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Cormorants, Dogs, Expectations and Friendship

On Christmas morning, after breakfast and the opening of gifts were concluded, I walked out onto the lanai to enjoy both the balmy Florida weather and the lovely little lake which sits sixty feet away. As I was settling into my lounging chair a cormorant landed at the lake’s edge and prepared to begin his daily hunt.

I thought, “He’s working on Christmas day. No opening of gift boxes. No family hugs or holiday toasts. For him this day is like any other and he is doing what all wild animals do each day; he’s hunting for protein.”

Unlike humans, animals live in the moment. They do not romanticize other creatures or imbue certain days with special meaning. If a dog is sitting in a yard scratching himself and a meatball is thrown over the fence he will eat it, lick his chops and resume scratching. He couldn’t care less about who threw the meatball or why. He doesn’t say to himself, “Wow, how sweet! A loving person threw me a meatball. I wonder who it was.” He eats the protein and that’s it.

It occurs to me, though, that some folks are similar to the cormorant and the dog and don’t romanticize people, dates or places. Other folks are the opposite and ascribe qualities and meaning to people, dates and events that may or may not be there.

Norm, a client of mine, when asked by his wife if he has ever felt the urge to find and get to know his relatives in Europe, said, “Not really. What for? I don’t know them–they don’t know me; why would I have any interest in meeting them?” He is comfortable with his bare bones, non-sentimental view of the world. Amy, his wife says that when she waxes eloquent and becomes teary eyed describing her new found, loving relationship with relatives in Europe, Norm listens patiently but then good naturedly shakes his head in wonderment as though she’s being kind of sappy and silly.

Norm views the world through non-sentimental-reality based glasses. Amy, on the other hand, views the world through glasses that ascribe positive and loving qualities to people, dates and events. It is this difference between people I find intriguing in terms of its implications for friendship.

Norman’s bare-bones, unsentimental view of people will probably protect him from being hurt by friends. He does not romanticize his friendships. By keeping his expectations low he is less prone to be disappointed. The tradeoff for him is that he will lose out on the closeness that comes with “jumping in” emotionally. The ability to let go and allow oneself to become close to friends is a gift. Emotional closeness cannot be experienced without accompanying emotional risk. This is true for our platonic friendships as well as our romantic ones. Norman, for balance, needs to open up and allow himself to see and acknowledge the special qualities in his friends which will allow him to get closer to them.

Amy, on the other hand, ascribes great qualities to all of her friends and as a result has high expectations of them. While it is a wonderful quality to see the best in others it can be painful when their behavior doesn’t match ones expectations. Thus, Amy is sometimes disappointed because her friends appear to let her down. For balance she needs to lean more toward “assume the best but keep expectations in line with reality.”

A fine example of this difficult choice within a romantic friendship occurs in the wonderful film “Shadowlands” which features Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. Hopkins played a middle aged English writer (C.S. Lewis) who for his entire life had played it emotionally close to the vest. He falls in love with Debra Winger, an emotional and demonstrative American. Once he commits to her he tells her in a moment of soul baring that he cannot bear the thought of losing her now that he has allowed himself to love so completely. She responds (I’m paraphrasing), “That’s the deal isn’t it? We can’t have love without letting go and we can’t let go without the emotional risk.” Sadly, she dies of cancer and he suffers the great emotional pain he feared so much.

This example, while focused on a romantic relationship, perfectly represents the dilemma we all face when dealing with our platonic friendships. We must allow ourselves to become emotionally involved by assuming the best about our friends, “letting go” and trusting them. If we don’t do this we miss out on the wonderful, satisfying intimacy and support that friendships offer. The risk we run when we do make this trusting leap is that we can be hurt when our friends let us down. But as the Debra Winger character says, “That’s the deal, isn’t it.”

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.   


Comment from Patty
Time: January 18, 2009, 10:43 am

Well, first I’m glad I found out what a comorant was. I thought I might have missed out on some kind of a special friendship. Second, I could never understand how someone could go through life not wanting to get to know other people. But then I got older and now I can see why they don’t get involved because trying to get to know people as you are older is exhausting. Enjoyed the article.

Comment from Jim
Time: January 22, 2009, 5:37 pm

A nice observation of the dilemma we face in risking the move from a positive aquaintance to a close friendship. Jim

Comment from Tony
Time: January 22, 2009, 11:35 pm


I found your post interesting. It hit home with me in certain areas of my life.

If you have a chance, you may want to read ” Into the Wild ” by Jon Krakauer it’s a non-fiction book about Christopher McCandless. He was someone overly sensitive and emotionally sentimental, enough so he shut out everyone he loved and lived of the land in Alaska. It’s easy reading and short.

Take care,


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