The Future of Friendships
December 8th, 2010

As I think about the people I see in person on a daily basis, it is a short list: GAP and IEP, our nanny, my coworkers, and one or two neighbors.  As I think about the people who are most important in my life, it is a slightly longer list: GAP and IEP, our nanny, my family, GAP’s family (which is huge), and my girlfriends.  The thing that strikes me about these two lists is the minimal amount of overlap.  Of all the people who matter most to me, only three – husband, son, and nanny – do I see every day.  This bothers me.

It bothers me in part for obvious reasons – a lot of people I love live far away and that is hard.  But it also bothers me because of this article which says, “Hey Gale, you are doomed to a life of dissatisfaction and interpersonal failure because you don’t have weekly personal contact with the important people in your life!” …  Okay, that’s not quite what it said, but that’s how it registered with me.  (In case you don’t want to click over, the article is actually about a study showing that electronic communication is not a satisfactory substitute for in-person communication and nurture of professional relationships.) 

Juxtapose that article with this post which I read last week about the ages from 25 to 40 being a perilous time for women’s friendships, and you end up with Gale (who is 33 and smack-dab in the middle of that range) finding herself a little spooked.  I want to have and maintain meaningful relationships.  I want to have friendships that are mutually satisfying and valuable and precious.  And I worry that the structure of my life can’t readily facilitate this.

I will pause here to offer the following disclaimer: I understand that some of these things are within my control.  I control how often I call a long-distance friend to chat and catch up.  I control how often I reach out for a lunch or coffee date.  I am not purely a victim of circumstance in the fate of my friendships.  Nevertheless, the logistics of the young working parent are demanding, and it shows.

Most of my childhood friends I haven’t seen in years.  The same is true of most of my friends from college.  Time and distance have loosened those bonds.  And while many of the people still matter a great deal to me, the friendships themselves have atrophied.  I have a good group of girlfriends from graduate school.  We are like-minded career girls who have a great time together.  But between jobs and young families (our group has experienced a baby boom in the past three years) it took dozens of e-mails and an online poll just to find a single time slot in the month of December for a holiday get-together.

And so I sit and struggle with this conundrum.  I lack the BFF – the lifelong friend who knows me intimately; who both accepts and challenges me; with whom my conversations can resume after a month as though no time had passed.  I lack this friendship in my life.  (I’m not counting my sister here.)  Given this, I am faced with the fact that to maintain the friendships I do have I am going to have to put forth incredible effort.  Even with such effort I may be disappointed with the results.  I may just be in a period when female friendships exist more in the background than in the forefront of my life. 

We are a young family.  We go out with friends a couple of times a month and are reasonably social, but this is still a period of our lives that is going to be largely marked by bibs and sippy cups and bedtimes.  Life is full of tradeoffs; I know that.  But for reasons that I cannot entirely articulate, this one is hitting me harder than some of the others.

8 Responses to “The Future of Friendships”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I am BFF-less too :( I live in Stepford, I swear. Everyone wears full makeup and matching outfits to the bus stop at 8am. Creepy. I wish you lived down the street; we could show up with matted hair and bags under our eyes and scare the Hell out of them.

  2. anne@lifeinpencil.com Says:

    I can relate in that most of my “BFF’s” live far away…and I only see them a couple times a year. And it’s really hard to just pick up the phone when you know you need a good half hour at least to catch up. But I do have relationships here that I foster for the authentic conversations and girly lunch. One thing you might try is getting together without your full group of grad school chums. Getting that many women together at once is hard. But when you have a “group” sometimes you feel like you have to get together with EVERYONE. Free yourself from that, and catch just one of them for lunch now and then. The catch? You sometimes have to give up your routine just to connect with people. There have been so many times in my life that I want to just go home and curl up, but I say farewell to the hubby, tell him to fend for himself for dinner, and go for a walk or a coffee with a girlfriend. Because I literally NEED that connection. I know it’s easy for me to say without a child at home, but for what it’s worth…that’s worked for me.

  3. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    A very interesting and thought-provoking read. I am left wondering whether family and friendships are truly, ultimately, compatible. Of course they are. They must be, right? And yet I honestly believe it is hard, if not impossible, to throw ourselves into our young families and old friendships simultaneously. I think I might have to post about this one. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Bridget Says:

    I always take solace in the fact that we’re all busy and family/career orineted at this point in our lives. When I do catch up with my close friends from years gone by I make a point to let them know that they’re still important to me, they haven’t been replaced. My life is smaller, less social and concentrated on my family right now. So are theirs. While we’re disconnected in some ways, we’re still connected by the fact that we are going through the same things. I love that this time of my life is for my family. I love that this time of life is for my friends to build their families. We’ll stay connected as best we can during this time, and pick up with plenty of fun stories to share once our young children turn the corner and want us as far away as possible. I have a feeling this day will be here much, much too soon.

    Also, don’t be so quick to throw your relationship with your sister as a carve out. Just because you have to love each other because you’re siblings doesn’t mean that you don’t also choose to be best friends. You’re lucky to have that connection and I think it counts as your BFF. I know my sister is mine. It fills a very important role. Many people that have an exclusive BFF may need that connection because they lack a built-in one called sister.

  5. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Hi, Gale – You’ve just described the state of my friendships to a T. I do have a few old friends with whom I catch up by phone every couple of months, but no bosom buddy living within hundreds of miles.

    Like Aidan, I wonder how feasible it is to maintain close friendships all the while maintaining our relationships with our partners; working to raise healthy, happy kids; and pursuing our personal professional and recreational passions. Perhaps I should click over and read the articles you’ve linked to in order to get a better understanding of how to do it all in terms of interpersonal relationships. (Maybe this is another context in which that elusive “balance” comes into play.)

  6. Anne@lifeinpencil.com Says:

    Yay Bridget! Of course I’m biased, but that sister relationship is so strong and important. Just wished Gale and I lived closer together…

  7. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I think the reasons for these changes are much larger than our ability to put effort into day-to-day contact.

    Women didn’t use to hold down full-time jobs as well as spousing and parenting. Families didn’t move so far from relatives – or friends. Divorce also tends to take a toll on the direction of lives – men’s and women’s both – as changing circumstances put both visible and invisible wedges between former friends.

    Frankly, the sheer number and complexity of responsibilities that we manage precludes daily contact with many people. We have to make choices. Real friends will understand.

    I say thank goodness for letter writing, for email, for Skype, for cell phones, and for real friendships that withstand all manner of life changes. And many do – even if you can’t see each other in person.

  8. Cathy Says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head: “I may just be in a period when female friendships exist more in the background than in the forefront of my life. ” It is true. When you have young kids, you simply have to put family first.

    I play in a pool league with my girl friends. Sometimes it’s just fun. Other times it seems like such a chore to get things lined up, take grief from my hubby (only occasionally) and make it there on time to participate. But I do. And I will never give it up. And neither will they.

    So, yes, if you want it at this point in your life, it will take considerable effort. I highly recommend it too.