“True friendship,” says C. S. Lewis, “is the least jealous of loves.” We in the SSA crowd, or anyway the neurotic crowd, or maybe just the human crowd, hear that and cringe, because so many of us are such amateurs at friendship, amateurs in every sense: we dabble in it, we’re fascinated by it to the point of obsession, and our talent for it is decidedly imperfect.

True friendship? Most of us have scraps of it, but our actual friendships seem to exist on the perpetual verge of collapse, held together by duct tape and desperate good intentions; and jealousy intrudes, painfully, over and over. How well we know the signs of its approach, and how powerless we feel to stop it!

Like any amateur, I sometimes watch the experts — are there friendship experts? — to see how it’s done.

I noticed that my friends A and B had a tendency to express their fondness for each other via insults. “Ah ha!” said my crafty little lizard brain. “This is what friends do! I, too, will insult A, and let’s see whether we become better friends because of it.”

So I tried it out, but something went wrong. When I insulted A, he looked faintly hurt, and instead of responding with an insult of his own (as I had seen him do to B), he laughed uncomfortably and said, “Ah, yeah, you’re probably right.”

Waitwaitwait, cancel, retreat, abort! That isn’t what I meant at all. But this is what comes of being crafy, especially of being crafty where friendship is concerned: your friends get hurt and you look mean.

I understood belatedly what A and B’s insults had meant. It wasn’t that they had made a conscious decision to express friendship via insults, nor was it that insults are the universal language of male friendship. This was just the particular shape their friendship had developed, slowly and organically, over the years of its evolution.

And my appropriation of their particular brand of camaraderie suddenly looked grotesque and desperate, because, unfortunately, it was.

I was driving to work and this particular scene came back to me — you know that horrible splurch you get when you suddenly remember something grotesque and desperate that you’ve done?1 — but, thankfully, I also remembered that bit from Lewis’ Four Loves:

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves.2

I’ve seen this in the way only J. will shout when only M. makes a particularly asinine point, or only L. will cackle when only C. is crass in his exactly C.-like flavor of crassness. It’s also evident in the way, if M. and I find ourselves in a room without the accustomed presence of J., we suddenly won’t know what to say to each other: J. turns out to have been a bridge between us, a way for us to enjoy each other. Lacking him, we have to find other ways.

But the other part of that picture is a part we can’t see: ourselves. Cue Walker Percy:

Why is it that in your entire lifetime you will never be able to size yourself up as you can size up somebody else — or size up Saturn — in a ten-second look?”3

We don’t know our own part in the peculiar lattice of relations that exists between us and our friends, but make no mistake — we do have such a part. Whatever my opinion of myself, I am irreplaceable to them as each of them is to me. My own face will suddenly take on an expression that is characteristically Steve, and my friends will notice, but I won’t have the faintest idea about it; if I did, that would spoil it.

That’s how it works. We are not only for ourselves. The list of things I know about myself is not the same as the list of things my friends know about me. I am not even the best lover of myself, since I can never see in myself that very Steveness that is exactly what my friends love about me. I will never be able to see it. But I know it is there, because there are those that love me; so I don’t have to worry about it terribly much.

In other words, I have only to be myself; which (and this is the part they never tell you) I can only do when I am paying attention to the peculiarly lovable selves of everybody else.

1 This often happens while I’m driving.4 If you ever see me suddenly wince in traffic, that’s probably why.
2 From The Four Loves. Context is here.
3 This is from Percy’s Lost In the Cosmos, also known as The Best Book For Weirdos To Read To Feel Less Like Weirdos. The context is here.
4 Which is one reason why I sometimes listen to Savant and/or Skrillex when I’m driving. Did you know, if you turn the dubstep up loud enough, you can’t think of anything at all?

13 thoughts on “Lattice

  1. Tammy

    I second that! It’s all true but I doubt I would have had the brain power to think it out myself. Thanks for another timely post Steve.

    Reply
  2. Sarah

    This reminds me of a quote I once saw (but can’t for the life of me find) that you will never love yourself the way others love you, because you never see yourself properly. You can’t see how you look when you read, or how you look when you’re surprised or happy or in the sun… They phrased it less superficially than I am right now, but I found it really striking at the time, and I try to remind myself that how I see myself very likely doesn’t reflect how anyone else sees me.

    It also reminds me of the time that a friend of mine accused me of “showing off.” I protested that I *never* show off, and he said, “I can always tell when you’re showing off because you have a showing-off face that you make.” and I said, “What?! I do not. What is my “showing-off” face?” “It’s hard to describe, but it’s mostly in your mouth and chin.”

    On the one hand, I was a bit peeved to have been “caught” or accused of showing off. On the other hand, I had this kind of warm feeling that there were people out there who knew me and noticed things like that. A kind of weird belonging.

    Reply
  3. Briana

    Have you ever heard of the concept of Johari windows? It’s basically this. Say you have a friend, F. There are things that both you and F know about you, things only you know, things only F knows, and things neither of you know. Each of those things is a “window” (open, hidden, blind, and unknown, respectively). People usually forget about the third window.

    Reply
  4. March

    Helpful thoughts. They were really made me think. May I disagree with one point though? I think we know ourselves better than others, but often are dishonest (to ourselves) about that knowledge, not dissimilarly to our dishonesty about being able to size up another person in five minutes.

    Reply
  5. JBT

    Yeah……. I think the problem is that the phrase “know ourselves” is extraordinarily ambiguous. Obviously I know my own hidden motivations and inner thoughts better than other people can. But I can’t possibly know myself as I manifest in my interactions with others, as I affect their own spiritual journeys, as I influence their own future choices. And I think it is (at least) tenable that the latter is more truly “who I am” as a person, in the eyes of God, than whatever static is going on inside my own head at a given moment.

    Reply
  6. mikell

    Love this Post Steve. I dont have any friends so I imagine your tales are mine. Then your friends are my friends.
    Praise be the Incarnate Word.

    Reply
  7. Justin

    Oh, wow — someone else afflicted by fits of mortifying embarrassment at random moments. Glad I’m not the only one. This happens to me all the time. Sometimes I wince, or say to myself reflexively “I hate life” which I know is probably sinful, so I try to catch myself and say “I hate memories”, i.e. the memory of whatever I did. Maybe I’m not as weird as I thought I was.

    Reply
  8. CK

    “I was driving to work and this particular scene came back to me — you know that horrible splurch you get when you suddenly remember something grotesque and desperate that you’ve done?”

    Everyone does that. All. The. Time.

    I’ll let you in on another secret…when you’re driving the car and think to yourself, “All I have to do is turn this wheel a little bit to the right and I can hit that telephone pole and kill myself” and think you’re sick because you haven’t the slightest desire or intention to kill yourself, yeah, everyone thinks this too.

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      About that “secret”… are you sure about that? Because I have told certain non-neurotic friends that sometimes I feel compelled to walk out in front of a car, or think of other possible suicide methods for no real reason, on a day when you’re even feeling pretty good about life, and I get some variation of “Holy fuck; are you okay?”

      Not to mention that my mental health pros have told me that this is symptomatic of major depression, or could be part of a mixed episode of bipolar disorder.

      Sometimes people with mental problems try to convince themselves that the destructive things they feel and do are normal. I still find it hard to wrap my mind around the idea that some people really never feel like killing themselves, or laying in bed for three days, or pulling out their hair.

      Of course, everyone feels that sick feeling when they remember something embarrassingly grotesque and desperate… but no, not everyone actually fantasizes about purposely causing their own destruction, CK. At least, not healthy people.

      Reply

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