Friendship has never been more confusing than it is today, where being someone’s “friend” and “following” them takes just a click without any real connection or commitment. I used to have a pretty good idea what being a friend meant; I’m not so sure anymore. I am certainly willing to shoulder my share of the fault for this confusing development; but most of the blame has to be thrown at the imaginary feet of social media.
Let me be the first to point out that I am a hypocrite. I have “friends” on Facebook who I barely know. After this essay is published in the local paper I will post it on the internet and provide a link to make it easier for those “friends” to read it. But just so I don’t offend everyone, I have some very good friends who are also Facebook “friends.” One size does not fit all. However, I am convinced that it is next to impossible to develop meaningful relationships there.
I believe the deepest, most sincere friendships are where genuine, one-on-one conversations take place. However I fear this is falling out of fashion as we only have so much time and energy. It takes work to cultivate and grow a long-term relationship;
It’s getting together, not just saying you will. It’s remembering to call just to talk. It’s a card or a letter (maybe an email) sent at the right time or just because. It’s dropping everything because your friend needs you. “Keep your friendships in repair.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1864)
I can almost here the laughter and shouts of disagreement from my old friends, but I think I am better at being an old friend than a new one because of the work required to get there and stay there. It’s challenging to give new friends the attention or time they deserve. Unfortunately, because of that, I may be missing out on building great new friendships, because, as I said, there is only so much time and energy, and I refuse to take short-cuts and substitute small talk for sincere dialogue.
The consequence of that behavior is the appearance of being aloof, stand-offish, and even arrogant. I know you only get one chance to make a first impression, and unfortunately, I don’t always give a good one. I am often impatient, rude, and self-centered; qualities that my old friends have either learned to tolerate or ignore, in the hope that someday I may improve. Though I don’t deserve it, they are patient with me.
Last Sunday in church, the pastor was talking about connecting with people and forming friendships. Not once did I hear him mention using social media as a way to achieve it. He talked about have a conversation over a cup of coffee, maybe even sharing a meal together. The thinking being that you should be able and willing to reach out and make friends at church. If we can’t or won’t put the effort in there –Lord help us all.
In 1728, James Thomson described what I believe to be the ideal later years of a man’s life. “An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books.” Just as surely as I do now I will need friends as I get older. An old man with plenty of time but no friends to spend it with is a sad way to finish life. I need both old and new friends; I will learn and grow with the new ones and recommit to click and connect with the old ones.