The difference between a friend and an acquaintance is that although you get along with both of them, you wouldn’t trust an acquaintance five minutes alone with your cell phone. When someone loses their credibility they either become an outcast or they’re anointed as an acquaintance. These acquaintances are the people you wave and greet when you see them in the street, perhaps even chat to at social gatherings but keep them at a distance from your personal life. If you don’t see them in the occasions mentioned above, chances are you will only hear from the in the following circumstances;
a) Somebody died.
b) They wanted to call someone else but dialled your number by mistake or…
c) They need something from you.
“Hi! How are you doing? I know it’s been a while, I’ve been busy… do you think you could help me out with something?”
Most phone calls from acquaintances will begin this way. They are usually unexpected and leave you pondering the above motives in the first few seconds of answering the call. The first question that will cross your mind when receiving a phone call from the acquaintance will be “I wonder what he/she wants this time”
Picture an office where there are three clients in the waiting room; five phones are ringing; the stock manager is on vacation; your other colleague is off sick and the new girl panics while asking what she can do to help. This of course isn’t mentioning the deadlines, the pending faxes that keep accumulating, the contracts that need signing and the paperwork that hasn’t been taken care of and properly archived. At times like these, you try not wishing that you had an automatic machine gun and try concentrate on the anti-stress breathing techniques that you learnt with yoga and meditation. While trying to decide which emergency to deal with first, your cell phone rings and you answer it trying to ignore the fact the number on display is from a different operator than the one you work for.
When not hearing from someone for over three months you might fail to recognise the sound of his or her voice. In this person’s case, it was the first phone call I’d received in what must be over a year, if not more. So it took me a while to figure out who was calling. When I eventually figured out the identity of the caller, I immediately went through my three options. Fortunately everyone that we both knew was in perfect health and considering that nothing that sounded like an apology popped up in the first two sentences, it dawned on me that the caller could only be contacting me for the third motive. It’s only obvious that the person couldn’t have guessed the chaos that I found myself in at that moment but then again, he hadn’t bothered to ask, “Is this a bad time?” Instead he went on to asking me the information he needed and not waiting for my response he asked me not to switch off while putting me on hold…
Staring at my phone, I wondered why it was that I was surprised that I was put on hold by an acquaintance that only called me when he wants something. Even though it was my help that he needed, he conveniently put me on hold while my job was begging and demanding my immediate attention. Looking at the caller ID of my landline, I recognised the number flashing as belonging to one of my most important clients and was left with a choice. I would’ve probably stayed on the line for a friend, but I’m also sure a friend wouldn’t put me on hold. So without giving it a second thought I continued with the job that guarantees the income I need to pay off my loan and grant me independence. In simpler words, I cut off the acquaintance’s call.
I didn’t think of him until the end of the day and just as I expected, he hadn’t bothered on calling back. Perhaps he found a solution to his problem, but just as I doubt it, I’m also willing to bet the reason he didn’t call back has everything to do with bruised, male pride. Then again, if he was truly proud, perhaps he’d be too ashamed calling me in the first place considering he’d treated me like “someone not worth his time” on the last occasion that we’d spoken. I confess that for a minute I felt mixed feelings about switching off the phone, they sway between guilt and anger. Perhaps a while ago disappointment would’ve been the result of watching someone deliberately use you but I guess it’s true what they say about growing a thicker skin with time.
Am I prepared to help my acquaintance? Why not, we live in a world where we need to help each other to survive. The difference is that whilst for a friend I’d be willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to help, for an acquaintance I’m only prepared to do what I can. Which is probably a whole lot more than what my acquaintance would be prepared to do for me. To survive in life, you eventually learn not to give more than you get and to keep low expectations of the people around you. Although I don’t expect my acquaintance to call in the near future, I’m pretty sure that if the problem is bad enough he’ll use my number again. In the meantime, I think I’ll concentrate giving some of my friends a call, especially those that I haven’t spoken to in a long time. In a phone call from someone you haven’t heard from in a long time, the difference between the caller being a friend or an acquaintance lies in that the acquaintance will always have an ulterior motive other than simply making contact.