Earlier this year I stumbled across an article from 2012 entitled “Friends of a Certain Age: Why is it Hard to Make Friends Over 30?“. As I get older I find that my definition of friendship has been adjusted to explain what seems to be the “new norm” for maintaining friendships these days. I’ve made plenty of new friends after hitting 30, but I find communication is often fleeting and shallow, a few hurried text messages or email threads. My expectations for face-to-face time are greatly reduced. People are busy!
In order to generate and maintain friendships, the author contends three things must be in place: proximity, chances for repeated, unplanned interactions, and an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to confide in each other. What isn’t mentioned is the time required to develop and maintain a friendship. I often find the biggest challenges are finding time to meet in person, and then competing with the allure of the smartphone when we do manage to find a time.
Proximity is also an interesting idea because it hasn’t been adapted for the digital environment where so many friendships are born and thrive. I know people that maintain close friendships with others they met online (e.g. through game playing or forums), even if they haven’t met in person. Can there be such a thing as digital proximity? Can you maintain a close friendship through electronic means even if there are no in person interactions?
As if it’s not enough to compete with differing life priorities, diverging interests, and time constraints as we get older, the term “friend” has been cheapened with the advent of social media. I often hear from people who use Facebook a lot that they feel constrained or inhibited to post what they really want to because of certain Facebook “friends” they’ve accepted. Are those really friends? I’ve also read accounts of other people with hundreds of friends and followers on various social media channels yet are unable to rely on any of them.
So while friendship can be entirely created and/or maintained through digital means, does it mean the same thing? Do we just have to adjust our meaning and interpretation of friendship for online vs. offline friends? I certainly hope not, but navigating friendship and what it means through all the new communication channels can be challenging.