Sunday, 10 April 2011
The Style Guy's Guide to Friendship, Schmoozing, and Social Advancement
What Makes a Good Friend?
The best friends are people like us. Smart, secure, cultured, cool. The best sort of friends are givers, not the needy. We bestow our surplus goodwill on them because they are winners. They seek us out for fun. But they also respect us and so want to back us up, almost politically, as if to say we want a world where people like us do well. We are allies in the cultural conquest of the world.
Friends Aren't Family
Sometimes when you are good friends you do things en famille. Maybe couples go on vacation together, with or without children. If you can pull this off you are very good friends indeed. I have managed this pretty well with very good friends, but one summer a relationship chilled for months when Mr. X picked up the tab for the lobster spaghetti lunch in Italy, until he read his hotel bill and asked for reimbursement. You just can't scrimp on largesse. Hospitality has immutable principles. Ah, but he has been forgiven. Now we're better than ever. Love of friends can conquer most obstacles, sometimes after a short hiatus.
Friendship With the Opposite Sex
While some men maintain that it is impossible for hetero men to have a true non-sexual friendship with a woman, those are men ruled by their glands. I can be genuine friends with anyone smart and funny, gender aside. Many of my best friends are women, who are, sorry to say, far less likely to be assholes than men.
When Your Friends Don't Like or Actively Hate One Another
This is to be expected. You can't like everyone, and everyone has his own complex history. We can't expect our friends to give up their treasured grudges on our behalf; but we can expect them to behave in a civil manner with their enemies when they come under the same roof. It's prudent to avoid inviting deadly enemies although there will be times, such as birthdays, when it's hard to avoid. This is one of the reasons place cards were invented. At a bigger occasion, like a wedding, there will obviously be in attendance those who do not love one another, but they must save their animus for another day.
Breaking Up With Friends
Sometimes we grow apart and that old mutual magic doesn't work. Usually it's best to drift apart, avoiding all forms of drama, but when the alienatee is the dramatic sort or a psychopath, this can prove difficult. Drifting apart is nature's way. We can still be fond of that old high school chum, but that doesn't mean we have to keep in touch. (One of the worst effects of the social networks is the past suddenly rearing it's now-less-attractive head.) I find that it's best not to explain your course of action as it will only serve to heighten the emotions occasioned by rejection. Even if you wanted to you cannot always explain why a friendship no longer works. It's best to just chill out and stay cool. Explain how busy you are, if necessary, and then be unavailable. If and when confronted deny, deny, deny.
Memoirs and Confidentiality
One reason I hope to live a long life is so I can write my memoirs without my friends suing me. I loved reading Keith Richards's autobiography, but I must say it make me feel bad for Mick. A friend who makes you millions is a friend indeed, regardless of penis size.
Socializing as a Family Man
When you grow up and get married and have kids and get divorced and go to jail or whatever happens when life gets complicated, you may find that you have less time for your crew. This is as it should be. The family, at least the one you put together, is the basic unit of society, and they should get the best of your attention. Your friends, you may be surprised to discover, can get by fine on your spare time, even if you don't think you have any. The essence of friendship is being there for someone, and that means when they need it, not every night at happy hour. We have a saying around here, "It's a school night," and truth be told, most nights I'd rather be home. Parties are work.
When Friends Are Jealous and/or Possessive of You and Other Friends
Who appointed them president of the club? You may have to point out that they are acting more like a spouse than a friend—more like a ninth grade girl than a 31-year-old Marine Corps veteran. The universe is expanding. Friendship must keep up.
Fighting with Friends (Words You Can't Take Back)
Don't call a friend a cunt unless he's English. Think before speaking. What you say may be forgiven, but it won't be forgotten, and it hurts a lot more coming from a friend than an enemy.
If you wish to insult a person, vague generalities are ineffective and often counterproductive. Think of the scoundrel Don Imus, America's great AM radio star, brought low by a misapplied "ho." If Imus had called them meretrices he'd still be on the radio.
