Show Yourself Friendly
I am an only child, thus the idea of having friends has always been extremely important to me. My mother is from a large family, one of 12 children, so I have been blessed with a big and loving extended family. I spent many weekends, summers, birthdays, and holidays at my grandmother’s house in the company of aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends who lived close by. My mom and I resided in a different city than my extended family. I always looked with joy on the prospect of a visit to my grandmother’s house so much so that my mom eventually moved back to that city when I began middle school.
For as far back as I can remember, I always had a small cadre of close friends. I was an extrovert who loved to talk. I was bossy to boot–the probable outcome of being an only child. I remember one of my beloved teachers at the after school program I attended–I was probably 8 or 9 years old–admonishing me for always being the principal when my friends and I played school. She had observed us playing and felt the need to bring this to my attention. At the time, I didn’t understand since my friends always voted me to play that role. At least that is how I remember it. This penchant towards bossiness, I think, eventually catapulted me into the various leadership roles I had in high school, college, graduate school, and as a parent (PTA). I have always been very helpful and what my mom, calls, “free-hearted.” This means I’m willing to give without expectation of reciprocation, or I let myself be put upon in ways that others would not extend themselves for me. In my mind, this is not a negative if I enjoy helping others.
When I think about each point in my life, I can identify the presence of close friends. I’m beginning to observe something I think might happen with most of us to a certain degree. Our number of close friends lessens over time for many reasons. We adopt different beliefs and world views and have nothing in common with them anymore. We move away from each other. We deem some friendships more valuable than others and consciously or subconsciously stop nurturing those less valuable ones. We have a falling out. We get caught up in our lives and deem friendship as too much work. There was a graphic on tumblr that illustrated this perfectly. There were headings for “elementary”, “middle”, “college”, and “after graduation” under which was a line of people to represent the quantity of friends surrounding you at that point in life. The number of people decreased with each heading in sequential order until there was only “you” at the end under, “after graduation.” This makes sense because our time in school presents an artificial environment during which we are surrounded by large groups of people in our peer group. In this environment, friendships are natural and inevitable. Once we step out into the real world, those types of environments are few. The workplace, church, and hobbies can provide a substitute.
I have made it a practice to reach out to friends I’ve lost touch with. I usually do this around the new year. I make a pledge to contact them and stay in touch. I did my yearly reach out at the start of 2014. I contacted more old friends than usual this time. After the initial contact, I attempted to maintain connection as I usually do. I was able to arrange breakfast with one and lunch with another. The others I talked to a couple of times, but we weren’t able to set up an outing. Some were out of state, though, I’m not sure if being closer would have increased the possibility of an outing. Now I am back where I was: out of contact. One friend I do maintain more regular contact with, though she lives in another state, encouraged me when I lamented about this. She said that real friendship has to be a two way street. One person can’t be the one doing all the initiation, planning, and maintenance. I agree. Alas, I will continue to contact them, but I won’t try to arrange a get together. In fact, I cringe at that statement now, “We need to get together.” It is customary to say, but it doesn’t really mean action will be taken…unless I take it.
The various social media platforms have given people a tremendous opportunity to stay in touch. While the instant connectivity is good, it is cheap when it replaces in person connections. It doesn’t “cost” anything and in some cases lowers the quality of the connection or trivializes it in a way that reduces it to characters and hashtags. Communicating with someone face to face or even via phone requires more engagement and attention than texting, tweeting, reblogging, liking, and any other number of communications. Again, it costs more and requires a type of focus and undivided attention that social media modes of communication don’t require. For example, there are no expectations while texting as opposed to speaking over the phone. During a text, things are accepted that would be considered rude during a phone call or in person exchange. You don’t have to respond immediately. You can engage in many other activities. You can end the texting event at will. You can ignore (not read their message) the other person until after you type your text message. You can ignore the other person altogether. It’s convenient and efficient, but so much is lost when these modes replace traditional modes of communication, especially within friendships.
I’m not seeking to make some grand statement about friendship, social media, and friendship building. I enjoy technology. Many platforms are great for advertising, the building and maintaining of brand identity (for products), communicating information quickly—the possibilities are endless. I’ve used social media for advertising and plan to in the future. I am speaking out of a very personal observation about my own life, and the paucity of real life, flesh and blood friends. I remember how my grandmother’s friends would come by and sit with her often. Her door was revolving. I remember those fun college days when I took for granted the regular company and fellowship of friends. Perhaps as I rest in my late thirties, I am nostalgic for those days and connections. That big, loving and extended family I spoke of is not the same. After the death of several important roots in our family tree, gatherings are few except in the case of funerals.
Recently, my husband and I took a much needed vacation sans child and pets. One day we visited this famous soul food restaurant where the tradition was to sit family style, up to 9 people at a table. Along with my husband and I, there were 4 women, another couple, and a man traveling alone. The women were friends vacationing together, something they reportedly did often. I was in awe. This intentional joint venture they were engaged in before my eyes was akin to riding on the back of a butterfly across a double rainbow.
I romanticize friendships because of my only child status. Four–two fictional and two real–stand out for me: Anne Shirley & Diana Barry; Wilbur & Charlotte; Oprah Winfrey & Gayle King; Harper Lee & Truman Capote. I know that my romanticization of friendships is just that, a romanticization–unrealistic and idealistic–at least for me. I know some people do have those types of friendships with regular contact, joint vacations–shared lives. I know there are very real barriers. People are busy with their busy lives. Then I think, people often make time for what is important.
The most important thing I know to do for sure is to focus on the tremendously supportive family and friends I do have. Though I may not talk to or visit friends often, we are still connected. I appreciate the times I do reconnect with them whether it be sporadic or via technology. Also, I treasure those times when I can be a friend to strangers. At the airport one day, I was walking through the parking lot and spotted a couple cruising by with a coffee cup on their car. I flagged them down and alerted them. Some time later, I sat down at the boarding gate and happened upon an abandoned cell phone. I looked up and asked those sitting by if someone had been sitting there. A guy in headphones pointed to my right. I saw a harried looking mother with several small children in tow. I picked up the phone and rushed it to her. These little acts of showing myself friendly gives me great joy. Perhaps, this is the unleashing of my superpowers. I am Friendship Woman: “Ma’am, there’s lipstick on your teeth.” “Sir, here, you dropped your change.” “Hey, Let me help you with that.” If you’re ever in a minor pickle, perhaps I am around the corner with a dose friendship to spare.
What about you? Do you have friends (aside from your spouse) that you communicate with and see often? Are you constantly adding new close friends? Do you think it is harder to make real friends (not acquaintances) after formal education? Your comments are welcome.