There so many kinds of friendships with such varied lifespans, that I have often wondered about what makes each either tick or zonk out.
…and that brought to mind my first friend ever. I was about five and Suzie was a little younger. Of Irish descent, she was the daughter of my father’s colleague at the P&T department and we were neighbours in the official quarters allotted to us. My English was pidgin, and she spoke with an accent. But we communicated just fine and I remember even telling her stories I had made up. Other than the games we played and stories we shared, we bonded over fighting off Billy, her elder brother, who relentlessly bullied the pair of us.
Father was transferred after a year or so and we lost touch with the family. But I wonder if we would have remained friends, leave alone have become close friends even had we stayed. Likewise, with my friends during later childhood and adolescence. What had seemed like very close friendships (we had sworn to write to each other regularly) had petered off within a year after I had moved cities.
Friendships made in the early years of life can’t thrive unless certain pre-conditions are fulfilled. Physical proximity, family ties and similar social backgrounds, are some of them, as these help the friendship to evolve over time even as the friends themselves grow up. As the friends and the friendship mature, they become more like siblings, able to weather the storms of differences in their outlooks, perspectives and even ideologies. There are so many stories of childhood sweethearts going on to tie the knot in adulthood, proving this point.
This is not to say that all childhood friendships metamorphose into mature ones, since temperaments change, likes and dislikes change, and each might find someone with whom he or she is more comfortable and has better vibes. I don’t have experience of any such friendship from childhood, since we moved so much that none of the early friendships remain.
Teen friendships seem to be different. It is during this period that one develops distinct personality traits, likes and dislikes, an interest in career and the future. When one finds a soulmate with whom one feels comfortable sharing these and more, it develops into a strong friendship. These are the friendships that can survive distances and years even without any communication. It is as if a telepathic bond exists and when finally they get to meet some day (if at all), it is as if they were never apart, picking up from where they had left off. Significantly, there is no recrimination or accusation of not keeping in touch. Just the togetherness is enough to make up for the lost time. I speak from personal experience.
A couple of years ago, I met up with my best friend from high school, with whom I had lost touch for over four decades. It was a long search, but we did finally find each other! And when we did meet it was as if the interim years had vanished! Today we are both comfortable in the feeling that we are just a call away. This feeling can only come with total acceptance of the other – temperament, moods, circumstances, the similarities and differences in the life experiences – the works!
Many school groups on WhatsApp and other chat platforms are formed in the fond of hope of rekindling the bonds the members had shared as children and teens. But just being classmates and sharing some good times and common interests in school cannot bind a group together.
The other day, I was speaking to a friend about this, and he said that though he was part of his school group, there was not much he shared with the other members. ‘Sharing jokes on WhatsApp and wishing each other on birthdays and anniversaries is all fine, but when we meet, there is almost nothing to talk about. We have all gone our ways for far too long, and it is hard to find common ground to stand, leave alone relax in. After all, how long can one talk about the school, games, teachers and quirky friends?’ True words those!
That probably explains why many prefer not joining school groups or if they do, make haste to leave them. Especially in today’s atmosphere of charged political discussions, when friends might well be standing on opposite sides of the political spectrum or ideological platform – having veered towards those over the years – it becomes even more difficult to rekindle old bonds of friendship. But here again, there are exceptions, where some school friends do manage to ignite old sparks and not only pick up, but also expand the friendship to include spouses and children. Like in a close-knit family, there can be bickering, bitching and even fights over ideology, but the friendships transcend them all.
I have been lucky to to not only rekindle some childhood friendships but also make great new friends who had joined our school after I had left. Some, I have discovered anew, not having had the opportunity to interact with them while in school.
What about friendships made in adulthood? Perhaps they are the best ones, since a friendship is struck only when two people get to know and accept each other for what he or she is, having found common interests, shared values and lifestyles? I am not talking here of neighbourly ‘friendships’ or casual acquaintances, including office friendships, but close ones that can even transcend gender. The best thing is that there is no need for filters with such friends.
I don’t have any statistic to back this, but I think women are more likely to form enduring friendships in adulthood. The reason being that they are naturally supportive, are more compassionate and involved, and are there for their friends, whether physically or otherwise.
Often, these friendships transcend such external trappings like social status and even age barriers. I had made a few great friends when I was well past my 30s and even at 60! I was about 40 when I became friends with a neighbour, a decade younger to me. It has been nearly two decades since we moved, and we only communicate sporadically, but the closeness still exists in the same measure. I have no hesitation in saying that she is one person who knows me better than I do myself.
That brings me to online friendships. Labelling the hundreds and thousands of followers as ‘friends’ would be a misnomer. At best, it indicates the popularity of a person, the reasons for which range from liking their updates and posts, to being glamour struck with their profile picture! Yes, it can be as frivolous as that. Often, it is just a fan following and nothing more – someone likes what you write and how you write and there you have your online ‘friend!’ While there might be any number of genuine friends amongst them, it is impossible to actually be friends in the true sense with such a huge number of people.
