Z listens to a friend

The organ-ising could have gone better. Unfortunately, I played the tune from a different book than the one used for the words, as I preferred the arrangement, and I realised after I’d started that I’d forgotten to check the number of verses. I hoped it would be the same as in the book I was using. It wasn’t. There was an extra verse and the congregation carried on singing. I caught up in the second line. It gave people a golden opportunity to be kind, and for me to be humble.


The next hymn tune was Hyfrydol (sung to Alleluia, sing to Jesus and I will sing the wondrous story amongst, possibly, other hymns) which I like very much. I learned it properly, a long time ago, as it is quite tricky in bits (I am quite lazy and often pretty well sight-read) and so let my fingers twinkly exuberantly over the keys, to the extent that the congregation lagged behind to begin with and had to buck their ideas up and sing faster. Hah!

Later, a friend told me that he had been helping, in a professional and advisory capacity, a woman who had got her life into something of a mess. In the course of conversation, she discovered that, when wearing his other hat, he’s a self-employed carpenter and she said that she has some work needing to be done at her house and asked if he’d be able to do it. He said that he’s in a quandary. He would like to help her, and he could do with the work. However, he knows that she is quite needy and vulnerable and has an instinct that he might find himself in an awkward situation if he were to visit her at home. He knows that she is grateful to him for his help and that they like each other. She’s also, he said gloomily, a very attractive woman. He knows (for he’s a realist) that, for someone who has been treated quite badly by men in the past, to be talked to as a person rather than a sex object and to be helped without an expectation of ‘reward’ (other than payment of a fair bill), might be quite a heady experience and he doesn’t want to risk engaging her emotions.

I’ll make it clear that I know him and his wife well and they are very close. I do not think for a minute that he’d lead this woman on. I am taking his word for it, that there isn’t a problem but there might be.

Whether he does the work or not, I’m sure he will keep her at arm’s length, because he is aware of the situation. But I do know how naively one can get into an awkward spot. And I wonder if one is culpable if, just because of being friendly, ones actions are misinterpreted?

I had an awkward situation of my own about a year ago, which still rankles a bit. It was all dealt with amicably at the time, but this reminded me that I still feel a bit peculiar about it.

24 comments on “Z listens to a friend

  1. badgerdaddy

    Yeah, I’ve had some of those in my time too. One time it ended up with near-stalking. Of me, not by me.

    It’s never nice. He’s really only got one choice, I’m afraid. Unless he takes someone with him, as his ‘helper’, which will ensure his safety and her comfort too, though she will not realise it at the time.

  2. badgerdaddy

    I just had a butchers at your profile – I’m avoiding work – and noticed your ‘industry’ is described as ‘Kunst’. How topical, I thought, and daring of Z to put that, especially after what’s been in the news of a certain description of art. Then I realised part of your profile is just in German.

    What the fuck is going on? Are Google’s owners making that point that some Americans make about WWII? “Without us, this is what blogging would be like?”

    If there were awards for tastelessness, I would be in line for a medal. Possibly a silver.

  3. Z

    I’m sure she has no idea – but also that he is right. So bloody silly.

    How odd, my profile looks English to me. But bits of other peoples’ were in German yesterday.

    You undersell yourself, dear heart.

  4. Dandelion

    A very interesting post. I think her attractiveness is less relevant than her neediness. His instinct is what counts, and I’d like to trot out the new mantra: badgerdaddy is correct.

    It would be a shame though if he lost out on work, and she lost out on help, though I can see it’s tricky. I wonder if a little chat would help, to keep the boundaries and expectations clear.

    I would say one is culpable if one’s actions are misinterpreted iff you had some instinct or awareness that that was what was happening. Otherwise, we are getting into dangerous territory.

  5. Dandelion

    Everyone else is leaving 2 comments, so I’m going to as well.

    On the culpability question, I’d say it also depends on the type of friendliness, and whether we, as a culture, want to endorse the misinterpretation as a reasonable connotation of that particular type of friendliness.

    If you believe that someone has misunderstood, and you don’t set them straight then you are culpable in proportion to the reasonableness of the misinterpretation. So if I snogged someone, and then they thought I fancied them, I’d be to blame if I didn’t set them straight. But if I looked at someone, and they thought I fancied them, then I think I’d be less to blame for not setting them straight.

