Don’t be a stranger

Recently I found a couple of people through Facebook with whom I hadn’t been in touch for over a decade. I’m not the kind of person who feels the need to “friend” everyone with whom I’ve ever exchanged three words, but these two were people I’d spent time with, got drunk with, laughed with, and then lost touch with.

Why did we lose touch in the first place? Mostly due to one of us (usually me) moving to a different town or a different country. There are some who say that if the person was that important to you you’d have made the effort to keep in touch with them in the first place, but it’s not always that obvious, phone numbers and email addresses change or are mislaid, and circumstances conspire to separate people.

What does annoy me is when you do make an effort to keep in touch with someone despite a geographical divide, and your efforts are not reciprocated. Both my wife and I have one friend each who behaves like this. You write to them and receive no reply. You call them or manage to meet up with them when you go back to visit and it’s all smiles and “It’s been too long!” and “We must keep in touch!”. And then the next time you write…nothing. Or they make some lame excuse about not being very good at keeping in touch, as if it requires some special talent to reply to an email.

We go through phases in our relationships with these people. Occasionally we miss them (because at one time they were good, close friends) and make an effort to maintain contact. Then time passes and we say to ourselves “Sod it – if they can’t be arsed, neither can I”.

What would you do?

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15 thoughts on “Don’t be a stranger

  1. Erik R. September 26, 2008 / 9:25 am

    Some people are just terrible communicators. I have some friends that are the nicest people in the world face to face, but they really suck at responding to email. It’s not that they don’t like you, it’s that their brains aren’t wired to communicate via typing text. It shouldn’t necessarily be held against them. Just identify these people and stop making the effort with the exception of “I’ll be in town next week, can we get together” emails.

    That’s one of the benefits of finding friendship via blogs. I know my blogroll friends are good internet communicators.

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  2. simonlitton September 26, 2008 / 10:26 am

    I guess I’m the other way round: I’m good at replying to emails, but I suck face to face.
    No, wait…that didn’t come out right.

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  3. sgazzetti September 26, 2008 / 11:31 am

    I have jettisoned those friends. If I see them I see them.

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  4. jagosaurus September 26, 2008 / 5:35 pm

    I jettison those folks too. I jettison most folks, actually. That said, people have jettisoned me because they cannot deal with the fact that I am much more likely to respond to email than phone calls.

    I’m currently in the midst of a weird friendship with a couple who I like just fine but not as much as they like me. Given my general misanthropy, this makes interacting with them more work than I like. Long story slightly longer: they want to spend way more time with me than I do with them and seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge this despite a good 18 months of me NEVER taking them up on the offer to “get together this week.”

    I would dearly love to blog about this because there is a recent crazy email in the midst of this as well, but cannot because of course they read my site.

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  5. andrea September 26, 2008 / 6:03 pm

    I’m never the person who wants more communication (face to face or otherwise) than others. I need an unnatural amount of time to myself and it requires a lot of my energy to be social (in any medium) so I ‘ve found myself incapable of staying in regular contact with very many people.

    It’s something I’ve often disliked about myself, but I don’t think I’m capable of becoming less of an introvert than I am. Every time I’ve tried, I’ve ended up doing a lot of harm to my overall mental health.

    I usually say I’m a bad friend, but I think in truth I’m a good friend but only to a certain kind of person . The people I’ve stayed friends with over the years are the ones who are at peace with sporadic contact — who realize that this is no reflection on how much I like them, and who don’t try to guilt me into giving them more of my energy than I can spare.

    Simon, maybe you’re just incompatible with those two people and a friendship isn’t meant to be.

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  6. Inland Empirical September 26, 2008 / 11:24 pm

    You get older, people are less likely to have time to email, write letters (seriously, I still do sometimes) or call back and friendships demand more effort to maintain than they used to. Quite a few people don’t realize this and are content to say “I’ll see you when I see you.” You could mention nicely if it really bothers you; no guarantees they’ll feel the same way.

    Facebook is an odd thing. Overall, I’m not a huge fan but I have to admit, I’ve gotten in touch with long lost friends by using it. I’ve friended my first college roommate and in the end I know we don’t have a single thing in common anymore. I see her photos though, and photos of her children and see the people she’s met since and I feel better for it than if we’d never reconnected.

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  7. jagosaurus September 26, 2008 / 11:27 pm

    “I usually say I’m a bad friend, but I think in truth I’m a good friend but only to a certain kind of person . The people I’ve stayed friends with over the years are the ones who are at peace with sporadic contact — who realize that this is no reflection on how much I like them, and who don’t try to guilt me into giving them more of my energy than I can spare.”

    Beautifully said. This describes me as well.

