The Christmas Day Friendship Massacre

Some things are givens …

Do not double-dip.

It’s just gross.

Try to avoid starting serious conversations electronically.

I choose my words carefully here. Firstly, I said ‘Try’. Perhaps a face-to-face conversation is impossible, for whatever reason; or maybe there is an urgency which means that a delay whilst awaiting face-to-face contact would aggravate a situation. But if possible, reserve those emotional words for a proper conversation, complete with facial expressions and body language. You have no control over when and where the recipient will read your message/mail and what other things are happening for them at that moment; and you have less control over their perception of your words, than if you are physically present. Secondly, I said ‘starting’. If someone else initiates such a conversation, I may respond, because they chose that medium through which to have the conversation but I may shut it down.

Always clean up after your dog, whether it’s messed up in deepest, darkest Peru or a street pavement.

Even dog-owners, surely, do not want to experience that sinking feeling … of one’s foot sinking into dog poo.

Bad news can wait.

Especially on special days like Christmas Day. Of course, there may be extenuating circumstances that mean the bad news actually cannot wait, but, for example, conversations that are founded upon a criticism of a lifestyle choice, can wait till Boxing Day at least.

Stop being surprised that the Christmas tree lights do not work.

One should expect the Christmas tree lights to flicker once, crackle and die forever. If they work for two years in a row, consider it a bonus. And test them before painstakingly draping them over the tree; one should have them switched on anyway, to dress the tree effectively. Yes, they should work for more than one Christmas but they are fickle things you know, those fairy lights.

Do not base a whole argument on an assumption.

We have all done it: had that argument in the car on the way to work, or staring intently into the bathroom mirror until you start to worry that you may not be alone in the house after all. (Or maybe it is just me!) But there are a couple of pitfalls waiting to trip you up … firstly, secure the facts first. Do not waste precious minutes of your life fretting about a situation that is merely a suspicion. The more you plan your argument, the more anxious you will become and the more likely it is that you will forget it was only a hunch. Secondly, your opposition may throw you a curve ball, like an apology, very early on and you may be so hard-nosed about giving your speech (which probably did not account for the possibility of interjection by your opposition) that you create a new problem with your unnecessary rant.

Play with your dog when he or she wants to play, even if for just a few minutes.

One day, she or he will not be around and you will want to reflect on all the times you played yet another round of Fetch, Tug-of-War or Tummy Tickling; not all the times you did not.

Never stop trying to see things from the point of view of others.

Many people claim to be doing this but I strongly suspect that all too often, these are hollow claims.

When people take their coffee black, there is no need to leave room for milk.

This is one of life’s mysteries to me.

Listen to people.

Seriously, everyone knows when you are not. The constant butting in, before one has reached one’s point; the glazed look; the reply that bears no relevance to one’s remark; the lack of reaction when one stops talking mid-sentence, or worse, when one wraps it all up with “and then I died” … all tell-tale signs that you are not listening. And I have actually tested people out with the last two. Hilarious. You do not know who you are, because you did not notice, but I do … 🙂

Do not lick your fingers to separate the two sides of a bag and then hand it to me.

Apologies to shop workers that do this, but it is rank.

Say the right things to the right people.

This is a no-brainer, but apparently needs to be said. Do not tell people things about which you are not certain. And even then, if it involves mutual friends and the things are negative, then consider whether or not you should be talking to the people it directly involves first. Of course, it may be that you feel the need to confide in a friend first but if it can be avoided, it should be. Always remember that if you confide in one person, they may ‘feel the need’ to confide in one person and so on …

It is ALWAYS ‘should have’, ‘could have’, ‘might have’, ‘may have’ and ‘would have’.

It is never the other word. I will not write it, because one should avoid honouring the incorrect version by putting it into print. But you all know the offending word to which I refer. And before anyone gets on their hobby horse, I am not suggesting that the word should never be used; it just should not be used to replace ‘have’. Ever.

Praise people.

It is generally acknowledged that children respond well to praise. Sadly, many forget that adults do too. I received some secondhand praise recently and the effect on my self-esteem and commitment was remarkable. Sadly, I was not aware that my self-esteem was suffering until it improved and in this case there was a happy ending. But had my friend not made that chance remark, I would never have known that I was appreciated within those particular circumstances.

Sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow.

In all seriousness, it is fine if you do not! However, expect people to judge you if you do not wash your hands immediately afterwards if you choose to sneeze and cough into your hands. Bleugh.

Value people.

