Friendship and fools’ games

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” There’s a reason why sayings like this are called truisms. Yet some of us hand out second, third and fourth chances (if not more), persistent in our foolishness even when we should know better.

I miss a friend I’ll call Amy. We had connected over shared interests in writing, strategy, blue-skying ideas and learning from each other. We’d helped each other, worked together, played together, laughed and cried together. I still find it hard to formally cut the ties and call her a “former” friend, even though it was merited three times over.  Consider:

Shame on you.

Her boyfriend (who had introduced us) and I severed our friendship. It was hard enough losing the one relationship. Since neither of us were teenagers and thus saddled with the insecurity of youth, I had hoped Amy and I could maintain our friendship like adults. But she dropped me, too. For a year. Then she called me out of the blue to have dinner with her to chat about a few things. Like the fact that she and the boyfriend had broken up. She apologized. Could we start anew? Of course.

Shame on me.

The next phase of our relationship could be characterized as friendship combined with mentorship. I knew Amy had raw talent for writing, some marketing background, could easily understand my business and my clients’ and was eager to explore and mentor back when it came to technology and all the “new” media stuff that we needed to learn and incorporate into my boutique public relations firm. I hired her, she learned fast, did great, was an asset to my business, and I also counted her as one of my best friends.

Then, when idly Googling my own name one night, I found it mentioned in a new blog post for a new PR firm that played up the same unusual positioning that I used. All hers. What mattered least to me was her leaving, or that she was putting her ownership stamp on the thinking in which I’d schooled her. What mattered most was her lack of confidence in our friendship.  She clearly didn’t realize that despite it all, I’d want to help her succeed.

Thrice fooled.

It took several years before I could be cordial to Amy again, not that it was a huge issue as she had relocated to a different state. We saw each other at a wedding, though, and managed some stilted conversation. Facebook further offered an opportunity for risk-free interaction. When I closed my business, she reached out and our relationship thawed even further as we began to exchange information and ideas as we had in the old days.

She called when she had a prospect that she wouldn’t be able to handle on her own. It would be her client. She preferred that I do the writing. She wanted to do the media relationship building. We could both contribute to strategy. I suggested we split the fees – if we got the client – according to our agreed-upon estimate of how many hours she wanted me to put in. We made an overnight trip to meet with the prospect. She led the conversation. I contributed. And then we tackled the proposal.  I was happy to have my friend back.

The proposal was nearly done when Amy called and asked me to read an e-mail she’d sent me. Then we could talk. So sorry, she wrote. She couldn’t make a profit on my hours at my billing rate so she was cutting me out of the project. They probably were going to have a low retainer anyway. Just business, you understand.

Huh.

It’s interesting how, as you grow older, your circle of friends starts to shrink. Paths diverge. Interests change. Natural attrition occurs. It just may be harder to maintain existing friendships than to grow new ones. Do you work at them despite the risk of being foolish? Perhaps. It all depends on your tolerance for forgiveness.

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