Musings on Friendship

I think that life is the process of feeling more and more distant from people and alone until you die. I come to this conclusion by examining my friendships over the years. In high school and into my 20s, friends were friends. With no obligations or sense of responsibility, our only mission was to have creative fun together. Although we were flawed as human beings, I felt a sense of completion when hanging out and trying to do fun things. In my 30s, I had “friends,” but these relationships always felt superficial. I never felt a deep connection that I longed to have with people. Now in my 40s, at most I have, outside of my family, work acquaintances with whom I am friendly.

It doesn’t seem logistically possible to have a close friendship, even if I were developmentally capable. My daily routine, which consists of taking care of work and familial responsibilities, would not allow for it. And, I suspect that an unquestioning feeling of oneness with a friend is only possible when your adult brain has not yet fully developed.

For some, life is the process of feeling more and more distant and alone, not just from people, but from the world – less passionate about the world, more and more detached, until you snap off completely from life and die. The only thing that keeps me from generalizing this prognosis are the passionately connected older people I keep encountering – people who are still very much involved in trying to better the world. But for those people who stay connected to their passion, do they stay closely connected to people as well, or do they just have acquaintances with whom they work intimately on mutually satisfying projects? In other words, in the end, do all people feel alone?

Now, before you try to cheer me up in your comments, I should point out that I’m not depressed about any of this, I’m just unsatisfied with human relationships. And now, it seems fitting to end this post with a quote, so here it is:

“Friendship is a mutually agreed upon delusion to avoid the frightening loneliness of self.”

- Made up quote to end a Daisybrain blog post

This daisy takes you to a poem expressing more social alienation: 

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12 Responses to Musings on Friendship

  1. mike whybark says:

    oh honey.

    although we interacted on rare occasions in the 90s, Eric, these occasions confirmed my personal sense of connection and love for you, man. I miss you, actually, a lot, even though our friendship formed specifically under conditions of distance.

    I totally agree with you about the way in which adult-ness disrupts the potential for forming deep and lasting connection, though. I don’t even regularly see a child, let alone have a kid, and I feel perpetually behind and distracted. I cannot imagine.

    • EricIndiana says:

      Well, we met in that first phase of friendship development. I think I was in my early 20s? Or was it before that? Even before the internet, I think I could put more feeling into long-distance relationships back then because of life circumstances.

      Each time I move farther away from Bloomington it’s less likely that I will be in any situation where friendships would develop.

      But you, Mike, have always seemed to me to stay connected to people. I’ve always thought that your social connections, no matter what the individual strength, were important to you. And you are still staying connected to people in the old Bloomington music scene. I may be naturally less at ease socially, which would exasperate the problem when I moved to places where I didn’t know anyone but my family.

  2. Editor B says:

    I find this very moving, and perhaps accurate, and yet — and yet — I will have to think on this for a while before I know quite what to say.

  3. Joe Nickell says:

    I’m going to beg off to think about it for a bit myself too, Eric; but in the meantime, I thought you might want to know that you at least have a friend in Google, which placed the following ad directly under your post when I viewed it. Clearly Google is concerned for you:

    Depressed?
    Bipolar Disorder and Depression affect millions. Know the signs!
    Healthline.com

  4. Samir Hafza, PharmD says:

    Hello.

    Your quote about loneliness reminds me with these two lines from two different movies I saw a while ago: “You live alone; you die alone.” And “You live, you die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round.”

    I think the answer to your wondering is multifaceted: Social; biological (i.e. brain neurotransmitters) and age-related; gender-related; and, most important, the nature of our industrial (or shall I say now electronic), capitalistic, money-driven society.

    It may be out of print now, but Stuart Miller’s “Men and Friendship” would be an excellent book for all to read. One of the things this book brings out is that women, in general, do better at having (and retaining) close friends. Although, as women get more and more into their career-oriented world, these friendships suffer.
    This highly educated sociologist (or psychologist, I forgot) once observed his wife excuse herself to the bedroom, then close the door to talk and talk to her female best friend, laughing and enjoying herself for two hours.

    After brushing aside his envy, he asks himself how come he doesn’t have a best friend, a male best friend whom he could chat with this freely on the phone and for that long. And, why, as his head hits his pillow, he couldn’t wonder whether all is well with the wife and kids–and ‘John’, too?

