Lancashire Times
Weekend Edition
Sonia Price
Features Writer
4:20 AM 17th July 2021

Good Friends Don’t Care What You Do For A Living

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash
Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash
Good friends, they say, are worth their weight in gold. Of course there are times when we would sooner weigh them in.

But really good friendships usually triumph over any long-term stand-offs and disgruntlements, eventually reaching a happy rapprochement to go forward all the stronger.

The unspoken and much more nuanced contract that guides friendship is not the same as the more formal constitution we have with a spouse. The sibling relationship can be quite prohibitive with its obvious hierarchies and there can be intolerance in one another’s shortcomings.

A good friend has high hopes for us; whereas a sibling can have high expectations and needs to see them delivered. Our reputation and standing is somehow bound up with theirs.

This is why good friends grant us some vital breathing space and are generally forgiving when we louse things up. I always think it is interesting how people come to be life-long friends and which friendships prosper.

Image: Pixabay
Image: Pixabay
When we meet someone new we go through a time-honoured dance of gentle questioning in order to elicit if the stranger might be someone with whom we might share common ground.

These days the dance goes something like this: After an elbow bump, two swift steps back, a quick grin and after names have been exchanged it seems that the question most people want to know about us is what we do for a living. I suppose this is a deft route to garnering some details about our life choices, values and accomplishments, and whether or not they might be able to sell us something (and vice versa).

The opening gambit goes something like this:

“Hello, I’m Justin, my wife Fiona here tells me you’re in debt…” immediately bursting into a violent coughing fit for humorous effect then trying again.

“Sorry, Fiona tells me you’re in debt management.”

Perhaps I am sensitive to this sort of question because I have worked either in my own business or independently since I was 23 and there have been episodes when I haven’t been doing anything much that would really carry a conversation.

Still, it is always amusing to see someone’s response when they have asked me what I do and I have answered: “Nothing in particular, breathing in and out, tidying up a bit sometimes”.

Image by Nel Botha
Image by Nel Botha
I am certain that in earlier centuries, on making a new acquaintance, courtly ladies and gentlemen would not be so quick off the mark in asking this question.

Could you imagine how those most famous friends Dr Johnson and James Boswell might have become acquainted?

I doubt the 18th century lexicographer Samuel Johnson on meeting his future biographer would have said: “How do you do Mr Boswell, I am Dr Samuel Johnson” - before reaching to shake hands.

“Tell me Sir how do you earn a crust?” I would like to think that Johnson would already know something of Boswell’s vulnerability and humour. I fancy him saying something like: “How do you do Mr Boswell. My name is Dr Samuel Johnson, you might have heard of me. I must say your wife is very pretty. What is her name?”

If you really want the low-down on a new acquaintance I think we do better to ditch the “And what do you do?” question. This question could cause embarrassment if the recipient turns out to be aristocracy or a bitcoin billionaire.

You could get the answer: “Nothing in particular.” or “Whatever I damn well choose thanks”. If the person is nice and good humoured you will discover what they do as the conversation flows.

I think these are far more important questions to ask:
“Have you ever seen a ghost?” You will be surprised how many people claim they have or know someone who has.

Or “Have you ever seen a UFO?”

Or “Have you ever fallen off a dromedary camel?” I know none of the above are leading questions

And last but definitely not the least useful: “Tell me -
what is your favourite Christmas hit song?”

I threw that last question in because a lady once sprang that one on me. She did in fact ask me if I could guess what was her favourite Christmas song. Strange I know - but this can happen in my world. I didn’t guess right and she gave up on me quite quickly. I think this was a blessing.

This brings me to what you should do after a wearisome fifteen minutes in the company of someone that we can safely say is not going to have a starring role in your life’s adventures.

Image by Gerd Altmann
Image by Gerd Altmann
These are just some of my ideas to extricate yourself quickly and without causing offence. I am an old hand at this. The important rule is to always secure a window seat so, if needed,you can glance out of the window and announce that your house is on fire and you have to go as soon as you have finished your glass of Pinot Grigo.

Or, for women of a certain age: “I am feeling all the warning symptoms of that very rare but pesky phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion. I fear I might set ablaze at any moment. For everyone’s safety I must take leave of your very pleasant company.”

Or “Must dash I am a news reader and I am due in make-up in ten minutes.”

Seriously though, friendships really are important, now more than at any time in our lives. This has come home to me having recently made up with a friend. We had missed each other’s presence and it prompted me to call on my brother to make the first move in healing a rift.

No one should be lonely in these times. Every person needs to know that there is someone out there who cares how they are. Now really is the time to suspend that ego, pick up a pen or a phone and ask an absent friend: “What are you doing for a living?”