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Friends: The Least of Your Priorities

I wrote about friendships over four years ago in the blog titled, Friends for a Season.  Then, I wrote about what friendships looked like both on and off Facebook in the blog, Goodbye, Facebook, that I penned just before I deleted my Facebook account in September of last year.

I just read a very long article about friendships and how they change over the years of a person's lifetime.  But, don't let me discourage you from reading it.  I found it to be pretty interesting.  So, if you feel like a long read about friendships, stop reading this right now and click the link to the actual article above.  However, If you'd rather see some snippets from the article about what I thought was interesting enough to elaborate on then please continue.  I promise that mine is shorter.

The understood uniformity about friendships is that people consider them very important.  However, in reality, they get pushed to the bottom of the relationship hierarchy which looks more like:
  1. Spouse
  2. Children
  3. Extended Family
  4. Friends
 When you think about, it's true that a friend-relationship can survive with months in-between times of communication.  Though, the more you go up the hierarchy, the more communication is required.  Clearly, if months went by without communication from your spouse, there would more likely be court proceedings being scheduled than a movie night.  However, in most cases of 30-something friendships, the requirement for communication measurably lessens due to people's increased commitments.  As teenagers, if your friend went two days without talking to you, you'd think that something was up; a week and you'd know that your friendship was over.  Whereas, as 30-somethings, an April to September span between conversations might even go unmentioned let alone fretted over.

The article claims to present four main levels of maintaining a relationship.  (However, I only could find two that they spoke about, so it remains a mystery what the other two may be.)
The first is just keeping a relationship alive at all, just to keep it in existence. Saying “Happy Birthday” on Facebook, faving a friend’s tweet—these are the life support machines of friendship. They keep it breathing, but mechanically.
I touched on this in my Facebook departure blog.  It's these sorts of attempts at maintaining something that's probably worth pulling the plug on that just got on my nerves.  I mean... really...why put off the inevitable.  It was time to rip off the band-aid.
Next is to keep a relationship at a stable level of closeness. “I think you can do that online too,” Langan says. “Because the platforms are broad enough in terms of being able to write a message, being able to send some support comments if necessary.” It’s sometimes possible to repair a relationship online, too, (another maintenance level) depending on how badly it was broken—getting back in touch with someone, or sending a heartfelt apology email.
I can see this.  Not every relationship I had on Facebook was a shallow one that deserved to die.  But, just because the social platform is built doesn't mean everyone has to get on it.  This sort of social life didn't exist 20 years ago.  I pity the mindset that believes it's now a requirement for social connectivity.  There are other ways, people. (Sorry if I sounded like Mr. T there for a second.)
“But then when you get to the next level, which is: Can I make it a satisfying relationship? That’s where I think the line starts to break down,” Langan says. “Because what happens often is people think of satisfying relationships as being more than an online presence.”
Social media makes it possible to maintain more friendships, but more shallowly. And it can also keep relationships on life support that would (and maybe should) otherwise have died out.

By middle-age, people have likely accumulated many friends from different jobs, different cities, and different activities, who don’t know each other at all. These friendships fall into three categories: active, dormant, and commemorative. Friendships are active if you are in touch regularly, you could call on them for emotional support and it wouldn’t be strange, if you pretty much know what’s going on with their lives at this moment. A dormant friendship has history, maybe you haven’t talked in a while, but you still think of that person as a friend. You’d be happy to hear from them and if you were in their city, you’d definitely meet up.
A commemorative friend is not someone you expect to hear from, or see, maybe ever again. But they were important to you at an earlier time in your life, and you think of them fondly for that reason, and still consider them a friend.
Facebook makes things awkward by keeping these friends continually in your peripheral vision. It violates what I’ll call the camp-friend rule of commemorative friendships: No matter how close you were with your best friend from summer camp, it is always awkward to try to stay in touch when school starts again. Because your camp self is not your school self, and it dilutes the magic of the memory a little to try to attempt a pale imitation at what you had.
The same goes for friends you only see online. If you never see your friends in person, you’re not really sharing experiences so much as just keeping each other updated on your separate lives. It becomes a relationship based on storytelling rather than shared living—not bad, just not the same.
Perhaps friends are more willing to forgive long lapses in communication because they’re feeling life’s velocity acutely too. It’s sad, sure, that we stop relying on our friends as much when we grow up, but it allows for a different kind of relationship, based on a mutual understanding of each other’s human limitations. It’s not ideal, but it’s real, as Rawlins might say. Friendship is a relationship with no strings attached except the ones you choose to tie, one that’s just about being there, as best as you can.
Not every one gets this.  But, I think that most do.  It's an unfortunate fact that adults will get hurt from time to time by their friend's lack of communication.  But, it's imperative that we understand our own limitations and those of our friends, as well.  I think that a healthy embrace of our limitations can help relax the expectations we place on others, which in turn can protect us from getting hurt.

The older I get, the more I have come to embrace my limitations.  If I don't have any time to dedicate to people because of my current commitments to fill, it would be wrong of me to let on that I might have time by saying things like, "We should get together some time" or replying with, "Yeah, we should" when they tell me this.  It would be better to reply with "That would be nice. Maybe when (fill-in-the-blank-with-current-time-consuming-activity) is over we could do that because that is sure limiting the amount of free time I have right now."

This is, of course, assuming that you would want to spend time with this person.  Because, if you don't then don't make any promises.  That doesn't do anyone any favors.

Some of you right now might be thinking I'm kind of a jerk.  And, maybe I am.  I don't know.  But, I am trying to put honesty into practice when it comes down to social activities.  Being polite and tactful is obviously important, but not to the extent that we're lying to people to spare their feelings now just to have them disappointed with your lack of availability later.


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