Do we really know our friends?

best friends forever
Photo credit: keycomp123

After spending several months now with only my parents and dogs as company, I’ve done a lot of thinking about friendships. I left behind many close friends and many more acquaintances in DC, and have yet to make new friends here in California, although I’m highly anticipating meeting people as soon as I make my next move.

In the fourth months since I’ve left, I’ve heard from some friends quite frequently, through texts, emails, online chat, or even handwritten letters (my favorite!). Other people that I thought would be in touch, I haven’t heard from at all, and it’s disappointing, and truthfully, hurtful. And then there are others still that have surprised me by checking in with me, and giving me updates on their lives – people I wouldn’t have thought to hear from.

With change in location and plans always comes change in friendships. Some are to be expected, some are disappointing, and some are refreshing. But more than just accepting that friendships come and go, is accepting the substance of those relationships, and coming to terms with the fact that some of them are surface, fleeting, or specific. I read a blog post this morning about how with the evolution of digital networking, our “friendships” may seem to be deep and wide, but in fact, so many of our connections aren’t really connections at all – they are just people we met once, or perhaps even if we spent more significant time with them, they held a specific purpose in our life at that moment: they were the friend of a friend that was always at brunch or happy hour, or the former coworker that you were friendly with, but no longer see since you left the organization.

And then, what about all of those close friends that you spent hours with, over wine or beer, at celebrations and summer outings…what of them? It suddenly hits me that I don’t really know anything about these people, and nor do they know anything about me. Sure, I may know what they do for a living or that they play kickball on the weekends, and they may know what I do for a living and that I really like Corgis, but not much more. It hits me that one of the reasons I was ready to escape DC is that so many hours were spent talking about stuff that doesn’t matter, and a lot of it was negative. Commiserating about work. Gossiping about friends. Idle chatter about stuff happening in the city. It was like this giant juggling act of getting together with people because that’s what’s expected of us, when much of the time, we didn’t even really want to do it. I can barely count all 10 fingers as I think about the friends that I had real, deep conversations with – about books we read, and how our families and history have made us who we are, what our dreams are and where we’re going, our deep-seated fears and our moments of pure happiness and accomplishment.

Some of what I’m saying may piss people off, people that I hung out with. And that’s okay. I’ll say first that I’m grateful for all of my friends, no matter how close we were or weren’t – because life is full of all kinds of friendships, and some are deeper than others. But more than ever, as I spend week after week figuring out what I want to do with my life and figuring out what’s really, truly important to me, I’m not afraid to shed some layers I don’t need, and I’m not ashamed of expecting my friends to be the best they can be – authentic, caring, supportive, adventurous, and true – to me, and to themselves. Friendship isn’t about judging, and it’s not about trying to fix someone else’s problems. It’s not selfish, and it’s not about convenience.  So I’m going to do my best to be the friend that I would want to have, and not focus on the relationships that give me more heartache than joy.

There is so much more to life and to friendships than to talk about work and people on Twitter day in and day out – because there is so much more to each of us as individuals, and we all deserve a chance to really be ourselves in front of our friends.

9 thoughts on “Do we really know our friends?

  • I find it hard to even keep in touch with friends that live in my city, let alone older friends who I don’t see anymore. As of now, I’ve learned to make do with fewer people in my life. I love the jewel reference that Craig uses above. It’s heartbreaking to realize that you’re not as close of friends with someone as you’d like to be. I’ve frankly just given up expectations of others being there for me and that’s helped. I definitely don’t mean this to sound cynical or negative at all. I’ve found that relying on myself and my husband has been a good shift in my life. Friends, true friends, are still important and I treasure them when I see them. I hope you find the peace and friendship that you deserve in your life.

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    • Thanks, Addie. I imagine that once I’m married I will feel the same way about my husband. I did feel that once with an ex, and I have always felt it with my parents, of course now more than ever since I’m living with them again. As an only child, I spent a lot of time alone over the years, and so I’m quite content with being my own friend, but I do so cherish the close friendships I’ve cultivated over the years, so that when one is lost, it’s felt more deeply. But I do think that I’m continuing to evolve in how I value and perceive my friendships, as you and others have, too.

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  • As we get older more and more people will come in & out of our lives. We don’t always lose connection for lack of caring but the circumstances that brought us each together may have changed and in turn my have loosened the bond. Also some people are better at keeping contact where others may not care anyless…. they just suck at communication. I have been through all of the above and know the ones in my life are they ones I am happiest that stuck around through all phases.

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  • Your perspective, as usual, is refreshing.

    Friends in DC — or anywhere — are going to be situational the way you describe. But I would suggest to you that it is a maturing process you are describing, not a geographic or technological one. You’re hunting for jewels, after all.

    Just as your brain prunes itself as you enter adolescence, shedding synapses and cutting down the number of connections (and making you a little less “plastic” in your learning), so too are friendships. When you are young, you seek out as many as possible — kickball, bars, work. Sometimes you are looking for a mate. Often you are looking for deeper talks, deeper meaning. But everyone can’t be that person. And once you find a few of them, you have less need for more — at least until you do.

    As you get older, it is my experience that you hold on to a precious few friends. Some people become acquaintances. Others you never hear from again. But those jewels — the ones you know you could pick right up with months or years later — they are rare. And it takes time to collect and cultivate jewels.

    For me, geography is irrelevant in this technological age. I keep up with college friends, work friends, childhood friends and more. But only a few of them are jewels.

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    • I hear you on all points, Craig. Thanks for your thoughts. I think for right now, the geography is a huge factor, because I did move so recently after being in DC for six years. I know that these situations happen wherever people are. But I agree with you that it’s another phase of my life, another part of me changing and evolving, and this is just one piece of that. Like I say in the post, the geography has not mattered for some people, and I mean that even about friends I met in college in Ohio. I suppose I figured that it was more common and expected to lose touch with most college friends at this point, but not to lose touch with people I spent a lot of time with in DC, so soon. But anyway, I think we understand each other here. I love jewel reference. 🙂

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