I recently read a great article by Ben Casnocha about friendship. Ben believes that
“if you’re not talking to someone on a somewhat regular basis — seeing them in person, talking on the phone, or emailing/digitally communicating in some other way that involves substantive give-and-take — that person is not a close friend who’s providing emotional sustenance. Sure, they’re on your friend list, maybe even they’re still classified as a “close friend” given the historical relationship, you care about the person, and you’ll be there for that person in a time of need. But you can’t trick yourself into thinking that the person you haven’t talked to in a year is giving you what we tend to want out of close friends in our day to day life: support, companionship, truth-telling, laughter, collaboration, a sympathetic ear. Tricking yourself in this way can assuage feelings of guilt that you aren’t spending enough time with the people you say you care about.“
Friends have always been very important to me.
I recently had cause to call upon my friends for support. It’s interesting. I can’t help feeling that such episodes, clearly show who your friends are. I’m a pretty open person, but I knew which friends I felt comfortable calling for help, and who I wasn’t. It was the friends that I don’t see, or talk to often, that were the hardest to call.
I may go back a long way with them, and count them as some of my “closest” friends in some respects. We may not have caught up for a while but I know that if we caught up tomorrow, it would just be like old times. Why then did I feel unable to call on them?
If you see or talk to someone on a regular basis, I guess you’re more likely to go into detail about what’s going on in your life. They ask you what you’ve been up to and you reply with x, y, z that you’ve been working on. If you speak to someone once a year, it’s hard to catch up in detail. They ask what you’ve been up to and you reply with a generic statement. The dynamic is different. It’s not a matter of how “close” you have been.
Surprisingly, I found that I got more emotional sustenance from friends that I may not have known long but interacted with regularly. My awesome colleagues for example, who I had only known for a short period. I was also surprised by how supportive what I may have considered to be tenuous connections turned out to be – people who had moved abroad, or who I had met while travelling.
It was enlightening.
I also noticed with who I felt comfortable appearing vulnerable in front of, and with who I felt, well, scared I guess. Afraid of being judged, of being rejected, or have someone perversely enjoy my misfortune.
Some friends were brilliant. They called. They showed up.
Others would send a cursory text a few weeks later. In some cases, I didn’t hear from them at all.
In some ways, friendship feels like gambling. Ultimately, our time is limited, and the connections on which you choose to invest your time and energy should matter. Catch ups with friends were mostly fun, but were some of them also a bet? That years down the line, particular relationships that you had nurtured would be there for you in times of need?
Of course, we all have different types of friends. Friends from whom you expect very little, those you enjoy on an intellectual level, and those on a personal/emotional level, (Ben Casnocha summarises that discussion beautifully here). Is the ability to call upon support a requisite for close friendship?
Everything changes. People change. Relationships change. Friendship is dynamic, and its inevitable that at certain stages in your life you’re going to feel closer to particular people. I’m not as close to friends who have returned to Australia for example, or with those who I went to school with, despite having the ease of being, and sense of trust that can only come from having grown up together. I love catching up with them, but for as long as I continue to live in London, the reality is that I’m not going to see most of them more than once or twice a year. I’ve also met great friends in brief but intense circumstances, hiking at altitude, or while working intensely long hours. Many of those continue to be wonderful friends even after we’ve each moved on.
I’ve been abroad for most of the last few years which I know hasn’t helped. I always made an effort to keep in touch and would call and email where I could. There’s no denying that my inability to be physically present however has taken its toll on some friendships.
I’ve also learnt how the rules of relationships often apply to friendships. We’re all different and have our own rules and idealistic ideas of how people should act in any given situation. Trouble is, people rarely communicate these. I’m guilty of this. I’m far more likely to communicate these thoughts and feelings to Andrew, than I am to my friends. For example, I have some friends whose definition of a good friend is someone who buys them gifts. Communication and playing a part in each other’s lives are less important to them. (For the record, I’m not into receiving gifts. I’m also rubbish at selecting them and get super stressed whenever I buy any!).
In certain cases, seeing some friends less hasn’t been a bad thing. I’ve always made an effort to keep in touch with people, even when I probably shouldn’t have bothered. For example, when I stopped enjoying spending time with a friend, was it really worth trying to see them again? But we were friends right, and went back a long way, so staying in touch seemed the right thing to do. I guess I didn’t want to let go, even when it made sense to do so.
Tim Kreider writes in his brilliant We Learn Nothing (I really enjoyed the audio version):
“Defriending isn’t just unrecognized by some social oversight; it’s protected by its own protocol, a code of silence. Demanding an explanation wouldn’t just be undignified; it would violate the whole tacit contract on which friendship is founded. The same thing that makes friendship so valuable is what makes it so tenuous: it is purely voluntary. You enter into it freely, without the imperatives of biology or the agenda of desire. Officially, you owe each other nothing.”
It’s a predicament. I’ve been on both sides, although I’ve never purposefully ignored someone.
When I started travelling, there were a couple of good friends from whom I grew apart. They couldn’t understand why I would want to do anything else but get a mortgage, pursue a career, and plan a wedding. From my point of view, I didn’t think that our differing views and goals mattered. I’ve always been able to get along with people, even those with opposing views of my own, and have close friends who lead completely different lives to mine. But to some people, it did matter. Losing a friend, or realising that you are not as important as you may have thought you were in someone’s life is painful.
In reality though, I have changed. I am no longer the same person that I was in college, and I have a drastically different outlook and goals than many people I know.
I read Brene Brown’s books last year. One of the central themes is the importance of feeling like you belong. It struck a chord with me. I realised how much I was lacking supportive or like minded friends. I had plenty of connections with whom I could enjoy lunch or coffee, but many were ultimately shallow relationships. I had few intimate or deep friendships from which I felt supported. I could either continue spending my time with the same people or make room to meet new ones. I needed to start accepting who I genuinely enjoyed spending time with and who I didn’t.
I made a commitment to try and deepen my existing friendships, be open to new ones, and be a good communicator. I’m still trying.