These online friends also include those with ulterior motives who make such ‘friendships’ and follow certain popular accounts on social media and blogs. To be seen on a popular FB timeline, a blog or on Twitter feeds, is a way to gather some followers of one’s own. Often the popular person follows them back, adding to the visibility of the wannabe. This is a very common ploy to make one’s presence felt on social media platforms. Depending upon the ‘returns’ from such friendships, they either continue haunting the popular space or vamoose!
An interesting aside: The surcharged atmosphere of ideological divide has had its effect on SM platforms too, especially if one is perceived as a ‘right-wing’ supporter. For, today, it is imperative to be considered ‘secular’, if not an outright Leftist, to be acceptable in exalted media circles and the fashionably secular crowd both on and offline.
However, any online friendship, unless concretised with personal contact, don’t graduate to being real friendships. A lot of virtual love is exchanged, but which remains so tenuous that the slightest whiff of a breeze can break it. Even getting to know each other better can bring one down to earth with a thud, as online and real-life persona sometimes bear no resemblance to each other!
At the same time, there are any number of real-life friendships that have blossomed through social media, where people have discovered lifelong friends and even soul mates. I personally have been blessed with many such friends, some of whom I have not even met.
What signals the end of a friendship, other than the natural ones I have mentioned earlier in the post? Frankly, this one stumps me. Perhaps one just grows away from the friend in question, or perhaps the friendship was not so strong to begin with. I can say with the utmost honesty that I have never broken a friendship, or at least what I had presumed to be real friendship, having invested my emotions and time into it – not even when I find that the other person is on the opposite side of the ideological divide, because to me, the ideology of my friend doesn’t matter as long as there are other things to bind me to him or her. Unfortunately, I find that many so-called friends I have made are not so charitable!
I have had the ‘pleasure’ of being cut off several times, both off and online, even without any ideological angle queering the pitch. And this despite my being a good friend – being there for each, keeping in touch and being supportive. I guess it shouldn’t bother one unduly when friendships end abruptly, ostensibly without any reason. But I have to confess that it did bother me quite a bit, making me wonder if it was something to do with me. Till a dear friend told me firmly that people feel uncomfortable around those whom they can’t conveniently slot or stereotype, or when they find the other person is too invested in the friendship, while they themselves were not! There might be other reasons, but these appealed to me most and had cleared my mind. I am sure the friend is reading this right now and smiling!
To wrap up this rather long post, here’s to all my friends I have made over the decades, both offline and online – even the ones who broke off or distanced themselves from me — and to the special ones who just pull up that proverbial chair and pick up a cup of coffee to discuss what it was that had brought on the troubled look in my eyes or the hint of sadness that had crept into my voice…..
All pics courtesy: https://pixabay.com/
A lovely read, Zephyr! You cover a range of experiences and emotions that come with those experiences. Some of the points you bring up about school whatsapp groups are spot on. I decided to quit my school whatsapp group because of it becoming too draining simply because of charged ideological-political discussions with nothing really substantive in terms of having any real connection – (‘with nothing substantive to talk about if we were to meet in person’ type of thing because we all have moved so far away in our individual journeys). I hardly stay in touch with any college friends either because of this reason….
Yes I have made some deep friendships with a handful of people I first met online. Friendship with you being one of them — don’t go by my recent lack of communication, okay, which I will be correcting soon — but as you say these friendships happen because either they have become concrete with real physical connections, or something else that binds people together other than merely ‘what can I get out of this connection’.
Enjoyed reading your blog after such a long time. As you know I haven’t been much on blogosphere lately so often miss out notifications about new posts etc. My writing work and related commitments have taken on different directions lately. Let’s see how rest of the 2019 goes in terms of spending a bit more time on the blogging scene. Have been meaning to call you for past few weeks…will do that soon.
It is indeed good to see you here, Beloo after a long time! I know from your updates that you have entered into a busy academic/research career, into a subject after your heart and mind. I am so happy for you for that. I did feel that you had pulled back, but realised that it couldn’t be possible – we both are pretty mature, though I do act silly sometimes, as you know 😀
The one school group I am in, has some friends with whom I have made friends anew. Having left after middle-school, I had not been able to make lasting frienships, as mentioned. But I am happy that I have found some very good friends, both men and women. With no childhood memories to share, we have created new platforms to bond, books, family and spirituality. With the others it has not gelled at all. We simply don’t know each other well enough.
Ah, ideology is funny creature! Especially if you are a right winger, which I think is a misnomer for India, for it is automatically assumed that you are anti-minorities and everything else follows that premise, which can be a disaster for any kind of friendship, off or online! I guess the friendship that fails this test is not any friendship at all, as I have some good ones with entirely opposite convictions to mine. We do pretty well on the friendship front!
I am glad to be one of the close friends you have made through blogosphere! Deeply cherished, dear. Waiting for that call from you. Take your time. Neither of us is going anywhere, and nor is our friendship! Hugs!