It is considerably frustrating when one busts a gut to meet a deadline for an acquaintance, only for one’s actions to have been in vain. One stops busting guts over a period of time.

Don’t be nasty to/about redheads because of their red hair.

People will know that you are stupid.

Own your mistakes.

I do not trust people who never apologise. These people, clearly, never think that they are wrong. No-one is perfect and therefore everyone makes mistakes, so people who never apologise never own their mistakes.

Do not get Star Wars and Star Trek confused.

Honestly, it is not rocket science, if you will pardon the pun. The story of the former is based on a war and the premise of the latter is based on a journey (or ‘trek’, if you will). If you have not watched either, there is no hope. Not even Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Accept apologies given gracefully.

It is not easy to apologise and often, there is little more a person can do, so to continue an argument post-apology grants little value to the latter and also gives no direction to the solution. You may have some juicy arguments that your brain is keen to deliver to your mouth – and to be fair, they may be points that need to be heard – but mull them over before deciding to spill forth and do not forget that you have received your apology.

Expect people to talk through your songs at Open Mic nights.

It is a pub and you are not Morrissey. The music should be a mellow backdrop to the evening and I do not mind if you talk through my songs. Just clap at the end rather than boo me.

Being interested in others makes you interesting.

You may have led a fascinating life and experienced a hundred wonders, but if you regale anecdote after anecdote without asking any questions of your listener(s), people will, quite rightly, consider you a bore.

Understand that I do not indulge in online dating.

I WAS ON TINDER FOR TWO MONTHS SHORTLY AFTER MY HUSBAND LEFT ME. THAT. IS. ALL.

Reflect on criticism.

I have noticed that some people see every criticism, however small/constructive/well-meaning as a personal attack against which they must defend themselves. Some students exhibit this and it may be learned behaviour from parents. But some adults do this and it is worth noting that people who are brave enough to criticise an acquaintance, possibly care considerably about their relationship with that person to do so.

Keep mouths shut whilst eating.

No explanation needed!

Do not sit in judgment of the sadness of others.

No-one has the right to judge how sad a person is allowed to feel. Perhaps they have presented a facade to all but you, because they felt they could cry on your shoulder. So comments like, “some people have it worse, you know” or “count your blessings” are not helpful. You cannot order a person to feel happier and they may not even want your help; just someone to listen, try to understand and provide tea/coffee/gin/whatever it takes.

Never use the words ‘let’s go round the room introducing ourselves …’

If anyone who has had a stammer is reading this, they will understand the significance of those words which actually make your heart race, your palms sweat and a large red blotch work its way up from your chest, through your neck and up to your cheeks. Stutterers have the most trouble saying words that begin with the initial letters of their names, so obviously that includes their names. One of the benefits of taking on your husband’s name is that you swap a word over which you stutter constantly (I think stutterers are more aware of how often you have to say your name than anyone) for one you do not. Unless you are that down on your luck that the initial letter of your husband’s name is the same as yours! But then I moved to a village with the initial letter of my maiden name … life is cruel.

Do not escalate situations unnecessarily.

Many people do not argue properly. Arguments are important, so we need to get it right. First of all, stick to the point. Do not escalate things. Questions like ‘so you don’t love me anymore?’ when it is a simple debate over replacing toilet roll are not helpful. Second of all, avoid using hyperbolic words. For example, accusing your partner of defamatory remarks because they called you a twonk when you face-planted while snowboarding, will make you look an even bigger twonk.

A (now former) friend of mine ended our friendship on Christmas Day. I sent very few cards this year because I was disorganised, so on Christmas morning, when the house was quiet, the tree twinkled dutifully and the dog stared, unblinking, at his stocking, patiently awaiting the tardy stirring of the rest of the household, so he could shake his stocking until all the goodies were on the floor, I sent some ‘Merry Christmas’ messages. Halfway through, Christmas got into full swing when the rest of the house woke up, the dog snapped out of his depression (which had probably lasted his whole life in his little doggy brain) and even the fairy lights stepped up as they seemed to twinkle in time to the Best Christmas Album in the World Ever. It was a morning of presents, noise, cooking, grating of butternut squash (don’t ask) and general joie de vivre. Lunch was great, the cracker jokes were poor and all manner of drinks flowed. No-one could actually move directly afterwards, so no-one did for some time. Then we could move, so we went to visit the extended family nearby and the jollity continued with chocolate and a game of Pointless, which Rhiannon and I won. During this game, one of the recipients of my ‘Merry Christmas’ messages messaged me. I was surprised that rather than simply accepting my good wishes and returning a similar wish for good cheer and all that, he decided to raise a recent conversation from earlier this month whereby he had advised me on a course of action. I had not requested his advice, but had accepted it nonetheless with grace, I felt. He seemed to forget that I had agreed to act on his advice and had I not been in company, I would have been open-mouthed at his electronic rant. I reminded him – calmly, not rantily – of this fact and there was silence. But he had distressed me considerably by this time and so I angrily messaged him to point out that he had upset me on Christmas Day. What I received then was a lengthy retort on what a terrible person I was and that he was ‘done with me entirely.’

