Friendship needs rules, with help from Noel Coward and ‘Mama Mia!’
A young girl’s firm missive awakened me to the reciprocal rights and responsibilities of being a good buddy
I received an e-mail yesterday from a young girl who’s a firm friend of mine. Small girls are the very best of human beings, and exceedingly good correspondents because they are lively and articulate and interested in the world around them, and their hearts are still open to its small surprises and delights. This, however, was not a happy e-mail. It was written in disapproval and did not shy away from the unpleasant but necessary task of telling me some home truths about myself.
How can I call myself a friend, was the gist of it, when for long periods of time – days on end, recently even weeks – I do not write or call or send any reassurance that we are still pals? What kind of a friend, she wanted to know, can find the time to post things on the internet for complete strangers to read, while his good buddy languishes neglected back home, bowed under the oppressive regimes of school and a loving family? Also, there was the matter of my having written mockingly in my last mail about her enthusiasm for the movie Mama Mia 2. Had I even watched Mama Mia 2? She did not think so, or I could never have said such foolish things, and if I could heap scorn and ridicule on something that means so much to her without so much as checking it out for myself, then honestly what kind of friend am I?
I felt very abashed. There was a spareness and restraint to the writing that made it sting the more, and trebly so because it was all true. I wrote back immediately in gusts of apology, blaming my schedule and my work and my deeply idle nature, and also confessing that I have never been entirely sure of the rules and codes of being friends...