The Art of Losing Friends and Alienating People

Laura Lippman:

As a friend, I frequently break the first rule of fiction: I’m all tell, no show. I’m not going to remember your kid’s birthday, or even yours, despite Facebook’s helpful nudges. When you’re in a crisis, I won’t know the right questions to ask. I blame my Southern parents for placing so many topics in the forbidden zone. I grew up being told it was rude to discuss age, income, health, feelings. I often think that’s why I became a reporter.

I have a list in my head of all the friends I let down. It’s not long, but it’s longer than I’d like, and it’s probably longer than I know. Most of those friends have forgiven me, but I never lose sight of my failures. It’s like a stain on a busily-patterned rug; once you know where to look, your eye goes there every time. I know where to look. I am aware of my misdeeds. Every friend who has ever called me out on being a bad friend had me dead to rights.

But this does not apply to Charley, who enumerated my flaws only when I demanded that she do so. More than a decade ago, she retreated, seemingly done with me. I pursued, asking what I had done wrong. She ticked off my sins: Self-centered, shallow, superficial, materialistic. I was taken aback and a little defensive, but I could see her side of things, so I apologized. And it wasn’t a mealy-mouthed if-you-feel-offended-then-I’m-sorry apology. It was full-throated and sincere, a mea culpa that was all mea. Later, I found out she had gone through a huge crisis at about the time of our break and I thought that explained everything.