I want to have good weather friends. Not bad, not fair, but really, really good! I first realized this after a conversation with my mother—a clinical psychologist and life coach—some years back. My life experiences and relationships hitherto have only proven this maxim to be right.
The gist of my argument: Being a bad weather friend usually has some secondary gains. Being a fair weather friend doesn’t say anything meaningful about the underlying dynamics of the relationship. But being a good weather friend involves purely good motivations.
What I have observed, over time, is that while my friends’ reactions to my misfortunes do not vary that much from one another (and positively correlate with our level of observable closeness), their reactions to my good fortunes are very mixed. Sometimes, a seemingly very close friend can tell me that s/he is too busy to listen to my job promotion, acceptance to yet another Ivy League school, or yet another family wedding, whereas a more distant friend can genuinely enjoy that conversation with me, really sharing and amplifying my joy. But when I am sick or if a family member passes away, the first guy could still be the one to call me before anyone else does.
So, why would any good friend who would drop everything to listen to my misery on a bad day would be reluctant to have a pleasant conversation on a good day?
Well, the casual observations I have made are so abound, I don’t know which one to describe to best illustrate. For instance, this past January I decided to take a month-long trip across several Asian countries —something I wanted to do for a long time. After taking care of all the logistics, I shared the news, with tremendous excitement, with a couple of close friends .
#1 asked me to take lots of photos and share them with her afterwards.
#2 asked me if I am not scared of dying from malaria.
The second-to-immediate reaction from both: wishing me safe and happy travels.
To most, both are very reasonable responses. I beg to analyze further:
#1 is actually happy for me and wants to share my joy (photos being a proxy for that), while #2 would rather see me never take that fancy trip (dying from malaria being a proxy for that).
One more… It was my first semester as a senior in college when all my close friends and I wanted to be management consultants (I realize that this statement warrants a whole new blog entry!). When I got a job offer from McKinsey, before any of them has an offer, they all, of course, congratulated me:
#1 said he would buy me a beer to celebrate at our earliest convenience (never happened).
#2 immediately asked all sorts of question about where in New York I would live and what industry I would like to focus on.
#3 asked how I would deal with a potentially terrible lifestyle, long hours, and travel (even though at the time he was also only applying to consulting jobs).
Again, all three very reasonable responses. But here is my lowdown: #1 is polite but closing the subject by postponing/avoiding the celebratory moment; #2 is a real friend who wants to prolong and share my joy by delving deeper into what makes this a good piece of news; #3 unconscionably projects misery on me which would come as a result of the offer that he had not gotten, so that his ego can deal with the reality at present.
Being an angel?
So, you might argue, some friends are more friends than others in good times. How is that different from bad times? At the end of the day, a bad weather friend is one that selflessly helps, maybe offers his time and money, and suffers through bad moods and unpleasant conversations. Doesn’t that sound much harder than having a good time with a friend?!
I think that question alone should tell the lengths many people will go to just to avoid having to face that some others are happier than they are at a particular moment. My conclusion is that this is a defense mechanism they use to avoid bigger issues, such as feelings of low self-esteem or becoming passive aggressive as a result of jealousy. But while it might be well-justified, it does make them less trustworthy when it comes to serious matters.
Of course, I would never underestimate the invaluable benefit of having support in bad times. A 28 short years have given me enough number of situations involving disease, death, accidents, suicides, financial problems, adaptation challenges, uncertainties and other worries, inter alia, wherein I have enjoyed the support of a precious few friends, for which I am eternally grateful.
Similarly, I, too, have been there for many friends in need, and that makes us all good people. But when we walk out from that hospital, graveyard, court room, a lonely park bench, or whatever else, deep down we all get secondary gains—inevitably, we know that
1) we are a good person for dedicating our time and resources to a friend in need (i.e., ego boost),
2) now there is one more person who would come to our help when we are the one suffering from a misfortune (i.e., buying insurance),
3) we should feel grateful for everything we have, since we do not have to deal with whatever calamity our friend is dealing with (i.e., feeling of contentment—i.e., serotonin boost).
– o –
Now consider being on the other side: You are single, unemployed, and lately depressed. Your handsome, healthy friend tells you that he just got another promotion at work the other day, after he put a ring on his beautiful girlfriend. He is so happy and wants to tell you every detail of where and how all of this happened, what he said and she said and his boss said and his boss’s secretaries and their cousins said… If that moment finally lightens up your mood, then I call it a true friendship. If you feel even more depressed, then take a step back and analyze what is making you feel that way.
In sum, those happy moments are the ones I watch most closely when I seek myself a good company, a girlfriend, or a business partner. If I had to choose, I prefer friends who would be happy for me when I am happy over friends who would feel sorry for me when I am sad. And I would strongly argue that the first group of friends are more reliable in bad times as well.
So, just as I want my friends to cheer my happiness, I want to cheer their happiness. There are very few things I enjoy as much in life as seeing one of my close friends choosing to share his/her moments of joy with me before anyone else. That by itself is enough reason for me to immerse myself in his/her world of happiness for as long as it lasts. 🙂