Is friendship still a thing in the 21st century?


One true friend

What does friendship in the 21st century look like? My Dad used to say to me, “If you have one true friend in your life, then you really have something.”

Honestly, I don’t think he had any and I think that was part of the message he was sending.

I’m at a bit of a disadvantage (or advantage) because I’m the youngest of 8 kids.  I always had a house full of “friends” that could beat me up or that I could play with.

I also came from a very small town of 10,000 people, so generations of people were familiar with your family, siblings and parents.  As each generation came up through the school system or in a sports leauge they kind of knew what to expect from a particular family surname.

Fast forward to today, where people tend to be more mobile and up and move more frequently.  When I moved to NYC in 1996, I WELCOMED the opportunity to be autonomous. I wanted to leave behind the Prom King and Queen but I was always open to staying connected to friends.

In the 21st century, here’s what doesn’t happen, that I would expect of a friend:

People Don’t:

Schedule time to visit

Return your calls or text (especially in a reasonable time frame)

Don’t reciprocate pretty much anything (time or goods)  Maybe I need to make better connections, but I’ve had to burn a lot of bridges because of this type of behavior.

I have a good friend who I wrote about in a previous post I consider him a friend, but a few years ago his daughter got pregnant and (being a single parent) he decided it was best for him to do Grandpa duty.  I fully respect that, but I have only seen him once or twice in the last 3 years.  Things change.

The internet and social media

It’s like going begging on “social media” for likes.  How important is it, and shouldn’t  all this be happening in a more organic way?  I mean, even just Googling “Is friendship dead”, up pops another recent post on the subject.

Granted, we live in an expensive city, that costs about $15 in tolls just to enter, but we have relatives that work in the city every day, and we haven’t seen them in YEARS!

That just blows me away.  And please don’t say…”you can visit them”, we have and did all that many times, it’s simply not reciprocated.

I know it’s not unique to us, or that we’re not “clean enough”…i.e. “Do I smell?”.  I’ve talked to middle-aged neighbors and acquaintances, heck even twitter friends, that say… “That’s just the way it is…”

People always start out with great intentions.

I mean, was it really any different decades ago?  Young people moved away and they didn’t visit that much.  Maybe it’s just magnified because family units are smaller and people are more mobile.

I had a friend who is an anonymous blogger.  Her newish boyfriend had a problem with her mentioning him when she finally revealed that she had a blog.  That’s one thing, but how can I be friends with someone who continues to insist on anonymity within our meeting space?  I can’t.

Leaning on your spouse

Do I have my spouse? Sure.  That can be a wonderful friend relationship, but is that it?  After all these years of working, family, attending weddings and funerals, you’re telling me, I’m down to my spouse as my drinking buddy?

As things change, connections get frayed.  My Mother-in-law passed away 3 years ago now, and my Father in law more than 10, they both had their own second marriage families, but after they passed, the relationships with their remaining children has mostly dried up to about 1 visit per year.

I’ve been trying to get a small group of High School friends to come up for a visit and let me take them to Coney Island (or pick any random NYC landmark)

You know what I get?  Crickets.  That’s what I get.

Maybe it’s just dudes.  Maybe that’s what makes the prospect of “losing identity” after leaving the workforce a scarier thing for guys than it is for women.

My wife interacts with people in the building, or when she’s having a cigarette.  She doesn’t seem to exhibit the same longing as I do for a more meaningful connection.

I think people are so polarized within their own viewpoints, and technology allows us to indulge in the types of entertainment that we personally prefer, that it just has me wondering the types of friendships that will be maintained moving forward.

Facetime chats?  Ugh…lame.  I feel the same about Facetime chats as the famous paraphrased quote… “..What would anyone have to say?..”  Maybe it will get better.  I doubt it.

Professional meetings

Even after attending self-help group seminars or professional conferences…people just drift apart.  I mean maintaining connections is a 2-way street, right?

Maybe people have become selfish out of some type of self-preservation mechanism or because they’ve been burned in the past.

I can count on one hand (probably one finger) the number of times I’ve received an unsolicited “Hello” out of the blue in my inbox.

People have lamented the loss of writing letters…. now they don’t even send an email that is any more than a line or 2.   For younger generations, maybe they won’t miss it, if they never had it to begin with…but the older I get, the less I’ve come to expect it.

This isn’t a new phenomena for us.  I’ve been inviting friends and family for years.  In some years, I just spring for a “family party”, like a mini-wedding reception, and everyone enjoys the free meal and booze.  So while it’s not a new thing…what is new is how pronounced the lack of visitors seems, since I’m not focused on a full time job right now.   We try to do stuff where we can…, do some small things for neighbors or have a local restaurant that we consider our home base.   Still, it falls short of meaningful friendships.

However, even with that said, I still feel like I’m closer to people who were total strangers a few years ago, than my own family members.  That’s not a good sign. My Sister had moved to California decades ago and over time I observed our “world view” diverging so drastically, that I could hardly recognize her.

The reality is this, people get their own lives and people die.  Those 2 things will ALWAYS be a constant.  I’m just not sure where that leaves us with friendship in the 21st century.

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