  6. martina

    It embarrasses me how some of my countrymen talk about the U.S. being the best and not needing the help of others. All countries need one another and none is more superior to the other.
    As for carpenter man-it sounds like he did the right thing. Otherwise it could be a situation like you see on American daytime legal shows.

  7. Dave

    I have to work hard at times to ensurer my pastoral care isn’t being mistaken for personal affection. I have a couple of widows, who I got to know whilst visiting their sick husbands, who have made it clear they’d be happy to be close friends – which would be taking advantage of my situation, as far as I’m concerned.

    Keeping this professional distance does, though, mean that it’s hard to make friends, as I am almost exclusively meeting members of my flock. Which is why my imaginary friends in blog-world are so important.

  8. Z

    Our conversation remained light and we didn’t discuss it in depth, so any interpretation is my own. I take it that there has been no indication of interest from her and that she does not at this time intend there to be. I did say to him that, if he did go, he might show her pictures of his family and talk adoringly about his wife, mentioning how jealous and insecure she is (obv. she isn’t.) We laughed and passed on to other things.

    I’m taking the attractiveness thing as indicating that she would have confidence in her ability to pull.

    Martina, anyone who thinks that, in the belief that he is right, he can impose his decisions on others as well as ignoring other interpretations of rightness is unwise. I feel for you.

    Dave, it’s quite a tightrope and I know what you say is quite true. My church minister friends are very careful too. Even being married doesn’t make you safe, not least from your own feelings. I know two vicars who ended up leaving their families – and the church – after falling for parishioners whom they visited pastorally in the first place.

    Indeed. I knew what you meant. All typos politely ignored unless they are particularly funny.

  9. Dandelion

    I’m taking the attractiveness thing as indicating that she would have confidence in her ability to pull.

    Now that’s interesting too. I’m not sure how good the correlation is between the two. It wasn’t for me, anyway.

  10. Z

    I’m not the woman to write it though.

    Um, D, he said she was attractive and nothing more. There are various things that could be interpreted from that, but I have no real idea what the true ones might be.

  11. Ad

    If the carpenter does his work in a professional manner there would be insufficient time for anything else, untoward or otherwise, to occur, alternatively they could take an apprentice/helping hand/gofa (for health and safety reasons, of course).

    And Z, when you are accompanying the congregation do you play with your feet too?

  12. Z

    Indeed, Ad, and he would be willing to do it if she was out of the house. But he knows she would want to talk to him – because he’s already met her and advised her in his other role, the line has already been blurred.

    I used to play with my feet, when I took the whole thing more seriously, but I find it very hard (co-ordination is not my thing and I tend to find I’m forgetting to use my left hand) and nowadays I usually don’t bother. And I prefer, as Dandelion suggests, to play briskly. So I just get the tune out with my right hand and play reasonably harmonising chords with my left. Sometimes, I even play the notes as written, but I don’t feel myself restricted to that.

  13. Ad

    I toyed with the idea you could play the foot pedals, the root note of the last chord of the final verse, I saw the John Spencer Blues Explosion do something similar… and I liked it.

    As for the carpenter, he could wear his carpenter’s hat when doing carpentry, and the other hat when appropriate, alternatively, what about passing the work onto a good looking single carpenter?

  14. Z

    Our little organ is not a very special one and the pedals are coupled to the manual. A good organist can get a pretty good sound, but it isn’t worth making a lot of effort, to be honest. When I play at other churches with two manuals and separate pedal stops, it tempts me to play properly. I’m quite good at resisting temptation though.

    A good looking single carpenter? I’m interested…

  15. martina

    A good looking single carpenter who does proper construction and doesn’t drink-now that would be nice! Oh and who charges a reasonable price for his carpentry. I’ve not found one over here.

  16. mike

    I think it would be a bad idea for him to mix his roles, full stop, regardless of any awkward possibilities in this specific instance. He should remain defined purely by his existing professional relationship to her. That’s also a simple and non-contentious explanatory line for him to take, when declining her offer of employment.


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