A chum of mine has decided to rent himself out as Vancouver’s first human “defriender.”
He told me this after a few Chinese New Year’s drinks. I agreed that it was a grand scheme. Certainly there’s a huge demand out there from people who want to get rid of the pals they’ve outgrown, the ones who make them feel rotten or completely extraneous every time they meet.
The urge to end an outdated bond is common enough that there’s actually a band called Defriender. There’s also, of course, an “unfriend” function on Facebook – easy come, easy go. The iPhone application Defriended was invented to alert people when they’re axed from somebody’s Facebook friends list. I guess it happens to the best of us. Musician Jonathan Mann, for example, has a whimsical song on YouTube called Hey, Defriender that goes “Hey, big spender, you’re the Donald Trump of crooks/Hey, defriender, we were friends only on Facebook.”
But if you’re going to get cut out of somebody’s life, wouldn’t you want to get the message directly rather than agonizing for months over why PicklesMarie never calls you any more? Why, just the other day the Globe and Mail’s Group Therapy columnist, Lynn Coady, had to spell it out for somebody who’d written in, mystified that a pal of 20 years’ standing had not only given her the punt but was now refusing to attend any social event at which the letter-writer was expected. Coady’s correspondent wondered whether she should ask her former buddy why; she clearly didn’t understand that the debate was already closed.
Anyway, back to my friend Frank, who’s ideal for the defriending task. It’s not that he’s mean by nature – on the contrary – rather, he has a voice as gritty as pulverized gravel, so it commands attention. Also, he would likely approach the job with relish.
For decades he has been a counsellor, quietly listening to people’s problems and making tactful recommendations for tackling them head-on. Recently retired, he’s decided to put his Mr. Nice Guy persona behind him. I suspect that he wants to say what he really thinks. In other words, he wants to pull a Bob Newhart.
Newhart had a sketch on Mad TV that you can still watch on You Tube. In it, he’s a psychiatrist called Dr. Switzer who treats his patients in five minutes for five dollars. A woman called Catherine sits down in his office and starts to explain that she’s obsessed with her fear of being buried alive in a box. Newhart asks if she really wants to get better. Of course, she assures him. He tells her he’s going to give her two words to take out of the office and incorporate into her daily life. She looks attentive. So he winds up and yells at her: “Stop it!”
She’s taken aback, but that’s the only advice he offers. In order to get her full five minutes’ worth, she starts describing her other problems – bulimia, self-destructive relationships, fear of driving. He shouts “Stop it!” for each one. She’s outraged by his technique and starts ranting at him. That’s when he successfully ends their session with “Stop it, or I’ll bury you alive in a box!”
I can see a retired counsellor really enjoying that sketch.
This defriender concept does have a predecessor. Frank already seemed to know about Berlin’s Bernd Dressler. In 2006, Dressler founded something called the Separation Agency, hiring himself out as an axe-man for romantic relationships. His options ranged from a sensitive phone call to a deluxe in-depth dismissal.
Frank – who, coincidentally or not, also has German ancestry – admired Dressler’s model but will have a style of his own. He says if his client wants to cut a friend out of his or her life, Frank will offer a couple of in-person options. He will go to the unwanted friend’s house, stand resolutely on his or her stoop, and simply announce, “X no longer wants to have anything to do with you. Don’t contact him/her again.” (Or, as Newhart’s Dr. Switzer might say, “Stop it!”) For a stiffer fee, he’ll explain precisely why X feels it’s time to sever the alliance.
Courtesy will be required. One 30-year-old resident of Des Moines, Iowa stands accused of trying to burn down a couple’s house after one of them unfriended her on Facebook. I discovered this on the Facebook page called Victims of the Defriender Support Group, where you can also buy a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Defriended.” I suppose wearing that shirt beats having an L tattooed on your forehead, but not by much.
Of course, Frank will need a uniform. I suggested a cowled robe and a scythe. Surely if a stranger arrives at your door and you think he’s Death, but he turns out to be some random guy demanding you stop texting your one-time bestie, it’d be a blessed relief. Frank will probably just go with jeans and a T-shirt featuring a thumb turned downward. It’s subtle, but it gets its point across.