This is my explanation for my list of ‘givens’. My former friend challenged a fair number of those ‘givens’ with his actions. I am still shocked at his behaviour and his treatment of me. Firstly, I did not ask him for advice. I told him about a situation of mine and he meted out advice. I told him I had already taken that action but agreed to repeat it. He then told me that my situation was not that bad and that his best friend ‘had it worse’. I pulled him up on this and he agreed that it was a low blow indeed. Fast forward to Christmas Day and he thought it was ok to start chatting about an unpleasant situation of mine via Messenger at ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. So he forgot that I had agreed to act on his advice … but he did not listen when I reminded him. And then, to escalate the discussion to emotional levels (still via Messenger) kinda left me standing. Finally, he severed our friendship. On Christmas Day. I did not complete my ‘Merry Christmases’, so please do not be upset if you received nothing from me.

My children have reminded me that this is a man with a diagnosis of autism. I forget that he has autism, because the manifestations are all pleasant. He is clever, geeky and I would have said sweet, but his final message to me was so vitriolic that I deleted the whole conversation so as not to be reminded of him. But I considered him sweet once upon a time. He could be inappropriate and I was becoming rather worn out with the continuing cycle of being friends, him asking me out, my rejecting him, not being friends for a while, then gradually becoming friends again only for him to ask me out again and so on. Having been in the company of young, autistic people for several years now on a daily basis, I can see that there are many aspects about the ending of our friendship that could be features of his autism, for example, his apparent indifference to the inappropriateness of his conversation and ultimate outburst on Christmas Day. But anyway, he has voted with his feet and my feet do not feel inclined to run after him, autism or not and I feel that that is fair.

So that is why I chose to write the ‘givens’. I am guessing that most people agree with most of my ‘givens’ but not everyone does them all of the time. I am not perfect but I do my best to take ownership of mistakes I make. If someone pulls me up on my words or actions, I will not necessarily uphold their complaint, but firstly, I will listen and secondly, I will reflect. Sometimes I will return, cap-in-hand and apologise. Sometimes I will not. Sometimes I will apologise for words or actions after no feedback; I just feel I owe an apology. I feel deserving of an apology from my former friend but as time passes, the likelihood of an apology is decreasing and I have accepted that. I would struggle to trust him with my friendship after the Christmas Day friendship massacre anyway. I found myself reflecting on a couple of other friendships that have disappointed me over the last few months and I reflected on my own words and actions too, because, like many people, I strive to improve and I want to explore my deeds for potential wrongdoing. Also, if one never takes the blame, one is a permanent victim and who wants that?

On Christmas Eve I received an email from my latest accompanist. I feel dumped as your accompanist he wrote. He then proceeded to query our lack of rehearsals. I replied and indicated to him that his email was based on a hunch and so I did not feel a part of the conversation. Secondly, I pointed out that it was Christmas Eve and surely this could have waited? Lastly, I requested that any emotive words, most definitely had to be exchanged face-to-face from now on. Hats off to accompanist no 3; he apologised, wished me a happy Christmas and said he looked forward to meeting up in the New Year. He also challenged some of those ‘givens’ but a little humility went a long way and my friendship with him feels valued. We will meet up in the new year and discuss the lack of rehearsals. I have my reasons for not having contacted him but to be fair, neither had he contacted me until Christmas Eve. However, I acknowledge my part in the whole situation and come January, I look forward to seeing him and possibly moving forward as a musical duo or maybe parting company. We shall see.

I hope that my blog post has not seemed patronising. As I said, I am certain that most people feel that most of my ‘givens’ are fair. Some are easy to achieve, whereas others might present a challenge. I don’t count people’s mistakes, but I take note of how people handle their mistakes. So if you give me just half a cup of black coffee, I will be disappointed. And never hand me a spitty bag.