Tit for tat.

Some years ago a new friend brought his wife and daughters over for a family play date one weekend afternoon. We ate and drank and talked for several hours, and a pleasant time seemed to be had by all. All four adults agreed that we should do it again, and my friend and his wife promised to host our next gathering.

We never saw them again. They insisted on having us over to their house next, except the living room was too messy or there was too much stuff on the dining room table or something wasn’t just as it should be. As soon as the proper atmosphere and tidiness were achieved, they would have us over so fast. I invited them often but they refused. Because they hadn’t reciprocated our hospitality they were bound to deny all of us a party. It was their turn no matter what. That’s what I’ve thought for all the years since.

Then I happened to call my friend recently and at what looked to be the end of the conversation, he said, “Well, now I definitely owe you a telephone call. Next time I’ll call you.” That’s when I snapped.

I told him that he didn’t owe me anything, a phone call or anything else. I told him how things seemed to me, about his apparent eye-for-an-eye premise. See above.

I tried to say all that as kindly as I could manage, as someone who thought he’d observed something that might be important and wanted to notify those concerned out of love. I thought I might have information that could be useful to him, and I think he understood my reasons for bringing it up. He said he’d give the matter some thought. That’s how he talks.

We talked a bit more about blogs and signed off on good terms.

After we hung up I decided that unsolicited diagnosis and advice (still unofficial, but I’m only 12 years away from an M.D.) are always a pain in the ass. This time, I thought I’d spotted something generally admirable—my friend’s desire for equality in all human relations—that had prevented a party, and I see preventing a party as at best unhelpful. I thought of my interference in the same way as telling him that his tire was going flat or his taillight was out.

Occam’s Razor to the rescue. A much simpler explanation is that they never came back simply because they didn’t want to come back, because we were vulgar boors—or maybe pretentious assholes, you see the possibilities—and they wanted nothing more to do with the Porters. We didn’t see them again because they didn’t want us to see them. I see now that’s a distinct possibility. You never know.
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Posted Friday, November 14th, 2008 under kindness, love, perspective, Uncategorized.


  1. Oliver Steinberg says:

    This story reminds me of something distinctly similar which happened to people orbiting near my own personal egocentric solar system/and/or/universe. My own Occamish deduction would be that those people who reneged on their invitation were probably merely disorganized and neurotic, not that they disliked you. Perhaps they were so impressed with THEIR notion of who the Porters were—creative, original, brilliant—that they created a psychological inferiority complex which undercut their etiquette . . . and perhaps you were better off not hanging around with losers like them. Or, perhaps not. Maybe they would have turned out to be neat and decent friends, and this is just a sad story of some of those proverbial ships passing in the night. Personally, I suspect there is something in the water in Minnesota that affects people. Hey, Garrison Keillor has made a career out of poking fun at the social maladjustment of Minnesotans. Those “friends” weren’t Lutherans, by any chance? Or maybe they lived in a heavily Lutheran neighborhood?

    Let this column be a salutary lesson to those who read it. We all live on “borrowed time.” One shouldn’t treat one’s friends like overdue library books.

    (After all, to know you is to love you—basic operating theorem of planet earth, as well as one explanation for overpopulation. . .)

  2. Thank you for the kind words. Now that you mention it, there probably is more material here. I”ll read it again and see what occurs to me.

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