    Then he travels to many countries and interviews hundreds of men to find out why American men have such a hard time having and keeping best friend(s).
    You would have to read the book to really fathom why it is “logistically” difficult to have close friends in America (and most of the western world) any more.

    Well, one would have to read the book to know why. But here’s a little thought: During the economic downturn, a bunch of Wall Street analysts went to Dubai to find work. The ones I met, very bright and very American, confided with me how lonely life is in America compared to other societies. The mantra was that there was no sense of community where they lived. Even in small-town America, everyone is to himself now, watching his own LED screen and shoveling his own driveway. These bright men and women were simply lonely, as were their friends and parents and most everyone they knew.

    As for the hormones/neurotransmitters, these become less as we age. You start to lament those high school or college times where you saw the same people everyday (or in Vietnam, where you would have died trying to save your “friends”). As your Dopamine and/or Serotonin become weaker, your zest for life becomes less. Consequently, it becomes easier to stay at home instead of taking the initiative to invite “John” to go fishing or sailing with you. The New York Times crossword puzzle suddenly feels easier. Your life experiences teaches you to be wary and make you weary of people’s neuroses, deception, or what have you. Therefore, your already limited options become more and limited.

    So you are right. Those “older passionate people” stay connected to escape loneliness, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Remember, “we’re born alone and we die alone.”

    “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”
    – Anon

  5. Joe Nickell says:

    So Eric, I really think it’s impossible to generalize with any accuracy on this topic. But that won’t stop me from trying.

    I can think of the case of one of my relatives, a man who in his teens and 20s was the most gregarious, “popular” person in our clan, who now, just a decade later, appears to have no friends and doesn’t care to keep in touch with anyone (family included) outside his nuclear family. I can think of a man I know, 15 years my senior, who ten years ago (during his last marriage) insisted that I was an idiot to get married, that it was all a sham and a trap, that love was by nature impermanent. He’s now happily remarried and re-energized about life (and love) in general. He likes to go to Burning Man. I can think of one old friend from high school who is always reliable for news about all my old high school friends; but who doesn’t seem to spend time with anyone he has met since then. And I can think of cases that fall in between, and outside, this spectrum.

    My own experience would indicate that it’s far from a linear progression that one goes through in life, vis a vis friendships. According to the model you outlined, my personal peak should have come in my 20s, with my friendship with Bart and Christy, which was so close that a fiancé of mine once angrily asked, “what’s it like being married to a married couple?” Eric, you were part of that too, of course; you may be interested to know that my most blissful memory of those heady days was one snowy Sunday morning when you, Christy, Bart, Kelly S., and Rachel came over to our apartment for Christy’s famous biscuits and gravy, and we came up with the name for Daisybrain. That day stands out among all the others. It felt to me like I’d reached some kind of new plateau of human connection, I daresay.

    Today, you and I remain in touch, vicariously. Same with Bart and Christy. Facebook has reconnected me, albeit unsubstantively, with Kelly; I still occasionally hear news from Rachel’s world.

    Yet my social life has hardly been a downhill slide from there. Upon moving to Montana, I reconnected with my cousin Matt, we formed a band that consumed us for awhile, and we’ve generally kept very close; there’s nothing I can’t share with him. I spent my first summer here fishing almost every day with a guy I met at a dinner party; while we grew apart later, it was one of the most intense friendships I’ve had in life. I met a guy through the classifieds (“bassist wanted”) who became my next close friend here; for a time, it was an odd day when he didn’t come over to my house. We ended up owning a business together for several years. A couple of years ago I hired a guy I’d barely met to build me a house. Today he and his family are intensely close friends with me and mine. This very weekend we’re headed to a cabin in the woods, to celebrate New Year’s quietly together; we also spent Christmas together. My other closest friend in town is a guy I met completely randomly out fishing one day.

    All of it ebbs and flows. I wouldn’t say that I have the same kind of tight-knit group of friends here; but the depth of my individual friendships does not suffer in comparison to those of the past.

    All of this is anecdote to get toward a broader point: such friendships seem to come to me in unexpected places, usually through shared personal passions. Bart and I (and the rest of the Daisybrain crew) connected over a shared desire to create. Corey (bassist) and I connected over music. Cliff (builder) and I connected over my dream house and our shared interest in hunting; other friends have come through my obsession with fishing.

