This is my third attempt to write about this particular subject since I started the blog. Each time I’ve tried, I ended up too angry to finish it. It’s still a sore point so please forgive me if I appear to stumble a bit in this post.
As a friend from London, England once told me, “you find out who your mates are when things go to hell fast”. He’s right. It’s a life lesson everyone has experienced, a painful one to learn yet must be learned. In my case, it was my unemployment that served as the litmus test that weeded out those fake friends I thought I could count on.
I’m not going to name names, or even try to be vague by stating “let’s call him or her whatever”. I’m not even going to bring up real-life examples. That will make me appear petty and vindictive. What I will say is that I found people I know have responded to my unemployment in one of three ways.
The first category consists of friends who will behave as friends should. They will ask how you are doing nearly every day. They will keep their eyes open for any openings at their place of employment or provide job search tips, even if you do not ask. If you don’t have the money to go out to a movie or some drinks, they will turn it around by saying “Well, I really could use some company. I don’t want to go to a movie or a bar alone because it’s no fun so I’ll cover for you” just so it sounds like you are helping them out instead of the other way around. Some of them will say nothing but just listen to let you get things off your chest, without making it seem like it’s a chore for them to be there.
The next category is made up of those who can’t seem to deal with the fact you are unemployed. They are afraid you might start asking for help, or maybe your “unemployment disease” is contagious and they will lose their jobs tomorrow if they hang around you too long. They suddenly become too busy to return your phone calls or your Emails. They get testy or uncomfortable if you say something like “if you know of any openings out there, let me know and I’ll fill out a job application”. If you try to talk about your job search, they will change the subject to something more cheerful. They now feel they have to watch what they say, particularly about their own place of work, so it makes them feel like they are walking on eggshells around you. Maybe they think hanging around with an unemployed person is like hanging around with someone of a lower social status so it tarnishes their image. These people tend to be the ones you once went to their defense when they were in trouble, even if it meant putting yourself at some risk or inconvenience.
The final category I didn’t think existed until after I became unemployed. This is composed of people who are friends of a friend, or someone you nod a greeting at because your eyes have met on past occasions. It could be a storekeeper or someone who works at the department store or coffee shop you frequent. It might consist of people you might have had an unpleasant first contact with so you would not have considered them friends, or drawn an incorrect conclusion about their character through their reputation. These people surprise you when they offer assistance or an ear if you want to talk, so you experience a “wait, what?”moment before responding. They probably have travelled down the same unemployment road that you are now on, so they can empathise. Maybe they just feel that “any friend of so-and-so is a friend of mine” and want to help.
To quote Shakespeare, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” Because we tend to wear a social mask when dealing with people, that acceptance does not become apparent (sometimes brutally) until the chips are down. On the bright side at least, it gives you an excuse to go through the address book or contact list online for a little spring cleaning when the dust finally settles.
Thanks for reading!