Part of my July 4th celebration this year was to watch the HBO miniseries, John Adams. The series seems to do a pretty good job of portraying the rocky friendship of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who in a lot of ways were sort of like the odd couple. Jefferson was a Virginian, Adams was a Massachusetts man. Jefferson was not highly religious while Adams was. Jefferson owned slaves, Adams did not. Through it all, however, they managed to admire each other and became close friends.
Sadly, politics got in the way of that friendship. If you can believe HBO’s presentation of events, Adams felt that Jefferson failed to support him properly. Jefferson felt that Adams was too much controlled by Alexander Hamilton, whom Jefferson believed was loathsome. Eventually, both men did and said a lot of things that they regretted. It was only tragedies in Adams’ late life that drew them back together.
In watching these scenes where the men sort of drifted around the fact that they felt let down by each other, I realized that we have the same problems today. We all have our own expectations of people. We all define “friend” differently. I wonder if we would fare better with people if we indicated to them, gently and without judgment, what friendship means to us. We certainly end up cooking boiling pots of resentment when they don’t live up to our expectations or hopes, but how can they be the friend of our dreams if we don’t say, “By the way, I’d like it if you…”
People often tell me that my expectations of people are too high. I’ve been told that my whole life, in fact. That may be true, but what I can say for sure is that I never sit down with a person and say, “You know, it really bummed me out that you never contacted me when you knew I was going through a hard time.” I just let things simmer, and I either drop it off eventually or let it build into a giant snowball that eventually gets me to talk. This is not, I think, the best way to go about things. I have never told anyone, “You know, I think we’re at a point in our friendship where if you see someone attacking me, it’s fair I expect you to come to my defense.” We never have “the talk” like couples do as we are making friends.
Maybe we should.
All of this gets more complicated, of course, because the online world makes friendship harder to define. Are you truly FRIENDS with everyone you’re connected to on Facebook? We use words like “friending” and “unfriending,” but are all of those people in the same category as your friends from high school or college? Do we no longer have hierarchies of close friends, bosom buddies, acquaintances, and work connections? Should we set expectations with all of those people?
John Adams clearly expected that Jefferson, as his friend and VP, would support him no matter what. Jefferson clearly expected that Adams, knowing Jefferson’s hatred of Hamilton, would bow to Jefferson’s judgment regarding the man’s character. Both were let down. Would their vitriol still have built to a crescendo if they had taken the time to explain these things to each other? Is conflict amongst friends truly inevitable? Must all bridges be burned, eventually?
Do you set expectations with your friends? Why or why not?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanwoodswalker/6990088849/ via Creative Commons