I have an amicable relationship with all of my old friends and girlfriends, except one. It has been shocking how many of them read this blog even though we don’t talk. I was lucky enough to make a lot of friends pretty much everywhere I have been, high school, college, all of my jobs. Some of those friendships faded naturally, some I let go of, some let go of me I’m sure, some are still around even if they shouldn’t be, and a lot are still going strong due mainly to the internet and cell phones.
There are two things that really strike me when you do actually meet face to face with someone you have not talked to in a long time.
First, you feel old. Especially when you realize you haven’t talked to this person in more years than you had a friendship with them. High school or college felt like it went on for a long time when we were in it, but looking back at four years now seems inconsequential. And when you reach the point of your tenth anniversary of graduation, you quickly realize that even the people you knew really well in high school you no longer know.
I tend to think that our most important friendships are created in high school and college because we experience the most emotional change at those times. And so we tend to view the people that went through it with us as some kind of fellow soldier that knows a part of you that you can’t really explain in conversation. And I think that is true. Those people do know you in a way that cannot be experienced by anyone else, even if you have changed dramatically since, you will always have that.
A lot of other things can make you feel old. Someone you watched go through puberty having a child of their own makes you feel old. Watching someone go grey or bald makes you feel old. Imagining a person as they were when youth was their sole descriptor and seeing how far in the rearview their physical peak now is, that will make you feel very old. Realizing your friendship would be old enough to drive or buy cigarettes or worse yet, drink in a bar, yikes, old.
The second thing that strikes me is that you never have anything to say. The people you see every day, you can talk their ear off, but the person you haven’t spoken to in six years, the conversation is over in minutes, even if both people are really trying. Why is it?
I think there is a sense of humility, no one wants to talk too much about a high paying job and how great they are doing. There might be a sense of shame, let’s not talk at all about the fact that I still live at home and just got laid off. These days there is also a sense of ‘I don’t want to repeat anything they might have read about me on Facebook’, as well. It is weird.
I get a similar feeling when I talk to extended family. It is often like talking to old friends where I have nothing to say. I really can’t explain it. I think it might have to do partly with the fact that you know you are beyond simple small talk, and you can’t really rely on origin stories that drives so much of ‘new friend’ conversation, but you probably don’t feel comfortable talking about anything serious, so you are just stuck. Hopefully you both like sports or movies or TV or something, otherwise shit is about to get weird.
I think possibly the worst version of this is the ex-girlfriend conversation. I have one ex-girlfriend that everything feels like we are just good friends. The rest, it can be awkward. It usually isn’t bad or anything, it just has its moments. All of my exes, excluding one, consciously decided that we wanted to remain friends, and I’m glad we were able to do that. In fact, I have at times felt snubbed when I wasn’t invited or included in something an ex was gathering together.
But I do understand. Why invite yourself into an awkward situation when it can easily be avoided?
It is probably best to make new friends often, avoid the ones you can’t converse with, and relish the ones that know you the best.