It pays to be as precise and specific as possible. Alluding to someone's race, ethnic background, or sexual preference demeans only yourself. Insults should precisely characterize the fault you find in the recipient. Correct usage of common terms like asshole, dick, prick, or scumbag is important. For example, an asshole is a person with a delusional world-view who is incapable of observing social boundaries. A dick is a careless egotist who abuses others in demonstration of his high and misplaced self-regard. While a prick is similar to a dick but with a connotation of a more refined and thought-out maliciousness. A scumbag delights in the misery of others and will do his best to contribute to that misery if it is convenient and without onerous repercussion. A scumbag is a meaner and more malevolent dick. But such words are all too common. Think of the allure of an insult that not only sounds bad, but which is quite specific and possibly unknown to the recipient making him feel even more stupid. Confusion over arcane terms can only help drive the point home to a lickspittle, toady, stumblebum, rube, bounder, middlebrow, mythomaniac, charlatan, yokel, lout or shmendrik. And those words just feel good on the tongue.
Friends with Annoying Spouses, Children, or Pets
When you have a family, sometimes families make friends. This way you can have a play date and cocktails at the same time. But this doesn't always work. Sometimes a person has a spouse or a kid or a tag along dog that you just can't stand. This is why we invented the "boys night out." But always ask how they are.
Managing a Social Calendar
You don't have to go to everything. I think that I could leave New York for a year, return, and pick right up where I left off. Its possible that many of my friends wouldn't even notice I'd been gone. This sounds bad but it's good.
If you are just breaking into the circuit and are not yet rich and famous you should make a point of getting out and getting seen. But now I make a point of not going to an event unless I think I will genuinely enjoy it or my wife has ordered me to attend. If I do attend a party and am not photographed there I feel I might as well have not attended. All that work, for what!
Once established you don't have to knock yourself out to remain a member of society in good standing. In fact going everywhere makes you look like an easy get or even desperate. If you must go, get in, get photographed, and get out. Rationing out your presence will make you even more desirable.
Taking the Kids
I believe in treating kids like adults to a certain extent. I don't do baby talk. If you talk to them as if they were adults they will figure it out and wind up with a superlative vocabulary. Giving your children regular access to other adults will prevent them from becoming nuisances. (Within reason of course, you don't take them to dinner parties without asking.) Some exposure to art openings, cocktail parties, auctions, and even the office will prepare a child much more for success than romping with a cap gun or changing Barbie's blouse. Kids should learn early how to comport themselves, how to curry favor and negotiate any social situation. My ten year old is completely comfortable in any civilized context, and he knows he's a kid. I was so proud of him the other day when "Bitches Ain't Shit" came on and he said "I don't think this is appropriate." He's already answering the phone. He may take over my contract negotiations soon.
Mixing Friendship and Business
When you are a hard working person you probably find your friends (and even lovers) through work. This is perfectly fine and preferable to advertising for friends or seeking them out on the street. Problems arise when there is competition. You may be on the same level at the same company; then someone is promoted. You may work for competing companies. You may covet their job or client or vice versa. This is where ethics—that mostly forgotten department of mostly forgotten philosophy—comes in. When things seem headed toward sticky territory and you value the friendship, talk about it. Let reason (and a couple of drinks) guide you.
Another problem area is expertise freebies. Did you ever wonder why doctors tend to be friends with doctors and lawyers with lawyers? You don't want to give away free what brings home the bacon. Or at least not much. A tourniquet to stop arterial bleeding—fine. A complex diagnosis—that's pro shit. We can't give it away. Don't expect anything from your friends except friendship. I somehow got talked into writing a substantial introduction for a friend's art book, an expensive book, and all I got was complaints that I didn't go to the gallery show.
When pressed for freebies by apparent friends you can try dropping hints: "I'll give you a 5% discount." Or you could bring up barter: "Sure I'll edit your manuscript. If you paint my kitchen."
A Corporation is a legal person and the law extends to this artificial being many of the rights of human beings, but you cannot be friends with a corporation. In fact the corporate world is often regarded as anti-friendship because competition and discipline can trump personal feelings. You don't want your friend to get ahead, at least ahead of you. And that goes double for the competition. But this is nothing new. Classical history consists of one betrayal after another. Et tu, Brute? If we are lucky we will make a few friends who we will trust to have our back, but we always have to consider the stakes. But if a corporation wants to make friends with you, get a contract. This is a corporate world, so we must always look for corporate solutions. A prenup is a new form of sacrament that is required when a person's corporation is bigger than their person.
Should your position in the business world change—should you lose a job for example—you may notice that you are no longer invited to the same events or greeted with the same enthusiasm. This is because corporations and their swinish minions were not actually friends with you, but with your title. Today one's personal qualities are rarely as valued as one's flow chart status. Should you subsequently move on to another important post you may wish to exact some sort of social vengeance against corporate snubbers as a matter of principle. Human character transcends mere office.