Facebook has put the word “friend” into the mouths and minds of millions. We now can gather hundreds of people into our cyber-friend category. But…who are the people you can count on as real friends? Most of us intuitively know what real friendship is all about. Are we taking the time and effort to foster our real friendships on the multiple levels?
Making and keeping friends a couple of generations ago, before television and automobiles dominated our lives, seemed easier, as I recall my parents’ experience. People didn’t move very far away from home base. Their jobs, markets, schools, churches, relatives, and friends often could be found within a square mile of their homes in urban settings. In rural America, even though people lived far apart on farms and in villages, they consciously sought connections through social and church organizations.
When suburbs began to flourish and the car seem to take control of our lives, many neighborhoods within these sprawling towns become in themselves little enclaves where everybody knew everyone else. They were villages within the community and often settled by people of similar backgrounds. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood where almost everyone was a practicing Catholic and came from either Irish or Italian ancestry. I would see them in church on Sunday. We played with each other. Our parents had neighborhood cocktail parties, card nights, and barbeques.
Friendships seemed to be more clearly defined on several levels back then, at least in my experience. There were life-long buddies who met regularly and shared intimate details of life and love, our “BFF’s” (John and I have been friends for over 54 years, for example). There were also those superficial friendships with which we exchanged polite niceties and nothing more. We like them and enjoy these encounters, but it never seems to go further. These two levels of friendship still thrive. I’m wondering what your experience is of the “in-between” levels. How easily is it to foster this range?
The “in-between” levels of friends to which I refer (and maybe you can come up with more) are:
1. Those we enjoy in our neighborhoods on a seasonal basis, getting together for laughs and food and trading family stories.
2. Those from our youth or college experience with whom we’ve intentionally maintained contact through holiday or birthday cards, an occasional phone call, or letter.
3. Friends among our cousins and more distant relations.
4. Acquaintances from church, fraternal, social, professional or activist organizations.
The reason why I’m wondering about the state of real friendship today has a lot to do with the mobility and pace of our society, especially along the coasts and in large urban areas. In 1970 I was the first person in my family to get on a jet and go to Europe (I’ll never forget: a $333 fare on Alitalia, round trip to Milan, which I earned working part time, to visit my uncle for 6 weeks after graduating high school). I did not own my first car until I was 26. By 1990 it seems that car ownership was assumed for most teens, more families traveled by air, and a lot more people considered moving across the country to find jobs and schooling. Computerization, email, and texting have improved instant access but have all but replaced the art of letter and card writing.
I’m wondering if our frenetic mobility, long commutes and scattered families have taken a toll on certain levels of friendship. Can we still expect any level of commitment from those “in-between” levels of friends? Is there a deeper reason other than comedy that such programs as “Friends,” “Cheers,” or “Seinfeld” are so popular?
What is your take on friendship in your life? Are you satisfied? How much time per week would you say you consciously spend to foster various levels of friendship? Who are your real friends, not just polite acquaintances? What would it be like to slow down and spend more time with those you love and like?
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