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Susan Shapiro Barash

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Summer Friend Fizzle

Posted: 08/17/10 12:00 PM ET

So here we are, closer to Labor Day than to Memorial Day, and the writing is on the wall for the successful summer friend. First off, let's define a "summer friend." Summer friends are all about the season; either she's the one with the summer house that she rents or owns, or someone who lives year-round in a particularly inviting place to visit from early June through Labor Day. This friend is the go-to person when city life is dreary and humid, and everyone escapes by Thursday at 6 p.m. Few of us who qualify as guests would decline a weekend invitation during the summer season.

As evidenced by the name, many summer friends don't get together during the winter months. Sure, there are those of us who are the quid pro quo types who have a conscience and will invite a summer friend to our turf in winter. This gesture is usually in the form of a cultural event: a play, concert or museum. But your repayment for a weekend escape to your friend's digs isn't about equal measures. After all, an afternoon in the city in November doesn't come close to the energy required to endure a guest's idiosyncrasies for a 48 to 72-hour time period. So why is it that guests actually find fault with their friends who host them as often as the host finds the friend's attitude and behavior anywhere from annoying to repulsive?

At the top of the list of complaints from the guest's point of view are the following: the host who doesn't offer so much as a bottle of Poland Spring water, the host who obviously doesn't bother to have the previous guest strip the dirty sheets on the bed. How about the host who can't purchase five bananas to get you through a foodless weekend? Or about the host who has a party to attend on Saturday night and suggests you fend for yourself rather than get you invited. Guests also report they've been ditched by their host for golf, kayaking, surfing, tennis.

From the host's stance, there's that guest who confuses her for the maid, the guest with unimaginable habits, including putting her/his feet on the expensive throw pillows on the brand new couch, sneezing all over a buffet lunch or walking into the house with sand on her feet despite the "rule about sand." What about the guest who arrives empty handed without so much as a regifted bottle of wine, refusing to pitch in and clear the table, or engages in nonstop cell phone use?

With these different expectations flying from both sides, all in the name of friendship (why else the weekend dedicated to one another's company), it's hard to imagine how anyone can escape without bruises and ruffled feathers. Because friendship is so highly touted, and the friend is meant to satisfy so many of our needs, a weekend visit carries more weight and judgment than we think. It becomes a kind of a test and we find ourselves asking: is this friend thoughtful or lazy, is she a user or is she earnest, will she listen for hours to my latest crisis or not?

In order to ease the situation and preserve the friendship, the host and the guest need to lower the bar and not expect so much of one another. The host and guest might be more realistic and remember that no one has undergone a metamorphosis just because there's this intense amount of time shared under one roof. In fact, the closeness usually emphasizes the negatives rather than the positives in either camp, as evidenced above. And whether you are the host or guest, taking a hard look at your own style and intentions is wise. What better time to start than with summer friendships--offering the possibility that they evolve into year round relationships.

 
 
 

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