By Simon Barget
Friends are important and I’m fortunate enough to have plenty. But friends can be demanding, they impose themselves on our time, and if you expect to receive then you must be willing to give in return. Granted, most friends are reasonable and know the limits of their claims. They might even have an intuition about what you need or want. Because, after all, beyond all the friends a man has, beyond all the time he fills with carousing, it’s critical we have time to ourselves, where we can just be. I suppose most of my friends are fine. They don’t make outright calls on my time, ask impossible favours, demand unnatural levels of loyalty. But there are a few who persist.
I have a couple of friends, for example, who will call me up in the middle of the night, about two in the morning, call and call on the landline, let it ring until the thing slowly drifts into my consciousness and I wake up from my sleep and realise that the once unplaceable sound is the phone ringing. I don’t understand why these friends make it their business to call at such an unreasonable hour. I mean they must know it’s wrong; they do know. But then they say that they just had to tell me this one thing, or they wanted to ask me something and it just couldn’t wait till morning. And when they do deliver the question or the pressing nugget of information, I always do a double-take. Admittedly there’s part of me that’s quite taken aback by the disclosure, there’s an inward gasp, because it can be something quite big, but then shortly after this reaction, I start to wonder whether it was really necessary to call me here and now to tell me this. Initially, as I say, I will be taken in. It could just be the way they say it, the way they build and dress it up, make it sound so important. But then I start to think: could the world not have waited? What if they’d left it till sunrise?
Then I’ll put the phone down and reflect a little more. It will sink in for good that these friends are just pushing it. If I ever happen to question the urgency, they’ve always got an excuse; like, ‘it’s not that late’, or ‘I wouldn’t usually’, or ‘this is really really important’, or ‘you know I wouldn’t bother you if I didn’t really think so etc.’ They always manage to preserve some sort of high ground, they always manage to convince me and it just makes it worse. Take it from me, they’re not mad or unstable or anything, they’re just enthusiastic, keen to a fault, but if they don’t consider my wellbeing, well then how can I truly call them a friend? As I say, they’re in the minority, but still this is an example of the lengths a friend can go to, at least my friends.
So I will go back to bed and lie there in darkness, slowly realising that I don’t need to endure this. I will realise it’s not my friend’s fault, he’s just made like that, he can’t help it, but just because a person is as they are, doesn’t mean you have to be subjected to every last grain of their personality, does it? Unsurprisingly then I find it difficult to get back to sleep. To be honest I wonder if he’s going to call me back with an addendum, and then one of my other friends could decide to call, you never know, and it has happened that one has followed the other in quick succession. You might wonder why I don’t tell them to stop. Why don’t I unplug the phone? Well I could, but you wouldn’t believe the lengths some people go to. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually came round and knocked on the door, started throwing stones at my window. I wouldn’t put it past him. And I’d far rather deal with them over the phone than have him causing a rumpus with the neighbours.
Then I have had friends to stay at my place who will just walk into my room in the middle of the night, something I can imagine you’re not going to believe. But it’s true, it happens. It can be anything from: ‘I couldn’t sleep,’ to ‘I just wanted to talk,’ or ‘Have you got any lavender oil?’ and despite the fact I’m quite literally astounded that a grown man or woman can’t see I’m trying to sleep, and that you don’t just wake a person up unless you’re its new-born baby, I actually have to wake up and deal with the imposition, I can’t just wave it off. I don’t know about your friends, but if I get aggressive and tell them to get out, they become even more intransigent, they somehow think that I’m engaging more, showing an ever greater willingness to do so, so despite my anger, my despair, I’m at great pains to supress it, lest they become even peskier. It might take a few minutes to see them off, or they might want a whole chat in the living room, you know, cross-legged on the sofa hugging the big cushion, exuding this demeanour that they think this is such fun, such a great way to spend time, when I’m just champing at the bit, waiting for them to tire themselves out. Even if I manage to get back to bed before four, there’s always the chance they’ll come in again. And then I’m waiting for the time when they want to stay in my bed the whole night but thankfully that hasn’t quite happened yet. I say ‘quite’ because one of my friends has taken to perching at the end of my bed by my feet whilst I’m still lying down, and this friend just sits there with my table light on as if it is the most normal thing in the world, he doesn’t necessarily even say anything, and we just sit in silence, but I know I am waiting for him to get bored or to make some disclosure, before he will leave me alone.
In the great majority of cases the disclosures will be about what they’re doing in the near future, the next day. It could even be the tiniest thing like they’re going to go shopping, food shopping tomorrow, and I will say ‘ok’, because there’s not all that much to say to someone’s disclosure that they will be going food shopping the next day, and then I will just hope and pray that they have nothing more to say on the matter, because it has been known for the person to set out their entire shopping list: cheese, milk, bread, eggs, raisins, courgettes, ravioli, rice, cucumber, tomato, tea bags, malted milk biscuits etc. whilst I just sit there listening waiting for it to stop.
A lot of the time though, they just want reassurance. They want to know that they’re doing well in their job, that they’re good parents, they want to know what I think of them, whether I think they’re successful. They call up and they tell me the last thing they managed to achieve, their last tweet or Instagram post got more than twenty likes, and you wouldn’t believe that things as tiny as this can change my friends’ moods and not only that make them want to get me up in the middle of the night to talk about it. The things they tell you are at once so urgent to them and yet so trivial, you can’t quite make sense of it. Such a dichotomy. But the last thing you can say to them, the last thing you can point out is that these things don’t matter, not merely because you don’t want to hurt them, to cut them down, but also because there’s something inside me which can’t quite see through these little bits of news, that can’t quite dismiss them out of hand. It is simply the very fact of them saying it which makes them seem important, and I have no idea why! They seem to be constantly thinking about their last thing, performance, as if this identifies them, despite the face they’ve been around for fifty years and that their identity has pretty much already been settled. One of my friends is an amateur chess player, and when he loses a match and his rating goes down, he will just call me every time, no matter when, desperately trying to make sense of the impact, what it means for him, that he was certain he deserved the higher rating, that he doesn’t know where to put himself now, that he feels he needs to get the rating back up but then he’s worried about losing a second match and it going down even further. Does any of this really matter?
Don’t get the impression that these friends, these types of people, because they are probably of a certain type, don’t think they can’t bother you during the day as well. Of course they can. But in the day it’s different. You have more energy to face them. What can come as an importunacy at night can often be mildly pleasurable during the day. And then of course you can be doing so much stuff in the day, that you hardly notice your friends even when they’re there. You’re not conscious that they’re friends, they’re just part of your life and what seems like an imposition has just become life.
And this is why I try not to make too many demands of my friends. I mean I know it doesn’t necessarily work that way, but I know what it’s like and I certainly wouldn’t want to disturb my friends like some of them disturb me. I would never wake them up in the middle of the night, that’s for certain. There is a right and a wrong time connection, communication, my hope is that it happens almost organically, at its own behest, so you shouldn’t really have to think about it, but if these one or two friends think it’s normal or right to make nocturnal infringements then you can’t trust your heart and then what are you supposed to do, cut them off, dismiss them? How can you just ignore some of your friends? Surely that would be sacrilege.