Monday, March 09, 2009

Only The Lonely

I like moderation. One friend describes me as an extroverted introvert, by which she means that I am friendly, outgoing and love company as long as I get long periods alone to recharge my emotional batteries. It's true; I'm lucky enough to enjoy my own company and I need lots of quiet time, as well. After that, I'm back and ready to party.

I'm careful now to blend my need for friendship and alone time in such a way that I don't often suffer from the painful and intense loneliness I knew as a kid growing up in an alcoholic and deeply dysfunctional family. A recent article on the modern epidemic of loneliness and it's link to social networking sites which according to one researcher, "...risk infantilising the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity" has me thinking about friendships.

I tend to think of my dearest friendships as falling into three main types: golden, silver and copper. For example, I have golden friendships, the ones that will never tarnish, and that go back 20 and 30 years. These are the "Yes, you can have one of my kidneys to save your life" levels of friendship. Regardless of what goes on with our partners, work, kids, distance, change o' life or change in general, I love these people and will be there for them, even when it is difficult or inconvenient for me to do so. If a crisis occurs, and they need a home or help of some kind, they can call me and vice versa. We are together (one way or another) for beginnings and endings, all kinds. I ask for their advice on the big decisions. They are the people on my speed dial, and in many cases, I'd call them before I'd call blood kin. I can call them at 3 am, I could call them from jail. I can call them when I'm lost (all sorts of ways) and I can call them when I'm really, really happy, triumphant even, knowing absolutely that they will be happy for me.

We keep each others secrets unto death. No kidding.

This a short list of people. It has to be. You can't offer that kind of quality caring and commitment to a large number of people, any more than one gardener working alone can tend 1,000 acres. Intimate, committed friendships take care and time, forgiveness, compassion and
consistent, heart-to-heart (if not always person to person) contact. We might even loose contact for a while but we'll pick up where we left off because we "get" one another on a level that no one else does. We have history, we have trust. This takes time to build and time to maintain.

Then there are the
silver friendships. These are special people I've met each time I've moved who are funny, smart, committed, big-hearted and great company. We might work on projects together and find we like one another. We might meet as neighbors, have the same hobbies or share our skills and talents for a cause. In any case, some part of us "clicks" beyond the immediacy of our engagements so that if one of us moves out of the circle where we first met, we stay in touch. I know that they would visit me in the hospital (or get me there) if the need arose, and I will do the same for them. We will come to each others parties and talk (nicely) to that friend's annoying relatives at weddings and holiday celebrations. We will each tolerate any dull meetings the other needs us to attend (and trust the other one to follow through when we need a similar sort o' favor). We'll share amusing (but not mean spirited) gossip, we'll lend books, and we'll deal with the hard stuff, too. because friends at these levels have done their emotional homework.

Last are the copper friendships. These friendships are more basic and more effected by time and distance. These are people I know and like and who travel, work, live, volunteer, create or do ritual in same social circles I'm in. We share certain values, ethics, interests and, in some cases, subculture(s). I might see them at certain conventions, give aid to their projects and ask for their help on my own. I like them and will go out of my way to see them or spend time with them, but I would not ask for their help on the big things or expect them to understand (or even listen to) my troubles. They make me laugh and I value them as people. Some of these folks are movie friends or gardening friends or friends-who-organize. The emphasis is on the shared interests first, and the friendship second and I don't expect the depth and width from these friendships that I enjoy with my silver and gold friends.
The word "thrive" is derived from the Old Norse word, thrifask. which literally means, "to have oneself in grasp" or "grasp something for oneself."
- Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D on Human Touch

How friendships thrive:

Each of these friendships have some things in common: They involve good manners and require certain social obligations. When it comes to social obligations, the understanding, accepting and keeping of same seems to be a dying art form. Here is some of what I mean.

Put in the time.
If you cannot meet with me in person, then call. (Yes,
Skype is acceptable.) The point is to hear your voice and tone, to see your body language, to look into each other's eyes, to hug, if possible, to connect in some basic, human way on a fairly regular basis. We have need of this, a need that is so physical and so ancient that it is crucial to healthy human relationships, and quite possibly, human health.

* Thou shalt not bore.
Something bothering you today? Fine. In that case, you may rail about it in an interesting fashion, but you may not whine. Nor do I wish to know every detail of your mundane life. I have my own daily minutia to deal with.