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  8. simonlitton September 28, 2008 / 11:25 am

    Andrea: I think the incompatability comes from the fact that we’re separated by geography and are forced to use email or the phone, and this is where Erik’s point about people’s comfort with different modes of communication comes in. These people were more than happy to see me face to face on a regular basis when I lived nearby.
    Of course, the other possibility is that they just don’t like me anymore but are too polite to say so…

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  9. J September 28, 2008 / 10:21 pm

    I’m the kind of person who puts a lot of effort into relationships, so yes, it bothers me when my friends can’t be bothered to put much energy into keeping in touch. But I’ve started to mellow in my old age, and am starting to accept that there are those people who I will only communicate with if they’re in town (or I’m in town where they live). They’re friendships are important enough to me for me to sit back and take what they’re willing to give, and not demand more.

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  10. Peter September 29, 2008 / 11:50 pm

    I guess it’s basically a question of priorities and willingness to maintain some sort of acceptable social contact.

    You know Simon, I’ve experienced the same issues with people who were really close for years but couldn’t be bothered to keep in touch due to geographic separation. And “a long drive” in Belgium can be as little as 100 km.

    In the end, I noticed many of these social contacts were fundamentally quite lazy, as in ‘not really feeling the 100 km drive was worth the effort”, a somewhat disconcerting realization.

    Like J, it bothered me when my previous friends couldn’t be bothered to put much energy into keeping in touch.

    But in the end, all friendships are two-way relationships and I had to let go those who felt otherwise.

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  11. Norm October 3, 2008 / 10:21 am

    Well Si, I have to say I agree with you. I certainly hope I’m not one of those guys though! I live on my computer, the likelihood of me not replying to an email is approximately 0%!! I have loads of friends on Facebook I used to know really well and like you, go out, have fun and get drunk with. But a combination of geography (they are in Glasgow, I’m in Fife – not a million miles!) and laziness has meant that they just don’t keep in touch. That sucks. But then I am of the mind that if a person can’t be arsed to speak to you then it’s probably not really worth it. There are one or two mates who I can go months, years even with very little or no contact and yet pick up where we left off like nothing has happened. You know those sort of people haven’t forgotten about you, they just… well… don’t keep in touch. I suppose it makes sense in a way that if you do hook up with people you haven’t spoken to in a while, then you have all that time to talk about and will always have lots to catch up on. But then I’m very close to all my friends and would hate to lose any of them. My friends are my family really. I think that’s why we ex-EA folks have struck up such a good friendship since leaving brux or moving jobs.

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  12. Hazel October 3, 2008 / 11:51 am

    I thought Erik made a good point about face to face vs. email friends. The internet has fortunately provided a forum for the good letter writers. When I read Jane Austen novels and other books of that time I’m always impressed with the letters and the idea that if you couldn’t write a decent letter your life would be so narrow. My problem with emails is I edit myself constantly, and I don’t mean the punctuation etc, I mean all the nonsense that tends to be released when I start writing. I keep checking back and worrying how convulated or boring it might be. But when I’m with someone I couldn’t care less I’ll just ramble..as you know.
    As for friendships in general, I notice that among mine I’ve basically managed to make and stay friends with at least one person from either every job or place I’ve been. This wasn’t contrived and I’m happy that it’s happened as usually the fact that we are friends transcends the circumstances of where we became friends. So rather than just meeting up with people from the old job out of habit, I have a ‘real’ friend that I can talk about things with and the friendship has evolved.

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  13. CuriosityKiller October 7, 2008 / 6:30 pm

    Ooooh, yeah. I have friends like that. A friend of mine just had a baby, and the best she could do in terms of “keeping in touch” was forwarding me once a year of some German chain-emails… which I can’t read anyway. I just don’t even know whether I should be understanding (cause she’s now a mom and gotta be too busy to bother with the outside world, of course)… or just completely ignore her.

    I chose the first. I always give people the benefit of a doubt. Besides, if I don’t let them bother me too much, the networking power can be… errrr…. beneficial in the future. 😛

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  14. Karen MEG (Pomtini) October 13, 2008 / 3:25 am

    I would take that personally too; but you tried! I would leave it at that.
    I’m actually a better friend online (well, not really lately, I haven’t visited you enough) than IRL (I;m terrible with phonecalls- one of my friends used to ask if my finger was broken LOL!!). My husband has actually found quite a few friends through FB, but he’s naturally a better friend than I am. I think you end up keeping the friendships that are really worth it.

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  15. V-Grrrl October 21, 2008 / 11:54 am

    When I was young, losing touch with a friend would often trigger angst or soul searching. Oh, how times have changed.

    Now when people drift off, I let them. Some disappear permanently, some cycle in and out of my life. I accept that and don’t take it personally.

    Sometimes I’m the one who walks away. I am both more and less tolerant as I get older–I accept a broader range of people into my life but I’m much more willing to end relationships I find negative in one way or another. I hate passive-aggressive behavior and find people that thrive on drama or conflict hard to take.

    I have a few people who have been with me since I was about 12 years old. I haven’t seen some of them in 20 or more years, but we communicate regularly.
    I’m blessed with a lot of friends…and lots of different sorts of friendship.

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