I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately.
When I was younger, the conditions by which a friendship was born were pretty simple: have some common ground, spend a lot of time with each other, don’t forget to make memories.
It’s easier when you have mechanisms that keep you close. Back then, school and church were the main institutions that regulated my time with people. I saw my high school friends from Monday to Friday and my church group on the weekends. This was such a comfortable schedule, something I knew I could depend on until summer break came along. This is also why I was wholly convinced these friendships would last forever. The cushy existence of a routine tricked me into underestimating change.
Then college came along and plenty of my high school friendships petered out. We didn’t have something keeping us together anymore so, quite naturally, we fell apart. Because church continued to be a seeming constant, I still hung around the same people all the time. And since the idea of changing churches seemed impossible, I had very high hopes that this group would offer the one thing I wanted: permanence.
But then we got jobs, moved away, got boyfriends and girlfriends, then husbands and wives. I eventually did transfer churches, which was a freeing experience, and the people I had once felt so sentimental about started becoming ghosts in my mind, slowly fading into fond yet irrelevant memories.
If I had written this five years ago, I would’ve probably still felt shaken by the fact that my old group and I don’t even talk anymore. But I’m 27 now. Friendship seems less like a promise and more like a fragile miracle.
Originally, I was going to write that the algorithm I had developed from my youth still rings true today: have some common ground, spend a lot of time with each other, don’t forget to make memories.
But when I hold these things up to the light, they seem more like nicely told lies. Friendship, after all, isn’t that simple.
The people I feel most connected to these days are people I don’t see all the time. Thanks to technology, we are always connected, but because of the uninstitutionalized complexity of adulthood, dinners get pushed back, trips get canceled, calls get postponed. Face-to-face interaction is replaced by emojis, selfies, and Snapchat stickers.
Time together is not a constant concept — realistically, it might never be. But we try. Maybe that’s the important thing: that even if we could easily surrender to the violent tides of change, we ride it out. We try anyway.
What counts as common ground is different now. It’s not so important that we listen to the same music or watch the same shows or read the same books. Those things help and they do make things a little more sacred and fun. But they’re not the most important things. They’re not the glue.
How we treat each other is of supreme importance. What we believe about each other, especially when we are at our worst. How we show up for each other. Who can I message at 11 in the evening when I need a moment to be completely honest? Who can I call to talk to me ’til I fall asleep when the nighttime terrors find me? Who can I do nothing with and be absolutely alright with? Who will take me seriously but not too seriously? Who will make me laugh? Who will tell me what is true?
Common ground is much deeper now that I’m no longer a kid.
To think that friendship runs on an algorithm is a joke. Some things work and you just can’t explain it. Some chemistries loom larger than our educated ideas. Sometimes people who ought to be best friends aren’t. Sometimes people who look like they wouldn’t last a minute on an island together end up sharing years and years between them. Friendship is strange and lovely and also, widely unpredictable.
We don’t always make memories the way we used to. There are not as many silly sleepovers or out-of-town trips or karaoke nights. But the great thing about the friendships you build in adulthood is that the institutions are gone and the mechanisms are largely demolished. With all the old systems out of the way, what’s left are the people who still stick around simply because they want to.
And that, I think, is as close to permanence as we get.