This past week, I met for drinks with a friend from elementary school. We were good friends when we were in school together, but he moved when we were 10 years old and we lost touch. Through the connections of the Web (I still think of that www as meaning something different from the Internet), we reconnected. Our meeting was fun and nostalgic. I’m sure there were synapses firing in our brains that night that had not made those connections for a long time. That’s because we had not seen each other for 56 years.
The word “friend” has undergone some redefining in the age of social media. Even though I may have hundreds of Facebook friends, I know that very few of them are what I consider to be friends.
It is totally human to want connections and friendship with people. Setting social media aside, making and keeping friends takes some work.
A segment on NPR’s Life Kit (a collection of podcasts on making life better) about friends has the interesting three-part title of Accept The Awkwardness: How To Make Friends (And Keep Them).
There is the awkwardness of making a new friend sometimes and accepting that awkwardness can be a problem for someone that limits their opportunities for new friendships. Then there is the actual starting of friendship, and then there is the cultivation of a friendship so that it lasts.
I have many people who I would have classified as friends from school (kindergarten through college) and from my workplaces who I never saw outside of that setting and who I rarely or never see since that setting ended. Are they still friends? I don’t think so.
Facebook once promoted using friend lists and I set up about a dozen using school, work, former students, poetry people, etc. They seem to have fallen from favor and I’m not even sure where to find them in the app anymore. One default category there was “acquaintance” which I think is a good word to describe a person you know slightly, but who is not a friend.
The NPR podcast had several suggestions. One is “Accept the awkwardness and assume that other people need new friends, too.” That uncomfortable moment of introducing yourself, in person or via an email or text or whatever, is a time when you feel somewhat exposed. There is the possibility of rejection, which no time wants.
Another suggestion is the optimistic “Remember that people will like you more than you think they will.” I’m not sure even this late in life that I have arrived at that conclusion about myself. NPR talked to a researcher who studies the “liking gap,” which says that the little voice in your head telling you that somebody didn’t like you very much is wrong, so don’t listen to it.
They also say that you should “invest in activities that you love” because doing things you’re passionate about will naturally draw people to you, and you’ll naturally connect with other people who share something already.
I mentioned the possibility of rejection earlier and that for me was a major problem for me when it came to dating. I separate making new friends to making connections that I feel would be romantic. But their advice is “to treat friendship as seriously as you would dating.” I don’t think I agree, but since I have been out of the dating game for decades, I can’t really evaluate the 2019 situation.
To maintain a friendship you really do need to be present. You have to turn off the many distractions and really listen and notice things about your friend. I have become a friendship notetaker using my phones’ notes and contacts apps to remember birthdays, anniversaries, children, relatives, jobs other life information to make connections with friends’ lives.
ADDITIONAL: Gillian Sandstrom’s research on the liking gap found that after strangers have conversations, they are liked more than they know. She gives detailed instructions for how to in her scavenger hunt instructions – you can even take part in her research.