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I always believe that good friendship will survive even if we don’t keep contact all the time. Both parties know her/his nature. Understand why they were not able to keep contact…logical ones. Then when they meet they are able to continue talking mostly about the past days when they were close with each other. I feel it this way with one of my Maharashtrian friend. We were very close then, both of us had 2 kids each. we used to go shopping from Hosur to Bangalore in the morning, roam, have lunch, watch a movie and come back at night. We used to take some Rs.300 each in a separate purse for common expenditure…the kids were of nearly same age. Giggle as much as we liked, eat from each other’s plate. Come back home by bus, tired. Again we were doing the same next month. The friendship continued for a few more years…kids got married, went abroad…but when we met again after nearly years, we started chatting as if the time lapse was not there. I have got very few close friends here too but not like it was with her. Now, both of us are well off, settled. No sharing business anymore but both of us miss that life.
Too many negative experiences now, so coming close to somebody is not easy anymore.
Enjoyed your version of friendship….different kinds of friendships. Nice to see you back writing long posts!
I didn’t have friends like that for many years after marriage, just mothers of children’s friends with whom it was a good friendship, but never too close. It was only in my later 30s I made two good friends, one the mother of my elder son’s friend and the other of the younger one’s friend. I am in touch with the latter till date and as you say, we don’t need to keep in touch regularly! I had been a little uptight with friendships ending abruptly and without reason, and had shut myself off for quite a while, but very good friends (made online, of course) kept me afloat and pulled me out of the phase. I am one who takes people at face value and get headlong into a friendship, but have learnt some caution now. Some years ago, I became friends with my neighbour, who is many years older than me. We are not neighbours anymore, but are still good friends. I have been blessed that way. It was about that time that we both became friends too, I think. I cherish your friendship a lot, Sandhya, thank you for being there!
About writing long posts, the problem with me is that I can’t write short ones 😀
What a beautiful post! It got me thinking about the friends I have made and lost and reunited with…
Thank you Deboshree! I was also transported back in time, some long gone, some recent, when so many friends came into my life – some to stay and others to leave. But by God’s grace, there has never been a time in my life when I have not had great friends around me.
Friendship is like a train journey. So many come and so many go midway.
We take a liking to some, talk to them, share food and even our addresses only to forget them after the journey is over.
I hardly remember early friends of my younger days in school, play grounds, college and even in offices. Many faded away after a short interlude of bonding.The long lapse of time, distance, differences in education,
social status, financial position, other differing interests widen the gap even when one remembers a few. If perchance one meets an old buddy there is the smile, some exchange of pleasantries, an embarrassed silence after a few minutes and wanting to move away show the fickleness of such associations.
But during each phase of life we tend to like a few but who sadly vanish as quickly as they came.
Unless we nurture friendships as a responsibility without expectations and which are equally and warmly reciprocated, they die in course of time.As long as they last, they are pleasing, warm and beautiful.
But a very few linger for long time as fresh as they came!
You have said it all so well in much better words than I ever could have, KP! Thank you for this wonderful comment. I totally agree about friendships being nurtured and also being reciprocated in order to thrive and stand the test of time. You are one of my best friends, made online and I cherish your friendship and warmth. 🙂
You are right about women forming stronger bonds in adulthood. I wonder what the reason is. My best friends today (apart from Johnny who is no more) are people I met online. Some I have met, others I haven’t. But it hasn’t mattered. Our bond is pretty solid even though we haven’t met.
I grinned when I read the part where you talk of people hanging on to you for the sake of popularity. I’ve had people moseying up to me only to find later they’ve sort of kicked away the ladder they used. I find it absolutely hilarious.
Here’s to our friendship! May it stand the test of time!
Of course, I’m never letting go of you!
The reason why women make better friends are the reasons I have listed in the post. But men can make great friends too, like your friend John. Ultimately though, I think it is karma that brings people together and also separates them, as the karma plays out till the friendship or relationship lasts. Oh yes, the ones kicking the ladder abound in the online world where popularity is everything – including getting published! Thank you for the promise of not letting go of me. You know that I don’t. So like it or not, you are stuck with me 😀
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A lovely post as always, Zephyr!
Nowadays we see smaller families, shrinking extended families, and the tendency to avoid large family gatherings and maintain contact with just a few relatives. I think this is why friends are even more important than in earlier days.
A group of us friends from my high school days met up on Whatsapp a couple of years ago, and we have that the intervening years just fell away. We talk about everything, even personal things, just as did all those years ago. It’s as if we had never lost contact.
I have had the same experience as you, with a few online ‘friends’ cutting me off without any discernible reason. But I’ve learnt to shrug that off. 🙂
All in all, life is certain more enriching because of friends- whether in real life or online- and the pros most definitely outweigh the cons!
Thank you Manju! High school friends are precious, because we must have shared a lot of things with them before moving on and so it is easy to catch up on the lost time when we eventually meet again. You are right about the need for friends in these times of shrinking and disintegrating families. And for all the disadvantages of internet, it is priceless as a great way of finding good friends. I have made some great ones online, including you 🙂
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