Wednesday, May 15, 2013


A few days ago, I spent several unpleasant hours with a person I know. I couldn't wait to leave. The experience involved no two-way conversation but was rather a chance for this person to vent frustration and unhappiness unchecked by input from anyone else. As I reflected over how awkward the visit had been, it occurred to me that perhaps actual communication between adults has become a thing of the past.

At present, I have few very close friends. I do, however, have a number of acquaintances with whom I have either worked or socialized. However, they hardly qualify as friends.

Perhaps adults today are victims of technology. Modern "communication" has erased the need to face each other. This erosion of human contact began years ago, probably about the time the answering machine arrived. We knew that if we wanted to avoid talking to a particular person, say, a former spouse, we could phone when we knew they would be gone and simply leave a message. Then came emails, to further erode communication. Now people have forgotten entirely how to interact with each other. Many people believe that it is acceptable to merely enclose a typed/photocopied letter with a Christmas card and they have done their part.

Contact with other human beings is all but gone entirely.

When I was a child, a friend was a very special person. Childhood friends were usually other girls. We often had something in common: we both disliked a third individual, we were in the school band or liked to giggle and watch TV. Most people wanted to have or become the "best friend" as opposed to the second-rate friend, I suppose. Best friends were good to have, somehow guaranteeing our worth in the social world. A friend was someone who laughed at your jokes, liked to ride bikes to the same places, made each other feel comfortable as a visitor in their house and were recognized by each other's parents. We were learning to adjust to new surroundings and how to cope with the larger world.

High school friends were better yet. We had grown in independence and were not shy about sharing our opinions. Friends often shared theirs in return. We caught rides to get pizza and rides home from sporting events. These relationships often involved access to and even possession of a vehicle. My friends were still largely girl friends -- classmates who also worked on the school paper or liked to occasionally leave the school grounds for lunch. That was big! But gradually friends began to include boys and dating came to replace hanging out with the girls. Some friendships continued but outside influences were leaving their marks.

College friends were friends of another type. Often these were people who merely shared my space. During my freshman year at college, I lived in a dorm. It was natural to become friends with girls who shared space on the same floor. We might run into each other on campus, have lunch, walk to class or hang-out. But we weren't really friends. Being away from home and in a new environment forged pseudo-friendships. We had nothing in common other than our shared quarters, a little like shipmates taking a Caribbean cruise. As long as we were stuck without any other contact, we might as well chat and make the best of it.

When I got married, my husband's friends became my friends. I kept in touch with some people I had known before, but most of those girls were either married or moved on with their lives. My husband's family was key to him and its members looked to him as the chief male figure. As a result, we mostly socialized with his circle of acquaintances. I don't know whether this is a typical result of marriage, but it seemed a natural progression in my friends' lives. This was during in the 1960s and perhaps things have changed greatly since. But we socialized with "couples" finding restaurants we liked, cooking dinner for each other and going to football games together. There was rarely an odd number of people included, but occasionally someone would be included who was alone. Those of us who were part of a couple often felt sorry for the "odd" attendee and would work hard to include him/her in the conversation, the poor little thing.

Even friendships among couples were reshuffled again with the arrival of kids. Couples who had careers did not seek out or even appreciate couples whose activities were controlled by babysitters and diaper changes. My husband and I did not have children, so it seemed natural that once friends like Ted and Tina had welcomed children, our circle of conversation and activities together would end.

The term "friend" has meant different things to different people at different times. When I think of friends now, I think of people who are even marginally fascinating, can carry on a conversation about something of mutual interest, who have ideas worth considering and ask for input in return.

Friends should listen to each other. It's called communicating. But people no longer do that. The world is consumed with text messages and partial sentences. It might be good to start talking to each other again, to share information and learn to listen to each other.

How refreshing that would be.

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