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.