Monday, October 6, 2008

The Frequent Fragility of Friendship

Friendship is a funny thing. When you’re young and still in school, you might have a wide variety of friends from all the various activities and organizations you’re a part of (school, sports, Cub Scouts, church, etc.). At the time, you might even believe that these same friends will stay with you throughout the rest of your life, sharing your joys and pains, and basically being around whenever you want to see them. And why not? You have so much in common that nothing could ever separate you.

And then you might go off to college and meet a whole new group of friends. And while you still keep in contact with your friends from high school, the new groups of friends tend to monopolize most of your time. They also introduce you to new concepts, ideas and possibly even foods that you never considered before. They open your eyes to life outside your hometown, and for that reason, they might even seem “cooler” than your older friends. Possibly even more educated.

Then you leave college and move into the real world, where you now take on a new group of comrades known as “work buddies.” Work buddies help get you through the day when your job gets you down, or they take you out for drinks on your birthday, or exchange “Secret Santa” presents with you during the holidays. They’re now more of a constant in your life than your real friends, because you tend to see them every day from nine to five. (Or whatever hours you happen to work.) Whereas, your real friends are only available every other weekend, or you can only see them a few times a year, or you only keep in contact with them via e-mail.

And gradually, some of the groups and collections of friends that you’ve carefully accumulated over your lifetime begin to drop off. At first, you don’t even notice because you’re so busy, and so wrapped up in your current situation. But in the back of your mind, you know your friends will always be there when you need them. Or when you just want to talk. Because you have that kind of bond, after all. A bond that can never be erased or eroded through the passage of time.

Then one day, you might look around and wonder how you ever lost touch with someone who was once as close to you as your brother or sister. A person with whom you shared a thousand secrets, or a million laughs, or an infinite amount of tears. Someone who knew you as well as you knew them. So how could such a relationship ever let time or distance or even anger sever the tie that was meant to be forever? Or was it?

Are we meant to have friends for our entire life? Or do people naturally come in and out of our lives because we need to learn and grow from the experience of knowing them? They aren’t meant to be permanent fixtures, just little accents along the way. And while we enjoy them for a time, we don’t necessarily need them for our entire journey. So instead we allow them to have little “Special Guest Appearances” throughout our life. If nothing else, it certainly adds variety to our sometimes routine storyline. And the introduction of a new character in our lives every now and then is just what we need to move forward, or take a new direction, or view things from a different perspective.

There are so many people I’ve met throughout my life that I wish were still in it right now. I wish I could just pick up a phone and say hello and have a conversation, or a laugh, or catch up on what we’ve been doing. But the passage of time does strange things to friendships. People can grow in different directions, or find new interests, or even adopt different values and ideals. Even their own life experience, apart from yours, can cause them to put up barriers or walls that can no longer be penetrated by an old friend. And though the reasons for such a blockage might have nothing to do with you, it still causes“weirdness” when talking to each other.

But the worst thing to happen with a friendship is when it suddenly ends and you never know why. You’ve obviously done something to hurt or offend the other person, and yet no matter how many times you replay your conversations in your head, you can’t think of one reason why someone would be mad at you. Let alone, drop you from their lives. And unfortunately, most times the reason remains a mystery. Unless you happen to know someone who knows someone who heard something at a party about why they don’t like you any more. And usually it’s because of some minor, minor infraction on your part that somehow got blown out of proportion. Either that or you were really a jerk…though you may not have realized it at the time. (Or maybe you did. In which case, you really ARE a jerk.)

And so we move on through our lives, picking up and discarding friends with a randomness that baffles me. I still retain communication with one of my best friends from high school. He is married with children, and lives maybe ten miles from where we grew up. And to me, he is one of the most genuine, reliable and trustworthy people I know. The kind of friend you have for life. And yes, there is such a thing.

But that’s just me. What do you think about your experience with friendships?


Matthew S. Urdan said...

My experience is identical to yours. There are friends that your friends forever and most are friends that are in your life for a short time. It takes a lot of work to cultivate and maintain friendships. When I was in Columbus, I made some great friends at work, but it's a real chore to try and stay in touch with them. At least when I go home to Detroit, I drive through Columbus and make the attempt.

Sometimes I've lost friends by being a jerk. Sometimes they've just drifted away as they moved.

Most of the time, when friends get married and start families, it becomes almost impossible to stay friends unless you get married and raise a family at the same time and you happen to live on the same street or block. Or if your kids have common interests.

I have "serial" friends, or friends in some different Circles. (See my classic MTMD post 'Circles').

I have my whitewater rafting buddies and the guides that have become friends over the years. A whole bunch of sets of work friends.

Writing group friends. Club/organization friends.

One group you left out are online and blogging friends. Their friendships are just as valid. We might not be there to hug each other during the hard times, or we might not be there to go out for dinner or drinks or movies or holiday parties; but we're there to exchange ideas and to support this online aspect of our lives--as scary as that may be sometimes.

What I think is crazy though is that we can become friends online, share deep and meaningful philosophical discussions like this one, or just frivolity, and yet often those online that have developed a rapport are afraid to meet in real life.

I think that's a shame because online is only one way to interact--without the vocal and facial expressions, without the physical intimacy, without body language.

I'd give up my blog in a heart beat if I had to chance to meet just a fraction of the great folks, or those who I believe to be great folks, I've met in the blogosphere and be their friends in real life.

Prodinterios said...

I am soon to experience this...

Noooo I don't want High School To End!!

Babette said...

I've come to learn that not all friendships are meant to be forever. Some friends are there only for a short time while a few lasts a long time. With forever friends, you don't need to talk to them every week but the connection is still there when you do. I have a friend whom I've known since 2nd Grade and we only talk a couple of times in a year but we still have a strong connection.

Robin said...

I grew up in a military family and with lots of moving around you don't tend to make close friends, just acquaintances.

Over the years I've made some great friends, and some have drifted away. Friends who marry tend to cultivate new friends common to both, others move away and even though I've kept in touch, it becomes less and less as time goes by.

In many ways friendship is like a marriage and needs to be worked at in order to work and to remain meaningful.

Henson Ray said...

Matt--You are right. I left out the online friends...I guess i do think of them more casually...and as far as meeting people you talk to online...I understand both sides of that issue...Some people like to actually meet the people in person...while others might be afraid from all the horror stories you hear about people using social networks for predatory purposes...I myself have met a few people I've talked to online...mostly other collectors like we have a mutual interest that sustains itself outside the environs of the web...but I can understand why some people might be leery of this. Especially if they are assuming an identity online that is not necessarily who they are in real life...

prodinterios--High school is a great time, it's true...or most of it was, anyway. But what happens after high school can really be exciting as well. Good luck in your future journey.

babette--that's exactly like my friend from high school...we might talk once or twice a year...but it's still as if we just spoke yesterday...there is no weirdness or even effort to our conversation...we just know each other that well...

robin--you're absolutely right. Friendships need to be cultivated and cared for just like any other relationship. But I guess over time you start to filter which "flowers" you want to grow, and which you won't mind turning to seed.

Sherry Martschink said...

So doggone true. Friends we thought would be friends forever are gone. Some of the best and truest friends are those we doubted initially. Great post.