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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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The Friendship Journey in the Age of Easy (Adopted from Sunday musings)

Beth and I were out to dinner with another couple. Mutual friends came up in conversation. They’d moved away a couple of years ago. Moved a couple of times, actually. “Have you heard from so-and-so?” “No. You?” “Uh uh.” “Huh. That’s funny. We thought maybe it was just us.” “Yah, I call every now and again. Text every so often. Crickets.” In an odd way it felt a bit better, for all four of us, that we weren’t the only ones who’d been left behind as it were. Better, but still a bit sad and still hurt a bit.

Friendship is a bit of a journey. That’s not really news, though the journey evolves not only as one gets older but also in relation to societal evolution. T’was a time when the maintenance of a friendship forged on the battlefields of youth was almost expected to fade away, with only the faintest embers of memories still burning. It was natural. Common to the point of being expected, especially if friends moved far afield.

In order to keep the fires of friendship burning you need to stoke them. We marvel at the long-distance friendships of our forebears, brought to light in the letters they sent to one another. Can you imagine? Friendship maintained at the whim of the postal service? And yet maintain they did, at least those friendships that were meaningful enough to make the effort. The dawn of the telephone age made it somewhat easier to do this, but expense was a barrier often too high to surmount, trumping the immediacy and intimacy of hearing a friend’s voice.

Friendships at the mercy of distance and time were friendships most often destined to become memories.

Ah, but the world is so very different now. We have, each of us, a device that allows us to talk to anyone we have ever known, right now, for pennies. A text can be sent with an effort so trivial that we have laws to regulate when we should know better than to fire one off. As if that’s not quite enough, Facebook and Twitter are there for the asking, and the original “reach out and touch someone” revolution that is email will alert you when someone has messaged you on either of them. It is now easy, the effort necessary to remain in contact is now so minimal, that what it means to stoke the flames of friendship has been turned on its head. Along the way it seems that our expectations of what will become of our friendships has changed as well. If it’s so easy to stay in touch, our friendships should withstand any number of moves, right?

We will have to re-order that, I think.

Beth and I have a number of friends with whom we shared many, many things, who have moved away from the little burg we call home. In truth, most were little more than friendly acquaintances really, people we were thrown together with because of stage of life stuff like schools or sports or jobs. “Moving away” for these friendships is simply another way of saying the calendar has flipped, and these fade just like friendships in the days of the Pony Express. That’s OK, too; they are meant to fade because they weren’t really friends, people in whom you confided, people who confided in you, counted on you.

Our new world of easy access to one another changes how we feel about people we really did consider friends when they move away. It takes only time, well, time and desire, to stay in touch. To stay friends. Ah…there’s the rub, eh? It’s so easy now–no hoping that they will pick up the phone, return the voicemail, reply to the email/text/PM–that our expectations have changed. That resignation inherent in the historical timeline of all but the deepest, most meaningful friendships has been replaced with some kind of new expectation that we don’t have to let go, let the friendship go, simply because someone has gone somewhere else.

And it hurts, doesn’t it, when friends who were friends in person make it clear that moving away is actually just the same today as it was in the days of the letter and the rotary dial telephone. All but the truest of friends move on, and what we have now is not a gentle resignation and wistful sadness about our mutual loss, but rather a more acute and personal type, especially if we’d decided that the friendship had been worth the effort necessary to keep the fire burning.

There’s a story here, of course, but I won’t trouble you with it. You’ve got one too I’ll bet; only the details are different. There’s also a lesson I think, one that is grounded in the wisdom of yesteryear. Our world has changed in ways that were unimaginable to our parents and grandparents. Heck, even my Mom is now on Facebook (yikes!). Friendship, however, has not. It doesn’t matter even a little bit that it takes so little effort to connect in today’s world. What matters now is the same as what mattered when connecting meant eagle feathers and inkwells: having a friendship that was meaningful enough to make the effort. Friends reach out, and they reach back when you reach out, whatever reaching means on any given day in any given era. The arc of a friendship still ends most often as nothing more than warm memories, like the tiny embers of even the most magnificent bonfire in a dawn soon to come.

We are all happier when we accept that most of our friendships will still be like this. Lucky are we if we have even a single friend who feels just the same about our friendship, whether we stoke our fire side by side or cross-country. Friendship was, is, and will always be about the desire to remain friends, not how easy it might be to express that desire. Remember this, and we steel ourselves a bit more against the sadness of a friendship lost to time and distance.

Remember this, and we allow ourselves to be warmed by the memories that remain of the friendship that once was.

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One Response to “The Friendship Journey in the Age of Easy (Adopted from Sunday musings)”

  1. April 25th, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    Mo says:

    A really nice piece, Darrell. Truly enjoyed this one. I feel the same in many ways. Having moved from Stamford to Chicago with Michael and then to have come back to Stamford three years later but with a son in tow (now nearly 27 yo), we stayed in touch with perhaps two or three good friends. Some Michael stays in touch with and others I do.

    I’ve enjoyed how I’ve stayed in touch, somewhat, with friends on Facebook and Twitter, even Instagram. Having reconnected with you and Beth has been great and I hope to get out there soon vs. later. Would the two of you be interested in coming here for a few days this Summer? Pas it by your beautiful bridge, as you loving call her :)

    Mo

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