It takes two to tango.
I recently had a phone call from an old friend (we shall call her X) who clearly had something on her mind. After the initial hellos and how-the-hell-are-yous she very quickly moved on to the real reason why she’d called me. She wanted to issue a very formal and very vociferous complaint about her best friend (whom we shall call Y). What’s a best friend for, X wanted to know, if she was going to abandon you at the first opportunity and treat your worries with contempt? What’s the deal with that?
Cautious enquiries revealed that the best friend (Y) had been avoiding phone calls for a while, and was being uncommunicative. Y was clearly having a wonderful life and was doing a lot of stuff (Facebook never lies), but there. She was doing them with other people. Her wonderful life didn’t include X, and X was ‘over it’. Clearly Y was doing this to spite her (X), and she (X) wasn’t having any of it any longer.
I wondered what had happened to cut short this wonderful love story. I know both women fairly well, and they had always seemed on the very best of terms before. I ventured to ask if anything had happened.
This brought forth a passionate tirade. Nothing had happened! X couldn’t understand it! One day things had been bowling along, hunky and dory, and then, boom! Over! Finito! Dead, buried, and decomposed! The fat lady had sung, gone off to her supper, and the curtains had swung across to obscure the vast stage. “It’s over“, said X. Her bosom was probably heaving dramatically at this stage. (I’m a writer; I play scenes over in my head, even as they happen to other people. Leave me alone!)
Fascinated, I probed a little further. X deigned to inform me that she was the one who always said hello first. It was exhausting, she declared. ‘When was the last time she called me?’ demanded X. I ventured timidly to respond that I didn’t know. I may as well have just not spoken. ‘Never!’ screeched X.
My problem is that I’m the person, who is expected to, in almost any situation, make peace. People have started seeking me out now expecting me to make the wretched thing happen between two jaded and miserable souls. ‘Patch us up!’ screech the estranged lovers. ‘Make us whole!’ scream the warring friends. ‘He said she said he said!’ wail the assorted members of my immediate and extended family. ‘Make them go away!’ say I.
So, as I’m burdened with this peace-making curse, I set off to talk to Y. Indirectly (and congratulating myself on my great cunning) I asked her how X was keeping. ‘Why don’t you just ask her?’ responded Y nastily, loading her words into her sentences like bullets. ‘Uhm’, I responded. This wasn’t going well. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Y decided to unburden herself to me. ‘We’re not really friends any more’, she said, sounding overly casual. I expressed surprise. ‘Oh please’, said Y scathingly. ‘You know how self-obsessed X is.’
Aha, thought I.
Y then gleefully (and enthusiastically) proceeded to tell. ‘She only talks to me so that she can talk about herself’, said Y. ‘All the time! You have no idea what that’s like! She never asks about me! When I try to talk about me, she makes it about HER again!’ I made crooning noises. ‘I can’t take it any more!’ said Y, sobbing into her handkerchief (I told you about the writer thing; stop looking at me like that!) with a strangled sound. ‘There, there’, said I, distractedly. I saw it all, all too clearly.
I asked the obvious (to me, anyway) question.
‘What do you mean TELL her?’ erupted Y. I ran for cover. From behind an enormous settee I ventured to suggest that perhaps Y should have told X how she felt.
Y boggled at me. I could feel her scorn washing over me in waves. I cowered some more. ‘She doesn’t listen to a thing I say! Haven’t you been listening?’
I timidly suggested that perhaps Y should have told X that she wasn’t listening to Y. Y expressed her contempt for this suggestion in a few crisp words. Furthermore, she added that she wasn’t very impressed with me. ‘Your advice sucks’, she told me coldly.
I pressed on. Communication, I told her, was the key. It was okay to tell your friend that she was self-obsessed to the point of annoyance. It was okay to tell her to shut up and listen. It was okay to tell her to stop talking about something that was annoying or distressing to you, and since she cared about your feelings, she would do so, knowing that when you were yourself again, you would listen again. It was all perfectly alright, in fact.
‘Tell HER that’, said Y, and rang off.
I ventured to do so without trying to point the finger of blame at X in any way. X boggled at me. I sighed inwardly. ‘Your advice is stupid’, said X, without sparing a thought for any remaining feelings I may have. Communication is key, I insisted. ‘Why did I even come to you with my troubles?’ continued X. I shook my head mutely. I’d been wondering the same thing myself. I told her she was making it all about her again.
‘AGAIN?’ spat X. She rang off.
I sat in a bath a quarter of an hour later, shakily sipping a glass of wine. ‘Perhaps I’ve lost the Midas touch when it comes to peace-making’, I murmured hopefully to myself. I put the glass down and proceeded to submerge myself in my bath, forgetting I’d added bath salts. I came up out of the water like a blind Thetis, pawing at my eyes. So much for a relaxing bath.
I tried putting the incident out of my mind and returned to my life. About a fortnight later Facebook kindly informed me that Y had added a bunch of new photos to one of her albums. I idly clicked through. Guess who was in almost every photograph? That’s right. X!
I’d clearly done my job, although I wasn’t too clear on how I’d done it. X pinged me in a chat on MSN a little while later and I casually told her that I saw she was friends again with Y. ‘Oh yes’, said X. ‘We’re best friends again. We just started talking to each other and that was that.’
‘That was that’, said I.
‘We’re not blaming you’, went on X kindly. I backed up. Why, I asked, would they blame me?
‘Well’, said X. ‘You didn’t know what you were talking about, did you? We were just upset with each other and we didn’t know it. Once we started talking AND listening, we made up. It was like it all melted away.’
‘But but but’, I started.
‘I have to go’, said X. ‘I’m meeting Y for lunch. It’s so lovely to be friends again. Remember. We don’t blame you!’ She signed off.
‘That’s what I told you to do’, I told the ether sadly.
Oh well. You win some. And you win some, but don’t get given the satisfaction of your win. Either way, you lose.