My grandma had an expression, she had lots of them. She used to say ‘I can’t do right for doing wrong’. That’s a bit how I’m feeling at the moment. Last night we had some friends round for a meal, nothing wrong with that you say. True, but the circumstances were somewhat unusual. Without going into too much detail for obvious reasons, they’ve been going through a very difficult time with one of their children. They haven’t felt like socialising much of late, in fact they cancelled one invitation at the last moment because they didn’t feel up to it. So we were pleased they felt able to keep last night’s dinner date. Well, that’s how it started. We wanted to be as supportive to them as possible in their time of trouble. They didn’t want to talk about their problems and that was fair enough. Yes, it was a bit like the elephant in the room (as above)but as long as we could keep the conversation going on other topics, everything would be fine. Wouldn’t it?
However, the ‘other topics’ turned out to be a problem. In the past there have been certain areas that have been off limits to myself and the male part of the couple. Silly though it may sound, football has been one of those ‘off limits’ areas. We have fallen out about football in the past and from my point of view (I realise he will inevitably have a different take on matters) I had vowed never to engage in conversations about football ever again. I find his degree of certainty about the rightness of his opinions irritating. I find it somewhere between smug and arrogant (more of which in a moment). So no football but then last night I made an error of judgement. I allowed myself to engage my friend in conversation about football. Big mistake.
The ironic thing was I did so with the very best of intentions. I knew that his football team were doing well (mine are doing very badly) and so some innocent chat about his team specifically and football in general about which he has some very firm views (which do not coincide with mine – he would say mine are simply wrong), so thought this would cheer him up. I was being supportive in a noble manner even though I didn’t enjoy talking to him about football. What a pal I am.
They do say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. How true, how true. As we talked I found all that irritation of the past building up inside me. I told myself to calm down, the guy’s having a bad time and you’re being a true friend by listening to his views and not getting upset. And then I got upset. My bad, yes, I know. I told him he was arrogant, twice for good measure just to make sure he’d got the point. And then he did something that surprised me. He stood up and said, I’m not listening to any more of this ( I thought I was the one doing the listening but that’s a mere detail) and stormed out the room pausing only to put on his coat and telling his bemused wife she could get a taxi home if she wanted to stay, he stormed out of the house. Oh dear, I thought, this is not going according to plan, remind me, what was the plan again? Oh yes, to be supportive. I tried to say sorry, that the evening was meant to be supportive and not supposed to end like this. He felt unable to accept my apology or at least that was how it seemed as he left the house. I actually felt it should be him who was doing the apologising but hey, the guy is in a bad place and you’re supposed to be making him feel better. And I’m thinking as he left, hmm, this is not going so well and I don’t think he’s feeling better.
I rationalised the events of the evening after they had left. Perhaps on the lines of well, yes I was rude to you calling you arrogant but you wouldn’t have wanted me to tone it down or, worse still, show pity just because you’re in a bad place, or to feel patronised and I have to say only nice things because you’re so fragile. Or failing that, what, you can’t take a joke? None which quite hit the spot and so next morning I’m sitting down and doing what I do best after a bit of a disaster, writing it out of the loop in my head.
So far this blog has been about therapy for me and perhaps helping any of you out there who have found themselves similarly placed in your retirement years, not to feel you’re on your own. Come on I can’t believe something similar hasn’t happened to you. It hasn’t? What’s that you think I’m a complete shit for treating my friend in need in that way. You may be right. Perhaps I have a chance to make amends although not with this particular friend obviously, not until he apologises. Tonight I am going for a beer with one of my neighbours down the street. He was a clinical psychologist. Plenty of scope to upset with crass comments about the rightness and wrongness of that situation. Tomorrow I’m going to visit a chum who has just come out of hospital after 4 weeks having tests for possible cancer growths. I will probably tell him to pull himself together, that there are people far worse off than him in the world or ask, did you hear that joke about the man dying of cancer? Of course you want to hear it, it’ll cheer you up.
I have sometimes said in these blogs that we don’t seem to see much of friends since we retired, after the last few days I rather wish this were true. They’re bloody hard work and if retirement is going to continue to provide greater opportunities to become enmeshed in the complexities of human relationships well, then maybe retirement is not for me. I’ll let you know how the next two friends in retirement meetings go.