How Friendships Are Changing

The lifespan of friendships is becoming shorter and shorter over time. Just a generation ago, most people were limited to friendships based on where they currently lived, where they had lived and networks based on where they went to school, their own activities and interests, their children, their neighbors, etc. Very often people maintained friendships over their entire life not because they even necessarily liked the person but because of shared history – similar to how many view family members.

The growth of the Internet has changed the dynamic of friendships – how we find new friends, how we cultivate new friendships, how we maintain and stay in contact with existing friends. We’re no longer limited by geography when it comes to meeting new people. It’s much easier today to find people who share common interests that we can bond with.

What many look for today in friendships has also changed. Life has become sped up. Things are becoming increasingly specialized. For many of us, it’s a natural that we’ll develop friendships – offline and on – more tied in with our interests than our backgrounds.

I had an email exchange with Jane, someone who has been an off and on friend for over 25 years. She wrote:

“I have friends I’ve made online who I’ve known only a few months who I know more about than friends I’ve had offline for 20 years. I mean I know more about how they feel and think about different topics.

Look at you and me for example. We’ve known each other since high school. But I don’t know what music you are listening to these days. I don’t know who you voted for in the last federal election. I don’t even know if you voted.  I don’t know what makes you happy these days. I don’t know what your dreams are and where you see your life in 5 or 10 years from now.”

I know exactly what Jane meant. In our case, we rarely communicate with each other online. We see each other every few months maybe. Generally when we do, we’re “doing things” where getting into deep discussions isn’t really a possibility.  Our exchanges are about surface things. How her kids and husband are doing. Where I’ve been traveling to and what is happening with me in business. The polite chit-chat that doesn’t exactly stimulate deep discussions. Jane and I have agreed that the reason why we even remain friends is because of our history.

Tammy is another long-term friend of mine. Staying in touch online, having more frequent telephone calls, etc has helped us move our friendship over the past couple of years to a much deeper one than we had before. Like with Jane, Tammy and I don’t really have a lot in common but we do have the desire to maintain a long-term friendship based on mutual trust and are willing to work at it.

Thinking about my friendships with Jane and Tammy versus online friendships that have come and gone or stayed… got me to thinking about the fluidity of friendships today.  Humans, by our very nature, are not solitary creatures. Friendships and relationships provide us with comfort. But if the lifespan of friendships is getting shorter and shorter, is that having any kind of impact on our psychological well-being? Our experience predicates how we behave in various situations. Will we become less inclined to fully share and trust if we question the longevity of a friendship? Will this just perpetuate shallow relationships with others? Our lives today are becoming increasingly uncertain on all levels – marriage, work/profession, where we live, etc.  Are we now starting to lose the security blanket of long-term friendships too?

Would love if you could share your own experiences and thoughts in the comments.

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    • One thing I have found, is that a true friend is one who understands you when you have not spoken to them for years, and when you meet up everything can be said in silence.

    • I like your post. Good topic. There are many people I am friendly with but relatively few with whom I have a deep connection. Facebook has been a great way to reconnect with old friends but it's not the same. Usually the “friending” is all that happens, and it takes effort to make the time to chat online or send a message or arrange a meeting. I've come to some acceptance about this. Don't know if things are different now, necessarily; trust is earned and nurtured over a long period of time. And I fail.

    • lihsa

      I am a member of a social networking site over the last 2 years and I have made some deep connections with people from around the world. They have helped me test online marketing launches, listened to my litany of “first dates,” shared movie reviews and generally kept each other up to date on our lives in our different corners of the world.

      I will likely never meet them or talk on the phone but I am more comfortable sharing with them some deeply personal facts that only a handful of people in my “real” life know about.

      And when the “hit sits the fan” I am more likely to turn to them than to my offline friends. Unlike my real-life, preoccupied, married friends with children, the response I get back from my blog friends is immediate.

      It is an odd life we have made for ourselves …

    • Friendships I've made over the internet have the virtue of being nurtured in a way that the older ones, based on history aren't. Because I use social media as part of my business, these new friends share activities that I'm involved with on a daily basis so we can actively update each other without much effort. Recently a few of my longest kept friends have started to become more internet active, and that has been a joy.

      Also, as I get older, I need different things in a friendship. Nothing can compare to having a close friend there to hug when I really need it, but I've found people via the internet with whom I have more in common than those who live in town with me. I cherish the connections I've made. Will they last and survive the test of time? … We'll see. And in the meantime, I'm having fun introducing the groups to each other!

    • Brenda Poulsen

      You could be right. But I think my TRUE friends are the ones that no matter how long it is between seeing them or talking or emailing for that matter, we are always in sync with each other. I don’t know who they voted for or if they voted or what music they are listening to either. But I do know that if I called any one of the dear people that I hold close to my heart it would be just like we talked yesterday and we would not skip a beat.

      It is interesting to ponder your post though. Like I said before…you may be right!?

    • goonerjamie

      I nowadays feel closer to my online friends than my 'real world' friends. I find it a lot easier to moan and rant online than off. The “I don't know what music you're listening to” struck a chord (sorry). If a twitter pal hasn't tweeted for a while I wonder if they are ok, yet I can go months without speaking to real friends without a second thought. Am not sure if this is a good thing or not, but am going to go with the flow whilst it still works. A great read.

    • I nowadays feel closer to my online friends than my 'real world' friends. I find it a lot easier to moan and rant online than off. The “I don't know what music you're listening to” struck a chord (sorry). If a twitter pal hasn't tweeted for a while I wonder if they are ok, yet I can go months without speaking to real friends without a second thought. Am not sure if this is a good thing or not, but am going to go with the flow whilst it still works. A great read.

    • I nowadays feel closer to my online friends than my 'real world' friends. I find it a lot easier to moan and rant online than off. The “I don't know what music you're listening to” struck a chord (sorry). If a twitter pal hasn't tweeted for a while I wonder if they are ok, yet I can go months without speaking to real friends without a second thought. Am not sure if this is a good thing or not, but am going to go with the flow whilst it still works. A great read.