Think about your life and what it means: Don't just tell me what you do, tell me what it means to you, how it felt, how it changed you, and how this will effect your future.

* Pay attention to other people: If you want me to pay attention to what you are doing, saying, thinking, planning and feeling then you must pay the same level of attention to me. I am your friend, not your audience. (1)

Follow-through on your commitments and tell the truth. Be someone I can trust.
This one is a deal breaker.

Forgive my errors as you expect your own to be forgiven and own your anger like an adult:
If I do wrong, tell me that. Fight fair, and air resentments (directly to me) when and if necessary. I'll listen and I'll make changes and amends as needed, expecting that you will do that same when your time comes. But leave out the drama and trauma; we're well past high school.

* Practice and refine your manners:
Remember birthdays (send cards, not emails. Failing that, call). Be a good and
thoughtful guest at parties (RSVP, bring something, come on time and don't say too late). Throw the occasional party yourself. Be both considerate and kind. If you were not taught how be a social person, keep in mind that it is never too late to learn.

Not Everyone Is Meant To Be Your Friend:

Everyone else I know is either an associate (deserving of my best professional behavior) or an
acquaintance (who deserves politeness, kindness and pleasant but firm boundaries) or a stranger (who, as a human being, deserves respect and civility until they prove otherwise).

Talk To Me: As Oscar Wilde once said: "Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation..." If you are my friend, I don't want to have to read your Face Book page to know how you feel or what you're up to (and, trust me on this, I won't).

Here's the great flaw in social networking tech:

I can't see your expression in an email, and I won't hear that note of sadness or joy in your voice that tells me I should ask "What's really going on?". If you want to be my friend, then you take the time to connect. We get together and you
see me. Failing that, you pick up the phone.


Related Articles:

Why Loneliness Is Bad For Your Health Alone in a Parallel Life
Why the computer friendships
arn't the same as real world friendships.

Friendships: Enrich Your Life and Improve Your Health
Some tips for making and being a friend.

Get off Facebook and Get a Life


...the amount of time we spend with each other has slumped dramatically and in turn is damaging our health.

He says our devotion to such sites could alter the way genes work, upset immune responses, hormone levels, and the function of arteries, and influence mental performance.

Levels of hormones such as the "cuddle chemical" oxytocin, which promotes bonding, altered according to whether people were in close contact or not.

This could increase the risk of health problems as serious as cancer, strokes, heart disease, and dementia.


(1) I have a copper level friend who I kept up with on Live Journal when I moved from California to Oregon because, unlike most people on L.J., she wrote interesting and thoughtful entries. In person, I adore her. She is well read, insightful, busy, creative and very involved in the Pagan community. I called her recently to get her take on a PantheaCon, feeling that she would have insights that others might miss. "But I posted about that on my L.J." she said. This disturbed me for a couple of reasons:

1) Her L.J. post on
PCon was simply a list of what workshops she had gone to, and who she had seen and I wanted more from her then weather notes, bare facts and restaurant tips and

2) I wanted the (brief) phone conversation only she and I could have, one based on her knowledge of people, groups and traditions she and I both know from years spent working together in the Bay Area. In other words,
I didn't want to read her press release, I wanted her to share with me, in a way unique to us, one that would allow me to appreciate her deeper experience and learn from it myself.

Our conversation t'was not to be for other reasons, as well; like a lot of people her age, it turns out that she hates to talk on the phone.

I notice that she no longer even bothers post a paragraph with a topic sentence, story line and beginning, middle and end to her Live Journal, she now "twitters" (feh!) these short strings of seemingly errant text, littered with html, straight to her journal. It's like reading code. I like her a great deal, and when I see her, I'll buy her a drink and ask for her views, but I read her L.J. with much less pleasure and attention than I did before.


Anonymous said...

Oh my this is so true. Thank you for saying it. I recently had a conversation with my son about Twitter. The question I had was why would you broadcast every single thing you were doing? Is there no privacy left? Is there no being with your best friend, who is yourself with your thoughts or your Goddess/God? Not in a narcissistic way, but just reflection and being centered? I like the term "radical aloneness" for that part of my being.
Anyway, I do know what you mean about who you trust with your soul and who is just a little farther away from that, but still someone you like.

Dj Connell said...

Hi, Thank you for the note.

You've said it well, I think: What is there left for yourself and your God/Goddess?