that wasn’t the issue. The issue was simple: Cheryl was a taker, and I was being used.
Fast forward a few years. I met and became friends with a Presbyterian minister. He, also, went through some hard times in the time of our friendship. I was pretty OK in my life for most of the life of the friendship, even prospering quite well, marrying my wonderful wife and building a great business. Then a potential tragedy hit. I had a very unusual lab result come back from the doctor’s office. For some weeks there was a thought that I might have a rare form of cancer. Fortunately, this was not the case. But during that time, I turned to Larry…and did not even have my calls returned. I thought this was very odd for a minister, but heard this same thing from other people in Larry’s life. He was a taker. I had been useful, but then I wasn’t useful anymore.
Fast forward another few years. I took on a client who had graduated from Regis Jesuit High, as I had. Being an alumnus of the same, close-knit school, I bent over backwards to assist him in his job search, pulling out all stops and referring him to people I usually wouldn’t refer anyone to in my inner circle. I asked him some months later for a very minor favor….to simply make a simple comment on a LinkedIn discussion thread to defend me. He refused. He, too, was a taker.
Finally, there is a couple who owns a business that I have advised, as a friend, for over 10 years to help them grow it. We are changing our practice to move it into more Spiritual counseling and coaching. To that end, we are running classes that are brand new for us, and looking into different demographics. These two run a business that is connecting people to people, so I asked for a bit of help. They simply referred me to a paid PR consultant. Again, takers. (On this one I should have known better because the man in this couple is a well-known taker. My bad.)
There are basically two kinds of people in the world. There are the users or takers and the givers.
Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. ~ George Washington.
Before you call someone “friend” it is important to know which one they are, and stay far away from the takers. The takers/users will use you up, then discard you, especially if you ever are in need of anything. Here are some ways to know the takers/users when you see them.
1). It’s all about them. Whenever you’re together, is the conversation only about them and what they want and need? Are you always listening to their problems and providing solutions? Every relationship goes through a time of uneven giving and receiving. But if someone is always talking about their issues and never about yours, you’re looking at a taker.
2). Do they rush you or get bored when you start to talk about you? You’ve heard about the guy who was out on a date with a nice woman and had been talking about himself all night. Finally, he said, “Well enough about me, let’s talk about you. How do you feel about me?”
If someone always “has to go,” is “late,” or just gets a glassy look in their eyes when it’s your turn to talk (after you’ve listened to them for a time), you’ve got a narcissistic taker. You’re just being used.
3). They give you the gifts they’d want rather than what you want…if they gift you at all. I’ve heard countless tales of husbands and wives “giving” each other the “gift” that they, themselves, want, rather than something that is of interest to the recipient. If your husband loves your cooking, but you’re a bit tired of cooking, a good gift would be a night out. If, instead, he gives you a bright, shiny new frying pan….you’ve got a taker. My wife actually gave me a commercial grade frying pan for Christmas one year for one and only one reason. I’d asked her for it, as I love to cook.
4). Your calls are not returned, but they expect an immediate return of theirs. My wife had a “friend” one time who got very upset if Nicole didn’t call her back within a couple of hours, but would often blow off Nicole’s calls. Friends return each other’s calls promptly unless prevented by some very good reason. If you call and call and don’t get return calls….get out. You’ve got a taker.
5). You are always paying or otherwise giving. There are friendships with uneven incomes. I don’t mind paying in that situation if I’m the wealthier one…not at all. But if I take someone out to a nice dinner, reciprocation of a home-cooked meal would be nice. If we invite a non-cooking couple over to our house for one of our gourmet meals, we understand if they don’t want to cook back. But a dinner out would be appropriate and so on. In friendships, there is reciprocation. In using relationships, there is using and taking. You don’t need users and takers in your life.
6). They’re AWOL when you have a crisis. If a friend of mine is having a crisis, I will drop everything droppable and be there, in person if possible. Nicole and I will (and have) helped any way we can, from providing a temporary place to crash, to giving money, to advice and counsel, to cooking a nice dinner to babysitting. This is what friends do.
If your “friend” is too busy with his or her life to drop some of it and be there for a crisis, you don’t have a friend. You have a taker.
7). They suddenly pick a fight when you need them. This is a hallmark of takers. When the chips are down and you need them, they’ll get into a fight with you and use that as an excuse to not be there. If this happens, get outta there. You don’t need ‘em!
8). They get uncomfortable and disappear in divorce, illness, etc. A good and very loving friend of mine got cancer, which, thankfully, is fully taken care of. Many of his friends vanished. I met him toward the end of his recovery, and was there, as a new friend, as much as I could be.
Then, last December, I wound up in the E.R. just before the practice I run with my wife was having a major event. T. and his wife, P., came over at once to the E.R., and sat with me while Nicole took care of the event. Then T. drove me home and made sure I was all right until Nicole got there. He didn’t forget and actually went beyond what I was able to do at the time of his illness. But, I expected that from him and his wife. They are, after all, fellow Star Trek junkies.
9). They speak badly of you behind your back. A friend defends you in thick and thin. Even if your friend does not always agree with you, he or she will defend you and have your back. Someone who does not do this is no friend.
Friendship, especially for those who share the Spiritual Walk, is not only wonderful, but it is vital. We are built to care about one another this way. Those of us on the Spiritual Path often are so used to giving and giving that we forget to receive, as well. That puts a big old hairy “SUCKER” sign on our foreheads. I’ve heard some argue that this is OK, but I don’t agree with them.
When we allow others to simply use us, we do not do them any favors. We are enabling their selfishness and entitlement. By not calling them on this, we are preventing them from growing. We are telling them that being selfish, narcissistic and entitled is just fine. It isn’t. As a friend, we owe it to them to set boundaries and expect reciprocation. Users don’t ever hang on to friends very long, and can go through spouses and others in their lives like water.
It also is bad for you, as a Spiritual Person. When you devalue yourself, you lose power that can be used to help others. You also introduce an imbalance in the Universe which is unhealthy for all. Do not just give and give and give to those with the capability of giving back until they have given a bit too. It isn’t good for them. They’ll wind up demonizing you for it (remember, no good deed goes unpunished), and it isn’t good for you.
Of course, there are those who cannot give back at an appropriate level, such as babies, severely disabled people, the homeless, etc. To those people, we should give and give generously without thought of reciprocation. But they should be taught to give back at whatever level they can. After about 2 years old, even young children can be taught to give something back.
While doormats have their uses, people aren’t supposed to act like one. It is vital that you set reasonable boundaries in your friendships. Far from being “unspiritual,” it is one of the most Spiritual things you can do.