Friday, July 07, 2006

Friends: who needs em?

Recently Dr. Helen, another psychoblogger, wrote this interesting essay exploring the topic of modern-day friendship.

It's funny; we talk and think (and sing!) a lot about love--how to get it, how to keep it, what goes wrong with it, what it means to us--but not so much about friendship.

It's a topic I've thought a lot about, though, perhaps because I've moved quite a bit in my life and most of my old friends live far away, and I've had to make new ones in new communities several times over. I'm one of those people to whom friends mean a great deal. Dr. Helen mentions that perhaps extroverts are more likely to be interested in friendship:

People affect people differently--if you are energized by people and feel pleasure in being with others (a typical extrovert), then friendships can be postive, but if you tend towards introversion, then people can sometimes exhaust you and make you feel blue instead of energized--perhaps more boundaries are needed to maintain your emotional health. However, even an introvert may need other people--even one person who you can talk with and share some of yourself in ways that feel safe.

I don't think I'm a "typical" anything; I'm definitely some strange chimera, either an extroverted introvert or an introverted extrovert. That is, I'm very contemplative and have a need for solitude, but I also love being around people and talking to them. I don't spill my guts easily, but I have a stable of friends to whom I can confide in a pinch or a crisis; perhaps six or seven of them (friends, not crises!), carefully gleaned and cultivated over time. And I try to follow the old adage, "To have a friend you must be one." I'm a good listener, as well, and I think my friends know that.

Perhaps that's why it was so painful for me to come out politically and have so much friction with people, and even to lose a couple of friends (including one long-term one) over that. But, for the most part, my friendships have weathered the storm, although not without some work.

Long ago, I used to think my need for friends, and the number of them that I had, was typical of most people (perhaps that's a subset of the common misperception that whatever we happen to feel or want is what everyone feels or wants). But as I got older I realized that wasn't so. One thing I learned as a general rule--although, of course, as with most rules, exceptions abound--is that women tend to have more friends than men. Or, at least, they tend to do different things with them; rather than be activity-oriented (golf, baseball, hunting), women's friendships tend to be talk-oriented (problems, relationships, feelings).

I have some friends I've known since I was a little girl, and some I've kept since college. Some of the former might be people with whom, if I met them today, I wouldn't be especially friendly. But the long history we share is worth a lot, and gives us a commonality that almost feels as though we're relatives at this point.

The college friends are still some of the best I have; I think there are certain times in life that are especially ripe for forming fast and firm friendships, and that's one of them. Another, especially for young mothers, is the period when they're at home with the babies or the toddlers, and about to lose their minds if they don't have some adult companionship; I've got quite a few friends from that period of life, as well.

The commonality is that these are times or transition and stress, and the bonds forged among those who share the experience can be very strong indeed. Even if they move away--and many of them have; as, in fact, have I--we talk on the phone, and when we meet, often the years fall away and we experience that wondrous cliché , "it's as though we last saw each other just yesterday."

I've lost some friends, too, and not just to politics: to death. That happens more and more as one grows older. Mercifully, it's been few so far, but I know as time passes the numbers will inevitably increase. And two of my very best friends have had extremely life-threatening cancers, a very sobering and disturbing momento mori.

When I look back, I think some of my expectations about friendship were formed by my parents--no surprise, I suppose. They were both born, grew up, and lived their entire lives in a single tight-knit community (well, for my mother, not quite her whole life, since she moved from New York to New England in 2002 to be near me--but by that time, she was eighty-eight.)

Their community was an exceptionally social one, social in a way few are today. Not only did my parents grow up there, but almost everyone they knew did, as well--and they knew hundreds, if not thousands, of people. As a child, when I would walk down the street, complete strangers constantly recognized me from my powerful resemblance to my father and would come up to talk to me (another thing that wouldn't happen today!), saying that they knew him and could tell I was his daughter. As a teenager, I wasn't allowed to wear jeans when I went out into the community, because it would reflect badly on the family (and remember, my parents were liberals--oh, how the times they have a-changed!)

My parents, and all their friends, used to party. Not as in "get blasted," but as in "have a lot of fun." It was not unusual for them to get together with friends four or five times a week--card games, volunteer work, cake and coffee, and full-fledged parties. They often vacationed with from four to eight couples as a group. They took ballroom dancing lessons in their basements.

And they talked--oh, how they talked! As a child one of my strongest memories is of evenings spent up in my bedroom, trying to do my homework, while the siren song of loud and animated conversation wafted invitingly towards me.

Often, I would give in and go down there, to where the adults sat around the large dining room table, eating pastry, drinking coffee, and talking. Arguing, too, at times. Over local things and larger things, including politics and the world. Nor did they shun the opinions of a child; I was welcome at the table, and I was allowed speak up. My parents didn't monitor my homework--perhaps because they knew I was conscientious enough and driven enough so that they didn't have to--and so I was allowed to make my own judgments about how much time I would spend partaking of the conversation.

I always thought when I grew up I'd have friends like that. Alas, I don't--that is, I don't have a large group of friends who all know each other and get together regularly. They're scattered, as my life has been scattered, as well; with different eras and varied venues, as well as different groups of friends and individual friends.

I've come to consider that what my parents had then was at least somewhat exceptional, even for the time, although it used to be far more common than now. Such a phenomenon seems very rare nowadays, especially in urban areas.

But I value it. And sometimes I think it set the tone for my attraction to blogging, which is a sort of virtual recreation of my parents' coffee hours. And here I am, still speaking up.

So here, friends, have some coffee cake on me:


At 3:59 PM, July 07, 2006, Blogger Ron said...

Neo! Coffee Cake and no coffee? Tsk, tsk...

Ah, well, the ultra-pasteurized cream of bloggy goodness will suffice...

At 7:22 PM, July 07, 2006, Blogger Lucy said...

Maybe i missed it, but why did the events on 11/09 turn your political leanings to the right when most other people saw what such fundamentalist views can acheive and went to the left? And after seeing what has happened since, why have you not switched back!!

At 9:00 PM, July 07, 2006, Blogger MikeZ said...

In one of Plato's Dialogues, Socrates says ".... and friends have all things in common".

I suppose there are a lot more "things" nowadays, so it's hard for any two people to have all things in common. It's probably true, though, that friends have more than a few things in common.

(The Dr Helen link doesn't work as clicked - it has a leading "" string.)

We may well be more isolated these days. It's certainly true in big cities, and even some smaller ones. People can go for years without knowing - or maybe even caring - who their neighbors are. We see every day that personal connections are being made not face-to-face, but over little tiny talkboxes. At least we're not as bad as Japan, where kids grow up into their late teens without ever leaving their home. And in some cases, their room.

There's a piece by Theodore Dalrymple in FrontPage magazine, where he's talking about his book "Our Culture: What's Left of it". Here's one chilling point:

"About half of British homes no longer have a dining table. People do not eat meals together - they graze, finding what they want in the fridge, and eating in a solitary fashion whenever they feel like it (which is usually often), irrespective of the other people in the household.

This means that they never learn that eating is a social activity (many of the prisoners in the prison in which I worked had never in their entire lives eaten at a table with another person); ..."

(As an aside, you've probably noted early on that many conservatives are former liberals who have been mugged by reality.)

At 10:13 PM, July 07, 2006, Blogger David Foster said...

MikeZ.."many of the prisoners in the prison in which I worked had never in their entire lives eaten at a table with another person"...this is interesting. Did they eat at common tables in the prison? If so, how did they react to it?

At 10:16 PM, July 07, 2006, Blogger camojack said...

"Love, look at the two of us, strangers in many ways..."


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