Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Friends or Acquaintances?

While cleaning for Pesach I also decided to do some cleaning on my blog. The following was in my draft folder waiting for the '"right" moment to be published. I think now might be the right time. If we're cleaning at this point, maybe we also need to spend a few moments cleaning out old attitudes and "dusting off" ideas.

A lot of the discussion on a few other of my postings seemed to center around the idea of friends being necessary to invite to a chasoneh. That got me to thinking. In this posting I'd like to muse a bit about friendships of the choson and kallah.

What's the difference between having friends and being friendly? Sometimes about 100 people at a wedding. Sometimes 200. Maybe even 300. For me this is a real head scratcher, really no different then when I read that a chasidishe rebbi who made a chasoneh for one of his children had 5000 of his closest friends at the wedding.

High schools, both for boys and for girls, are far larger then they were when I was a high school student. Klal has grown and the schools have grown along with it. Where once a school may have graduated 30 students a year or less, it is now graduating over 100 students a year. Then you go on to Israel, to yeshiva and seminary, and suddenly your "class" has expanded by another 50 to 100 people. Go on to one of the Jewish colleges and you may expand the list yet again. And then the weddings start and what you hear is that everyone from your class has to be invited to the wedding. After all, these are your friends from high school. And your friends from yeshiva and seminary. And your friends from college. How could you possibly insult them by leaving them off the invitation list?

Are all these people really your friends? Or is it that you were a friendly person, knew who they were, said good morning or even stopped and talked for a few moments every day or every once in a while? Are we perhaps confusing propinquity, being together in one place at the same time, for true friendship? How are we defining friendship? Are we mixing up acquaintances with friends? Are all friends created equal? Are we mixing up quantity with quality?

Some people base their definition of "friend" on shared knowledge and experiences. The more you know about someone, the more time you have spent together, the closer the friendship. But is merely having been in the same class in school really the "ikar" of having spent time together? Does sitting in the same classroom for Global Studies and Geometry with someone mean that you have spent time together? Does attending the same Bais Medrash mean that you have spent time together?

One acquaintance of mine bases her definition on phone numbers: the ones she knows by heart belong to close friends. If she has to look up the number then that person is further down the totem pole of friendship. Another ranks her friends based on who she would have no problem calling if an emergency came up at 2:00 AM. If she wouldn't wake them up for needed help then they aren't her closest friends. I remember when my best friend's husband called my house at midnight asking if I had any frozen broccoli in the house; his wife was pregnant and had a an uncontrollable yen for broccoli. He knew he could call me and two other friends at that hour because we really are best friends.

In other words, somewhere for that class of 100 people from high school there has to be a hierarchy, a ranking of friendship. Somewhere in that group from yeshiva/seminary and from college there also must be a hierarchy. All friendships are not created equal.

And yet, when it comes to a wedding, suddenly everyone becomes equally dear. Everyone must be invited. The style, and I use the word deliberately, has become to invite everyone from the class to your wedding. It has become stressed in some groups that leaving anyone out is not proper behavior. And therein lies one of the problems in making weddings. "Someone" is going to have to pay for all those people.

It used to be that people you were not super close to but still wanted to "have a share" in a simcha were invited to the smorgasbord and the chupah. Some people still do this. But a new style came in a while back: the simchas choson v'kallah. People not invited for the dinner are invited to come and dance for a while, presumably after the main course has been served. For an evening wedding this does not happen before 10:00 PM at the earliest. Tell me something, being honest. How many people, after a day of work, yeshiva and/or college are then going to get themselves dressed for a wedding, travel, and all for the "honor" of dancing for an hour? At 10:00 PM at night? I'll tell you honestly that my husband and I have never accepted one of these simchas choson v'kallah invitations. My kids haven't either. Would I be insulted if I hadn't received this invitation? Not in the least.

I've discussed before the idea of changing the way a meal is served at a chasoneh, thus reducing expenses. But that is not widely done. What can we do with the "customs" we have now? One thing we can do is to redefine--or perhaps define for the first time--what is meant by friends.


Bas~Melech said...

I think I'm pretty clear on the difference between friends and acquaintances. But I still think I'd have to send invitations to my whole class, or they'd be insulted... everyone else did. However, the way things are going, by the time I get married there will probably not be very many people around attending weddings -- they've dispersed to various places and are involved in various stages of child-rearing.

I want to mention another point, too: Sometimes the two participants in a relationship may have different feelings about it. I know some situations in which one person is a social butterfly with many friends, some closer and some more like "acquaintances." But say one of her "acquaintances" is less social, and considers this person one of her only friends. Ms. Butterfly may not be aware of this. Just some food for thought.

I'm no social butterfly, but I do know that there are people I wouldn't have considered close, who (I later found out) felt that my friendship was meaningful to them. I really regret having considered them "acquaintances" only because they didn't know how to openly build the relationship.

Anonymous said...

Bas Melech, at least from my point of view friendship has to be a reciprocal thing--both sides have to feel the friendship for it to qualify. Are you really obligated to become "close" friends with someone just because they feel that way, even if you don't or didn't know they regarded you that way? Maybe put another way--if a boy you dated declared he found you irresistable and had fallen in love with you would you feel that you had to reciprocate his feelings just because he had them?

When you say But I still think I'd have to send invitations to my whole class, or they'd be insulted... everyone else did. I find myself asking So What? Would they really inside be insulted? Maybe it just takes one person saying this custom we are following makes no sense for everyone to see that it doesn't.

One of my daughters married three years after high school. She hadn't spoken to most of the girls in her class except when she saw them at a wedding. When it came to her own wedding we said only the close friends period. Were some of the girls in her class maybe insulted? How would she know? They weren't her real friends.

Orthonomics said...

I once wrote about the cake and punch weddings that were prevelant in the tight Christian denominations a college friend was part of. She told me that as a kid she attended lots of weddings. Everyone from the church and their children were given an open invitation to the weddings. But, no one expected to sit down to a smorg and/or meal. I imagine there were receptions, but they were very limited.

When we talk about getting the cost of frum weddings down to something more manageable, cutting the guest list invariable and rightfully comes up. However, another solution would be to make a wedding that was formatted more like a brit milah (everyone has an open invitation and a simple spread is served).

Orthonomics said...

Con't: There is something very special about a brit milah. Perhaps it is that everyone is welcome and (since there are no official invitations) one can invite themselves to participate in the smachot of the friends/acquaintances that they want to. Kids are welcome. The pressure to dress to impress isn't so central. A Brit Milah is generally a timely affair from start to birchat hamazon. The brit milah centers around the mitzvah and is kept fairly simple, yet the simcha is not diminished.

I may not be the life of the party, but I would rather invite everyone to my party rather than start cutting down a list.

Perhaps someday a respectable family will put on a more casual affair and invite everyone and a new wedding model that involves far less stress and doesn't threaten to potentially hurt so many people's feelings will be born.

I'd be happy to throw a brit milah type of wedding, but we lack both children in the parsha and the respectability to make such an affair acceptable.

Scraps said...

I have to say, in that regard my life is far simpler for being older and not married yet, because all of those acquaintanceships that were part of high school, seminary, and college have fallen away; the people I'm still in touch with are the ones who matter the most to me now. When the time comes that I (finally) get married, it'll be a lot easier to make up the guest list.