Monday, July 24, 2017

INDUSTRY: When Your Friends Choose You (Against Your Will)

When my webcomics started getting popular, I noticed a few people had some weird tendencies. Readers would talk to me online or at cons, and they'd skip all the introduction and hang-out time and just assume we were friends. It was weird. They'd call me their friend to others, they'd invite themselves to my room parties, and I just wasn't sure what to do.

First instinct is to say, "Look, you aren't my friend." But how did I know that? We hadn't even gone through the friend process. They could be eventually. (Point: if they just skip ahead regardless of your comfort level, the fact of the matter is you probably couldn't be friends.)

It doesn't take much thought to see what's going on here. Of course they're not taking the time to consider your feelings. They don't want to be your friend. They want to be your image's friend. Or your art's. Or your writing's. They have no actual interest in you; they just want to be seen as associating with you.

And frankly, it's gotten worse with social media and time.

One thing I've learned hanging out with other creatives of moderate degrees of success is that, no, you can't always judge someone by the measure of their friends. Because sometimes their friends aren't their friends.

When you're in a public position, your hands are pretty tied about what you can say to people. If someone sidles up to you at a bar that you genuinely are uncomfortable with but they come up acting like you're buddies, it's actually quite hard to say "This person isn't with me." I never knew that until it happened to me. Repeatedly.

There are people out there who coast along that unfortunate social situation. And one thing I was never warned about, that I wish I'd been warned about, is that I would attract some. And between you and me, dear reader, I'm not sure what to do.

Because I'm one of those sad sacks who didn't have many friends growing up.

I'm still getting a feel for finding out who my friends are. Many of the friends I have, I don't believe I have. And I'm pretty well convinced that I must be one of the types I'm talking about. Clearly I'm encroaching on their time and they don't have it in them to tell me we're not like that. Fortunately I have friends who've displayed that this isn't the case. But when you observe it happening to you, you start to suspect yourself of doing the same.

Perhaps the old saw should be nuanced. Don't judge someone by their friends so much as their obvious friends. If a really horrendous person follows someone wherever they go, ask yourself -- how much is that someone interacting with them? Is it only in public where lots of people can see it? Who approaches whom? Who starts the hug?

I nearly didn't let a friend in on a horrible thing I was going through because I assumed he was friends with the person who hurt me. That polite front, plus a lot of extra work from the other individual, made me make that mistake.

I'm sad to say that not everyone who sits with me at a bar at a con is as close a friend as they act. Some of them I don't even trust. I hate saying that. Sometimes, there are days when I wish I was back to being ignored and having to work for friends. Because at least then I know who's genuine and can avoid the rest.

On the bright side, it does make you value the real ones. And it helps you learn how to build that inner friend circle of the people you do trust. So you know that, no matter who forces their way into your bubble, you have good people to go back to. People who may not have seen your latest creation the moment it came out, but who will drive you to the hospital if you need it.