Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Today I received a card from an old friend. Our relationship has deteriorated over time until now we hear from each other rarely, merely exchanging birthday cards and Christmas greetings.

These exchanges are oddly impersonal. Each card will enclose a short note about his children or my current activities. But there is little interest in what is actually going on in our lives. He has had health concerns in the past but makes no reference to them or how he is doing. There is no invitation to interact or even reply to questions such as, "So, how do you like your new house" or other chit-chat.

Over time we have all made friends whose company we enjoyed. These were people with whom we had much in common, whose sense of humor we appreciated or perhaps they were just people we found interesting. We tend to enjoy being with people who are easy to be around, and when we part, we feel somehow rejuvenated as the result of having been together.

That's not to say that friends shouldn't occasionally listen to each other's woes and worries. But allowing one person to constantly vent his/her problems is more akin to presumption that it is friendship. Such relationships are rarely mutually beneficial.

In today's ever-changing society, chances are that at some point friends from one phase of life will leave our proximity and move to another stage, perhaps a different geographical location. Jobs, school, marriages take their toll on relationships.

In college, I had several close friends. Ours was an aggregate of couples. We were forged by being in school or having a spouse in school. We realized that we would remain together at least until graduation. The group continued to grow, adding folks with like interests and tastes. We hadn't counted on outside influences such as the draft or the Vietnam War to ricochet through our group and damage its cohesiveness. But most of us kept in touch until time and options caused disruption.

We drifted apart and I have no idea where these folks are or what happened to them. That shift is a natural progression, I suppose, but sometimes I think of them and how close we were and feel a sense of loss.

Working years provided another set of co-workers/friends. In most office environments, we are again in a closed society. Interaction allows us a glimpse into someone's personality while at work, which may not show them at their best. Work relationships often end with job termination. Along the road to retirement it is inevitable that we discard friends of the past.

As we get older, it becomes increasingly hard to make new friends. Our journey through life has caused us to accumulate a lot of baggage. We are more skeptical of other people and quicker to judge. Perhaps we are more suspicious that other people might have an agenda. As we have grown more sophisticated, no doubt we are more reluctant to show our inner personality.

The best decision seems to stick with a few close friends. I realize that the advent of so-called "social media" encourages us to "like" each other. But personally I found that entire social media adventure far too shallow and meaningless for my tastes. When I had an account, I was bombarded with photos of people I have never met or even wanted to see. These are usually smiling faces of strangers doing such things as drinking alcoholic beverages, perhaps at a party or on a boat. They appear to care less about who sees the photos but nevertheless, the photos are posted for all to see.

Perhaps this pseudo-social experiences convinces both the poster and the viewer that they are somehow "friends" now. In this helter-skelter world, that might be enough for some folks. However, I closed my social account and decided it was all too silly. All I ever got were notes from people I don't know about their latest surgery or their adorable grandchildren.

Friendships are where you find them. It also appears that there is no guarantee they will last, despite emails and instant communication. The big question becomes: What am I going to talk to them about? They live on the other side of the country and it has been years since I saw them.

As a result, communication has been reduced to "Have a nice [insert name of event here]. Just a note to say I'm thinking of you and hope you and [insert name of spouse here] are doing well. Drop me a note when you have a chance."

After all, some things are just better left unsaid.

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