Friends and ‘keeping in touch’

people and relationships, personal

“Adam,” my mom enthused, “You know, I was just talking to Aunt Elli, and — remember her friends the Bronstiers? Well, their daughter Maura is now living in Oakland! I told Auntie to pass on your e-mail to her. Maybe you two can have lunch or whatever and…”

“Mom, please don’t” I politely protested. “I don’t need another friend right now. I need to be a better friend to the ones I’ve got.”

My mom, bless her soul, was neither enlightened nor convinced.

“How can you have too many friends?!” she argued, “We’re not talking marriage here, for Godsake, Adam, just lunch or coffee…”

I insisted more firmly: No. I felt guilty, but only a little bit.

Making friends is easy. Making GOOD friends is much harder. But maintaining or — even scarier — breaking off friendships? That’s the toughest.

Rewarding? Hopefully. Frustrating? Often that, too. And sometimes painful along the journey? Yes.

My parents have lived in the same city — actually, the same house! — for three decades, and have been members at the same temple for about the same length of time. They have pretty much the same (many!) friends now as they did when I was growing up at home, and I am thankful for this, though admittedly sometimes almost envious that their social life is currently more rockin’ than mine.

My folks clearly haven’t had the same transience of friendships as I’ve dealt with, though, at least not recently. In just the last 10 years, I’ve lived and made friends in Evanston (near Chicago), Bloomington (near Indianapolis), Mannheim (in Germany), Boston, and lastly San Francisco, where I live now. Then there are the friends I have who now live in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Costa Rica, and more than a dozen other countries. And no, I’m not counting “Internet friends.”

All in all, I count more than 500 contacts in my addressbook. All are ‘friends’ of various degrees… former work friends, gym buddies, MBA colleagues, that couple I met while kayaking, and so on. To put it in perspective, if I were to contact each of these folks just once a quarter and spend ten minutes in the process, that’s nearly an hour a day of just ‘keeping in touch’. And while some of these folks can be “hello’d” in under 10 minutes, perhaps, quite a few deserve far more of my time and, yes, my friendship.

That’s a lot of dedication per day. That’s a lot of dedication in my life. And it’s dedication that I have sadly failed in carrying out.

So, unsurprisingly, I’ve lost friends. Some got married and we seemed to have less and less in common, as we cross-talked about babies and babes, mortgages and job searching. Distance, too, has been a definite issue. Out of sight out of mind may be grossly clich?d, but no less a factor.

But marriage and distance account for only a part of the lost friendship tally. Sometimes people — or their interests or needs or circumstances — simply change, and, well, the friendship no longer applies as it once did. In these cases, sometimes it seems preferable to ‘pull the plug’ rather than watch the friendship slowly, painfully wither… with plodding uncomfortableness hidden under strained and feigned interest: “So, what’s new?”

But who can bear to tell someone, “I don’t think we should be friends anymore”? With similar wording, romantic relationships can be at least theoretically ‘cut clean’. Employers can (and oh so frequently DO) nowadays sever increasingly dysfunctional work ‘relationships’ at the drop of a hat without even having to bluster through much of a rationale much less an apology. But saying goodbye to a friend for the last time? Who can do that?

“Let’s keep in touch,” we tell each other. Perhaps we mean it, perhaps we don’t. More likely, we simply don’t know where we’ll be or how we’ll feel in 5 years or even 5 months.

Thus, with faded friendships too often experienced and understandably feared, the challenge then becomes more effectively managing the remaining (500+!) friendships.

“Managing.” So businesslike. Outlook entries, IM lists, Christmas-cards-or-not, form letters, ad naseum. Oh, for the days of the small village, tighter boundaries, and simpler world!

The answer, then, becomes one constrained by practicalities and too removed from idealism, but nonetheless clear. Prioritize, organize, and balance frequency of contacts with Quality Time. Remember birthdays, if nothing else.

Or better yet, call. In this age of D.I. (Digital Instantaneousness), the phone may seem so anachronistic, especially for us Geek Guys. But it conveys a warmth that cannot be duplicated by anything other than looking into someone’s eyes and smiling.

Of equal importance is the concept of letting go. With direct goodbyes not a pallatable option, at least we should drift gracefully, honestly. As tempting as it is to promise future contact (“I’ll write!”), ’tis better to follow our hearts before succumbing to conventional politeness.

No, Mom, I don’t need a new friend. I have too many friends that need my friendship, and they’ve been waiting too long already.

3 comments… add one
  • Tim Aug 21, 2006

    Great article.. I actually was searching google for this to assuage my guilt. Good exploration of the issue but how does one end friendships ‘nicely’? Ah the trouble with being well liked.

  • CJ Jul 6, 2008

    I was googling for “keeping in touch with too many friends”  because I also have this “problem”—- I’ve moved many times since I left home 10 years ago—-and now I’m overwhelmed by the friends I have to keep in touch with.  Some who I know depend on my friendship more than I do on theirs—-some who have babies they want me to meet who I haven’t met because I haven’t had the opportunity to go visit their city.  It is expensive and difficult to plan a visit to a place which you left long ago.  But the guilt, and the love beckon.  I love and miss my old friends, but sometimes, like you mentioned, we’ve moved in different directions, and there is jealousy and awkwardness… sometimes I even want to downplay my accomplishments.

  • Adam Jul 6, 2008

    Hey Tim and CJ, thanks for sharing!  It’s amazing how *stressful* friendships can be; imagine that some people think they’re just all wonderfulness ;-).

    My challenge:  I’ve found that when I have time to spare to spend with friends, I have no money to go see them.  Now I have more money, but significantly less time.  So that’s really a balancing issue, too!

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