I got a call at work the other day that just broke my heart. It was an older man – 80 – who, after asking a question about a local school, wondered if I had a way to find the phone number for a friend he had lost contact with years and years and years earlier. Sadly there was nothing I could do for him and he understood and thanked me and that was that, only, it wasn’t. He didn’t know if this man was alive or dead or where he was and was just hoping to re-connect. It reminded me of losing a friend a few years back and how the only way I found out was by a mutual friend sending me a message on Facebook to let me know. The friend I lost was an ex and we had stayed in touch but were not close anymore. She helped me move out when I left my parents’ place and I went to her wedding. We were not close but still cared about each other. I knew she was ill but didn’t realize how ill. Then she was gone and that was that and I almost never found out. It still haunts me, to this day that I may have never known she had died, she’d just be…gone.
Something that I have noticed as I have gotten older is how very important and very fragile friendship is. Friendship can come so easily as young people can feel so natural, but as we get older the gaps between us widen and so many fall into the chasms of time never to be seen again. It’s part of getting older and it’s one of the bitterest parts – as we get older we lose people.
It happens gradually, the falling away from one another, life, and love, and family taking greater and greater parts of your time and it makes it hard to make the time for one another. The things we once had in common – crummy jobs, crummy living conditions, concerts, games, movies, parties – those things start to change drastically as our lives change. People you would see at parties and would always drink with are not always the folks you want to spend time with sober. Friends who you worked with and were close to drift away when you change jobs. Many times where we are in life dictates who we move forward with. The bitterest part of all this is that it happens without us realizing it. We make these decisions moment by moment and don’t give them a second thought not realizing that it is pushing us further away from one another. Never seeing the collateral damage of simply living our lives.
This whole topic is one which I can point squarely at myself because I know I have made decisions that have cost me friendships. Even outside of pettiness, selfishness, meanness, and foolishness there were the decisions I made that simply pushed me away. Invitations to go out, or hang out that I declined. Hands reached out that I rejected. Opportunities I let slip away. I have lost a great many friends and there is blood on my hands for that. I am happy with where I am in my life and don’t regret the overarching decisions but it’s sad to think that some of those decisions cost me friendships I once held dear.
Slipping away is what we do though, as humans. As much as we need one another we still have that nomadic part of us that pushes us in directions that are sometimes solitary. The advent of social media has become a blessing and curse. People I had lost touch with otherwise, people I still care about and want to keep in touch with can be found, can be reconnected with, and friendships can be salvaged that once may have fallen apart with time. Saying that though we have become so casual with each other. We don’t make the effort to get together. We don’t make the effort to find space in our lives for people. We want people to care about what we’re doing yet we rarely care about what everyone else is up to. We want attention without giving it.
We are lazy.
We are lazy and it’s heartbreaking.
I know I don’t like to go out much anymore. I have always been more than a little bit of a loner and the older I get the more protective I am of my time alone and the more I crave it. I think it’s because I work with people all the time and just need to get back into sync with myself. Alas, it comes at the cost of spending time with others. And really, in the end, the day I die I will have spent a whole life with that person, and that’s plenty enough. Still, that time alone is something I crave, foolish as it may seem at times.
The older we get the tighter we wrap ourselves in the familiar and safe. We reach an age where it’s not just hard to make friends but almost impossible. We don’t tend to be as open and free when we age and it makes us suspicious of one another. Easier to close out people who we haven’t known for years. Technology lets us interact with people the world over but rarely do we let people in, do we let them see beneath the veneer of smiling photos and happy posts. So much of social media feels like actors playing parts with people holding the hard stuff in because so many of us don’t want to see it or deal with it. We don’t like the messiness of friendship, the pain, the sorrow, the frustration. We want to casually cheer people on and ‘like’ what they are doing but when it comes to words to console they often feel empty because who are we to tell someone things will get better when we don’t know they will? How are we to tell someone things will be OK when there is so much about them that we don’t know.
We complicate friendship as we get older and that’s the hell of it.
Friendship should come easy. All it is is getting along with people and liking them enough to spend time together. There will always be people who we have nothing in common with and nothing to say to one another but how hard to we even try? How deep do we bother looking? We don’t have to be best friends with everyone because those sorts of friends are very few and very rare but we can be pals with people. We can talk. We can share. We can confide. We can laugh and cry together. That is what does work with social networking – we can still connect over the years and miles, even if it is just briefly. And that is what matters because the biggest impact we have in life is the impact we have on one another.
Life is shorter than we realize and the people we meet in our lives that impact us and who make us better people and who make our lives more meaningful are very rare. We meet a lot of people but few stick in our hearts and it’s awful how casually we walk away from one another and how little we fight for one another. Sometimes life takes us away from one another but we can fight, we can fight for each other and with social media we have tools to aid in that battle. But rarely do we and it’s become so easy to delete someone from a phone, or a social network and to go on our way. We share so much with one another but let life get in the way. I am very fortunate to have re-connected with some people who I thought were long lost, and still mourn some that are long gone but in the end it was all choice that made it happen. We chose to stay in touch or chose to fall out of touch. It may not have been a joint decision but the result is the same. We can be in such a rush to let go of one another it’s a shame we don’t try to hold on to each other a little tighter. We find it so easy to hate one another, to be angry at one another and to cut each other out and then wonder why someone would do that to us. Wonder what’s wrong with us. Friendship takes work. Takes investment. Takes love. Friendship takes US and anymore that’s just asking too much. The thing is though that life can get very cruel and very lonely and we only have each other, and that’s the bitter truth of it. There are holes in our lives that family and love ones can’t fill, holes only a friend can, and we’d be good to remember that, before it’s too late.