    Given these thoughts, I’m curious if you have maintained your own private passions for creativity or other activities that are entirely your own? It seems to me that a selfish, purely personal zest for discovery and surprise is the necessary soil in which new friendships grow (if you’ll pardon the rather Hallmarkish metaphor). I don’t want this to sound like I’m presuming anything about you or the way you live (after all, we’ve largely lost touch!); but most of the people I’ve witnessed who have lost their deep connections with others have been the same people who have abandoned their quirky personal passions of the past and let roles (father, worker, wife, deacon) take their place.

    While it’s harder now that I’m a dad to find time to connect with others and to pursue those personal passions, I feel that it’s important both for me, and really for my son as well – so that he has a role model for social, civic and intellectual engagement. I don’t believe that being a good parent means being home every night (though obviously there’s a slippery slope at the far end of that logic). To the contrary, I think Julian benefits by seeing me passionate about life and friends and the world, even if that means I’m not home at bedtime a few nights a month. And now that he’s 3, he is getting involved in some of those passions: He still talks about starring in the opera last summer, and wants to know when we can go “hunting” again…

    Beyond all this, I will say that there have been times when I felt like I had no social life, and when I worried that those relationships were a thing of the past. Change has come when I’ve picked up the phone and called somebody purely on a hunch, and unabashedly asked them to do something with me. I seem to recall that’s how Rachel came into your life years ago… *grin*

    Now excuse me, I’ve gotta go build my new flyrod that I got for Christmas.

    • EricIndiana says:

      Hmmm… So there’s hope for me? I’ve been trying to meet up with a friend I make movies with, but he lives 2 hours away, so it takes a lot of work. As for having time for my quirky creative side, I keep fantasizing about being out of work so I could really pursue those things. So, as soon as I play and win the lottery, that might be next for me.

      I’ve moved more than you have since Bloomington, and that’s got in the way of developing relationships.

      • Joe Nickell says:

        Yeah, you know, I remember it was two years into my Missoula time before I felt like I had enough friends to call them a group. In retrospect, I realize I wasn’t doing a lot of the stuff necessary to meet people. When I first moved here, I was working from home for companies far away, and my primary pastime was working in that darkroom I got from you and Rachel. So I was basically eating, sleeping, working, and playing all under the same roof. At a certain point I realized that while it’s important to have personal passions, if I was gonna have friends I needed those passions to be something I could at least conceivably do with other people. Heh.

  6. mike whybark says:

    of course there’s hope for you. Look at how we came out of the woodwork to share our love for you here. You are undoubtedly correct that time-budgeting and imprintability affect the ease with which we form adult relationships. But son, you are deeply valued and others will see what you have to offer. I think many of the thoughtful things Joe says, in particular making time for yourself and (implicitly making time to be social) seeking your own self-fulfillment, are important.

  7. Kiki says:

    My view on friendship currently right now is the same as how you viewed it when you were my age. As an introvert, I never really found myself close to anyone, aside from a relationship with a significant other. I learned not to get close because somewhere in the end, those “friends” tend to turn me down at some point. I guess I’m just afraid of getting hurt, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m a bit satisfied with how close I will get to other people around me.

  8. Fran says:

    From a much younger viewpoint, I’d just like to say that I already feel like I’ve been through the creative fun friends – superficial friends – friendly acquaintances cycle that you described. I’m often craving the kind of loyal, honest and painfully close friendships one sees occasionally in fiction and movies, and sometimes I wonder if it exists at all. No matter how ‘close’ I may have been with someone in the past, I don’t think I’ve ever had that kind of ‘true’ friendship. I suppose the main option is to meet enough new people that you find someone it’s possible to have a connection with…or become closer to someone you already know. Unfortunately for me, there isn’t anybody I know that I particularly LIKE, and at the same time I have a fair amount of self-dislike to boot, so maybe it’s my own fault that I can’t build proper friendships, since I can’t open up. But it’s hard to open up to someone I don’t like. Well, I’m not lonely yet, but I can see myself getting there very soon. I hope that things will be better in my own forties, if I get there, rather than worse. I’ll check in twenty years from now.

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