The Way We Do Friending Now (And I’ve Learned To Like It)
A few weeks ago I heard from Stanley*, a friend I hadn’t seen in over a decade. We were pretty close when I was in my twenties; he’s about 15 years older, so he was like my big brother back then. Lots of teasing, lots of head-shaking when I did something dumb, good advice about my new car, and bad advice about my social life.
We stayed in touch for a while, then drifted apart. A mention on social media, combined with the doldrums of quarantine, and he was back In my life.
We had a long phone conversation. He was in the same line of work as before; I’d bounced around multiple careers, picked up advanced degrees, and settled into a comfortable life. He’s sidelined with health problems; I’m still healthy and working. He’d been in long relationships; my status was, “It’s complicated.”
We agreed to exchange photos and talk again. I figured, maybe a couple of weeks, even more. We’d gone this long, right? And we’re different people.
The next day, as I was working on a new course, the phone rang. I glanced briefly, expecting a spam alert. To my surprise, Stanley’s number appeared on my screen.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Sure, I just decided to call. I wanted to follow up on what we talked about yesterday…”
As politely as possible, I had to explain that I needed to get back to work. He called again a couple of days later.
Frankly, I was surprised. I hadn’t realized how my own interactions with people have changed over the years.
People in my world rarely call without planning ahead.
We text anytime. We email, but most people check texts or Facebook Messenger more than email.
From time to time, I’ve tried to stay in touch with friends by setting up phone calls. “Let’s call and talk once a month,” we’d agree. For a few months, we did. Then we stopped and eventually lost touch with each other.
We’re really casual about appointments with friends.
Many people don’t think it’s rude to cancel phone calls, coffee, dinner or movies at the last minute with the reason, “I wanted to watch a live sports event,” or, “I found something else to do.”
In fact, these trends come together. If someone’s supposed to call you at 7, they might text you at 6:50 to say, “I just discovered there’s a show I want to watch.”
Not spontaneous …. but not too planned, either.
In a way, we’ve replaced spontaneity with uncertainty. Communication doesn’t become a way to reinforce a relationship and develop closeness over time. It’s as casual as deciding to buy an ice cream cone.
I’m single, so I don’t know how married couples interact. I’ve been told people are more respectful about calling a married friend and more likely to be spontaneous with close family.
The unwritten rules of friendship actually work, once you learn to navigate them, or think you have.
Nowadays when someone says, “Let’s talk at 9,” I pencil in the date and time. If something better comes along…well, we don’t have a contract. I make sure not to rearrange my schedule, because they may not show up. And I don’t take it personally.
As for Stanley, we finally figured out a way to call each other on a regular basis, with no surprises. He’s at a place in life where he values my phone calls, and I do enjoy talking to him. He’s not crazy about texting but he’ll do it. I’d like more texting but I’ll let it go.
Who knows how long we’ll keep this up?
That’s not what’s important, I’ve come to realize.
These days, a good conversation with a friend deserves a mention in the gratitude journal.
We’re lucky to have people in our lives. They might be good friends even if they’re rather cavalier about keeping commitments. They might get us through a strange time in our lives and then vanish as abruptly as if they’d been captured by aliens.
Ultimately, you can’t be needy, you can’t take things personally, and you have to be flexible. Mostly, you have to be grateful we’re no longer dependent on a phone tethered to the wall and a pile of paper letters sent through a mail system.