Once upon a time… OK, actually, two weeks ago, I was at work and a client said something unbelievably nasty to me. It was so nasty, it made me cry. I do not normally cry at work. In fact, I don’t think I have ever cried at work. My instant and perhaps childish reaction to this was to use every single curse word I know while describing the incident to my co-workers. (This did not take long – I am not a creative curser.)
Here are the reactions I received from them:
1) shut up, someone will hear you.
2) too bad, but he is the client after all.
3) get over it.
If this exact same thing had happened to one of them, I would have reacted the way a friend would: I would have given them a shoulder to cry on and agreed with every word they said, just to help them get it all out. Then I probably would have said the equivalent of, “shut up, someone will hear you” and “too bad, but he is the client,” because they are both valid points. (I never would say to anyone, ever, about anything, “get over it.” I think those are the most insensitive words you can say to a person who is hurting.)
It was precisely this event that has led me to think so deeply about friendship.
I have, in the past, described my co-workers as friends. Some of them have known me for almost ten years. We’ve been through many stressful moments together, we’ve bonded over terrible clients and long hours and miserable working conditions many times over the years. I’ve eaten many meals, and consumed vast quantities of alcohol with these people. They know the details of my personal life and I know theirs. I have always thought that I was so lucky to work with people who know me and care about me. (Side note – my job involves a lot of travel, which is why we spend so much non-work time together.)
I was wrong. They care more about their job security than about my feelings. Which is perfectly normal for co-workers. Somehow I deluded myself into thinking a friendship existed where it did not. How did I came to that erroneous conclusion?
Here is Google’s definition of friend:
A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.
I had (and still do have) a great deal of affection for my co-workers. What I ignored was the ‘mutual’ part. The fact is, as long as we’ve all known each other – I’ve never hung out on a random Saturday with any of them. I’ve never invited them to a party or celebration of any sort and they’ve never invited me to theirs. I was never ‘that kind of friend’ with any of them. But as I am beginning to understand, to them this means that we are only acquaintances.
So how is it that I can still feel affection and concern for people who don’t feel the same for me?
Am I simply too empathetic?
And why is the word empathetic so similar to the word pathetic?
It is possible that I am thinking about this a little too much.
Regardless, I am not done with this topic yet. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about why I think it is a really good thing that I am so pathetically empathetic and how it looks like the blogosphere will save me from the depths of despair. =)