What happened to friends?

friendsFriends are the people you can call in the middle of the night when you’re in jail. Or ask to come pick you up on the side of the road when your car breaks down. Or help you pull off a gargantuan task you’ve (over)committed to (“Sure I can make homemade chicken salad for 200 by tomorrow”).

That’s what friends are for, right?

Apparently friends perform those functions less and less, as we turn to professionals for meeting our needs. Brain surgery and colonoscopies should remain in the “don’t try this at home” category. But shouldn’t we take the risk and ask friends to help us with the less-specialized tasks of life?

Do you remember Crocodile Dundee, and the scene where Sue Charlton is talking to “Crocodile,” telling him about a friend who needs a psychiatrist to talk to about her problems, and he replies, “Hasn’t she got any mates?”

“Mates” should be the ones we call for a ride. But we have Lyft and Uber. Of course they’re handy… but I noticed recently that I felt less inclined than I used to to ask a friend for a ride because I didn’t have to. I could spend a little money and not “bother” a friend.

Do you know about the Ben Franklin effect, where we tend to like better someone for whom we’ve done a favor. Benjamin Franklin said, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

So asking someone for a favor isn’t entirely selfish. You’re doing the other a favor.

With the proliferation of Airbnb and other couch-sharing options, we don’t even have to ask around for a friend of a friend to stay with when we travel. We can, for relatively little money, be transactional vs. relational. And though staying with strangers is not risk-free, we’ve not had to risk “bothering” someone we know or someone that someone we know knows.

Last week I was talking to a woman who runs a social services organization. She finds the work interesting and one reason is because of all the things that people come in needing. It’s satisfying and fun to try to meet those needs and help people. Of course these are people who can’t afford to call Uber, who can’t pay for an AirBnB, and who must rely on the kindness of strangers or friends.

We feel sorry for those without resources. And perhaps should on the material level. But I also feel sorry for those who don’t have “mates” to call (or who do have ’em but don’t think they ought to call ’em). There are a lot of lonely rich people who can pay for much of what they need but who, in the final analysis, really want friends, safe places to land, people with whom they can relax and put their feet up, admit when there’s a crisis or simply trust the other to care about the details of their lives.

I recently heard about “crisis managers” employed by families to deal with the dirty work of life — cars that break down, sick employees, scheduling surgery or driving to doctor’s appointments. I suppose the functions such a person could deal with are endless — having the dog put to sleep, attending a parent-teacher conference to hear about a dismal report card, getting a root canal (ok, maybe not). But if you have a Crisis Manager on the family payroll, the family’s time is freed up for more pleasant tasks. Hopefully.

I also read about the possibility of hiring a professional bridesmaid, someone to ooh and aah over dress choices, to go along to select flowers, maybe even to plan a shower or bachelorette weekend. This one breaks my heart. It’s for people whose friends are too busy or just don’t care about which garter or bouquet Bridezilla selects. But the latter point aside, as the wedding industrial complex has gotten a bit crazy, imagine thinking that none of your friends would be interested to go along and help you look at dresses, yet they’re the ones who are supposed to stand up with you in the church and pledge to “do everything in (their) power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?” What if that takes time or energy or is hard? Which is how all of life is.

Rent-a-mate to the rescue. Actually there IS a site, Rent a Friend, from which you can rent a platonic friend for anything — wingman, to pose as your mother, to attend a prom or reunion with you.

Probably even to listen to your problems if you get the right match.

I’m discouraged by this trend. I’m more committed than ever to in-person relationships and risk-taking with real people, with whom we do the slow work of building and repairing relationships. I’m inspired to be as available as I can be (and to stretch the definition of “can”) for friends.

I’m wondering who you’d call in the middle of the night? And whether you know you’re damn fortunate if you’ve got even one person on the list?

Give someone your phone number. And pick up when they call.