Are you a friend or a mere acquaintance?


When I worked as an intern at Norwest Bank (now Wells Fargo) right after I got my MBA degree, two of my colleagues of different ethnicities approached me.  The ethnic Korean girl introduced herself to me when we first met in the elevator.  The ethnic Russian girl introduced herself to me while I was rotating to the department where she was also working as an intern at the time.  Both of them opened up to me right away, spilling details of their private lives to me.  How much did they know me?  The Korean girl told me about her previous occupation and wanted me to keep a secret as she deemed it to be unprofessional.  How could she tell secrets to someone she barely knew and asked that person to keep a secret?  I didn’t tell anyone of course because it was really none of my business.  Maybe, underneath her outgoing personality lay a lonely soul.  She later phased out of my life when she left the company after staying acquainted with me for about three months. 


Sometimes, I wondered if both of them thought of me as a friend as they asked me to have lunches with them, introduced me to their spouses and friends, drove me to watch shows, and invited me to dine at their houses or at the restaurants.  I was forced to listen to their complaints and the intimacy in their lives.  Come to think of it, they were not the only two.  I met someone later through playing racquetball.  I can’t really say it for sure if I considered him my friend or a mere acquaintance.  However, born into a very traditional and conservative family,
I was deeply bothered by the intimate stories he told me and the complex relationship he maintained which seemed to appear only in soap operas.  By the way, there was no sexual fantasy going on between the two of us as we were both dating others at the time, I with my husband in a long-distance relationship and he with a couple people.  We stayed acquainted for about three years; however, our differences in moral judgment finally drove us apart and put an end to our friendship.  Oh, I forgot to mention that he is of eastern European ethnicity. 


As for the ethnic Russian girl, I listened to her complaints about her husband, her infidelity to him, her jealousy over the ex girlfriend of the man with whom she was having an affair, her move to the tropics to be with him, her eventual marriage to that guy, her complaints living in the tropics and her final breakup with her second husband.  Did I consider her my friend for spilling all the details of her private life to me?  I would say that I only saw her more as an acquaintance than as a friend for our differences in values.  I couldn’t tolerate her lack of empathy and I actually scorned her superficiality and materialism.  She despised old people and people with Down syndrome.  I was glad that she disappeared from my life when she moved to Europe after staying acquainted with me for about one year. 


Who will I call friend?  I would say the old lady who used to live above me.  I had befriended her for more than eight years until she passed away at age ninety-six.  At least once a week, I would chat with her, take her out for a walk, get her hair cut, dine out with her or order pizza to eat at her apartment.            


Don’t ask me if you are a friend or a mere acquaintance.  I might still sit there and listen to you even if you are considered a mere acquaintance.  However, you will know when you can’t find commonality in our core values. 



Written by Elisa English

On August 24, 2011 in Minneapolis


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