I keep trying to start this piece, but some variation of the line, “I used to have a friend,” comes out. Then, I stop. I’m not sure if “used to have a friend” is a truthful or even a possible description. Is friendship temporal? If so, what does it take to keep a friendship going?
I’m thinking about this because I just realized that it’s been more than five years since I’ve had any kind of contact with someone who I always considered a friend. In fact, I always thought of her as one of my closest friends. But more than five years is a long time. And I mean no contact. We haven’t seen each other or spoken on the phone. There have been no texts or even social media comments. Are we still friends?
That’s a hard question for me to answer. I’ve written about friendship in the past. I take a pretty expansive view of friendship. I consider people whom I primarily interact with on social media to be real friends. I consider work friends to be real friends. But can my definition be expansive enough to include people I have absolutely no contact with?
I want the answer to be yes because it makes me sad to think that I’m no longer friends with my friend from five years ago. But if I’m still friends with her, I can be friends with just about anyone. Friendship is meaningless without interaction of some sort. I think the answer has to be no. We’re not still friends. That means that friendship is temporal, and contact is the bare minimum it takes to keep it going.
Unless. . .unless, unless. I’m trying to think of an unless.
What if I bumped into my former friend again? It wouldn’t be like bumping into a stranger. But it also wouldn’t just pick up where we left off. After five years, there just isn’t that kind of intimacy anymore. What would it be like? We’d probably chat for a little while. We might reminisce. It would likely bring about a mix of happiness and awkwardness. We’d probably promise to stay in touch. If we did, we’d be back to being friends. If we didn’t, is it back to being non-friends?
Maybe what we need is a new category. There are other relationships in life that cease when circumstances change. I have a bunch of teachers and coaches that are no longer my teachers or coaches. What if I bumped into one of them? It would probably be a lot like bumping into the former friend. We’d chat and talk about old times. It would have that mix of happiness and awkwardness. We probably wouldn’t promise to stay in touch, though. That’s close enough to the former friend where we can use it as guidance.
What if someone were with me when I bumped into that former teacher or coach? How would I introduce them to my companion? I could say former teacher. While technically true, that doesn’t really capture it. I’d more likely say, “This is my old baseball coach.” It captures the fondness I have for those memories.
Will it work with friends? I think so. If we say former friend, it sounds like something happened, like there’s some kind of ill will. We might as well say ex-friend. But if we say old friend, that works nicely. There’s still fondness, but no implication that it’s a current friendship.
So, my friend from five years ago is now an old friend. I’m much happier having a bunch of old friends than I would be with a bunch of former friends. What do you think?
Oh, and if any of my old friends happen to read this, reach out. Despite the awkwardness, I’d like to reminisce.