A strange, but recurring, question has haunted me lately. Why don’t people care about me that much?
To be clear, I don’t think I am the problem. And while my question is inspired by the people in my life, I don’t think they are the problem either. Instead, I think many people are developing a fear of people (ring the alarm!). Many of us are failing to relate to each other in meaningful ways. I am lucky to have some honest friendships in my life, but they are the minority. Most people opt to keep me an arm’s length away – a safe zone where they don’t know too much, but have just enough knowledge and contact to extract maximum return of friendship hours spent. Not to worry though… In the face of massive tragedy or natural disaster, most will overcome social afflictions and elevate their friendship game. But until then, it seems that most will opt to save their best selves for the worst situations.
CAUSE OF DEATH?
So how exactly is friendship dying? Could I be asking too much of people? Are we each only to be allotted a limited number of truly meaningful friendships? Well, let’s consider a few of my personal experiences in travel, work and life in general…
In travel, I notice that people don’t make a concerted effort to see old friends unless there’s something in it for them. I noticed this while I was travelling in Turkey and planned to meet a friend who lived in the city. We met the year before in Norway, where we both ran our first marathon. I had hoped to meet for quick catch up, but she cancelled. Her work schedule became too demanding that week. It was a shame, but I understood. That one’s not so bad. However, when a friend I’d met years before asked to stay with me during her visit to London (where I lived at the time), I was sorely disappointed. She met me to pick up the keys, again to return the keys and all with little interaction in between. I was obviously just a free hotel, which made me feel pretty crumby. So why would someone treat me in such a way? Simple, they are prioritizing their personal gain over the friendship.
The only reason I complain about this behaviour is because I know better. In fact, I once had an amazing reunion on the road! My husband and I were on our honeymoon in Italy when my Facebook feed showed that a friend (who I had not seen in years) was just a few hours away! When we met for lunch it was like a family reunion – I met her lovely parents and she finally met my new husband! We told stories, sipped wine, sampled local specialties, bantered with the waiter and laughed for hours. The experience added depth to our relationship and I feel it’s why our friendship is stronger today. Was it inconvenient? Of course! In Italy, there is some splendid piazza, ancient ruin or lip smacking gelato that my friend will never know because she chose to spend that day with me. Was it worth it? I think so.
I planned to outline many more examples of how people pretend that smartphones don’t exist when you send a message asking for help (responding only when the threatening call to action has expired). I also wanted to mention those people that silently ignore an unfair division on a restaurant bill. And of course, I thought it was worth mentioning the growing need for people to schedule in time slots to with people (where premium weekend days may not always be available). But maybe that’s not necessary. Maybe it’s not selfishness or lack of interest, but fear that produces such behaviour? Fear that a gesture of friendship will not be reciprocated.
Perhaps it’s enough to simply say that one need not fear friendship. Friendships, like all relationships, can be messy at times. And that’s okay as neat and tidy is not realistic. Mistakes are intermingled with merriment as we raise the bar on what it means to discover meaningful and enduring relationships. If we are all willing to create a little bit of space for people in our lives, I think we all might be better for it.