There’s a strange process we go through as we get older. It’s really something that has become more common in recent generations, as many of our grandparents and great-grandparents never really left home.
We all grow up, but the idea of lifelong friends is becoming more rare than before. I know if my mom were to mention some of her best friends, most would be people she has known for decades, if not her entire life. The generations before us did not have the internet to create social networking and expand their horizons. A large percentage remained in one general location as they grew from children to adults, raising their own kids close to where they grew up.
I grew up within about a 20 minute drive of my parents’ childhood homes, and a 30-40 minute drive from the childhood homes of three of my four grandparents. In their entire lives, they never moved further than about 20 miles from where they were raised, and I was part of a third generation in that area.
Leave it to me to break such a trend. While I hope to eventually return to the Seattle area, I have moved about 25 times further away than they ever did. As my friend Jon mentioned to me when he found out I was moving to Ashland, “At this rate, in five years you’ll be working somewhere in L.A.” While that is not my intent, I have progressively moved from Everett to Tacoma (for college) to Portland (internship) to Ashland (job).
Along with this comes a shift in the idea of friendship. I know one of my best friends in high school moved around a lot growing up and has since told me that he came to view friends as utilitarian in nature – not that he was intentionally selfish and wanting to use people, but that the necessity of making new friends altered his emotional connection to friendships. It made it easier for him to say goodbye to friends, acknowledging that even the best friendship likely would not last more than a few years.
After the past few years I can see a little of what he meant, although I pray that I never reach (what I consider to be) such a cynical view of friendships. But in almost exactly one year I have lived in three different places (four if you count part-time living in Tacoma), and this has absolutely created a strange disconnect when it comes to defining and maintaining friendships.
A quick perusal of my Facebook friends list reveals a major split between high school friends – most of whom I “friended” shortly after getting my Facebook account after high school graduation – and college friends. Mixed in there are friends I have made in my time since then, mostly people in the Portland area, with a few Southern Oregon friends joining the list. But as much as I believe I have a lot in common with the guy I was in high school, it’s fascinating to think about how each of these distinct groupings of friends know a different Tyler Scott.
My high school friends know a guy whose life revolved a lot around band and the drumline, a guy who spent most of his time hanging out with a couple different people and a guy who was just a bit strange (hopefully in an entertaining way).
My college friends know a guy whose life revolved around the athletic department and student leadership, a guy who spent most of his time socializing in reasonably large groups and a guy who was just a bit strange (hopefully in an entertaining way).
My friends since then know a guy who is just beginning to discover what God has in store for him, a guy who is stepping out on his own for really the first time in his life and a guy who is just a bit strange (hopefully in an entertaining way).
Three very distinct people, aside from that last tidbit, but even that has evolved over the years as the “strangeness” my friends in Portland see me as possessing is probably vastly different from the strangeness many of my high school friends remember. It’s interesting to me to think about the fact that all the people I meet now have no idea that I was (am? Is it a lifetime thing?) a drummer, and that marching band was basically the top thing in terms of my time commitment and social life in high school. Heck, people in the music department at PLU thought I hated them because I spoke out so much about the lack of support for athletics. I always found that a little entertaining.
In the end it creates a very weird experience on Facebook. I see on my newsfeed posts from people I’ve known for 10 years alongside posts from people I met two weeks ago. In a lot of ways, though, the people I’ve met two weeks ago know me better than those I’ve known for many years. A quick glance at any of my high school friends’ Facebook profiles proves the same in reverse – I know very little about them anymore.
This makes me wonder. I have a hard time believing I’m the only one experiencing this and feeling a bit saddened by it (although I guess it could be the case). Yet so often we see Facebook interactions with people we haven’t actively spoken to in a long time as creepy or incentive-based. Why would you write something on my wall asking me how I am after all of these years? What is it that you want?
It is this overriding sense of suspicion that is Facebook’s greatest flaw, in my experience. The notion of the “Facebook Stalker” has become such a social point of humor/fear-mongering that it provides the ultimate discouragement to anyone who is genuinely interested in how things are going for someone with whom they haven’t spoken to in awhile.
Many of us went our separate ways after high school, with some of the separation happening before graduation and some after. The same holds true with college – a lot changes in four years.
But especially as I look back now on some of my memories – both good and bad – I realize that there are people who played such a meaningful role in who I’ve become, a role I never could have recognized at the time. And I would like to thank them for that, and ask how they have grown and who they’ve become in that same stretch of time.
About a year ago, I reconnected with my friend from high school – the one who had viewed friends through a utilitarian scope. We met for coffee a couple times and had a chance to just open up to each other about the previous four years and what we’d been through and who we’d become. We had a chance to re-evaluate and reminisce about some of the best and worst times we shared together in high school. Naturally, right as we were reconnecting I was offered an internship in Portland and had to move away.
And therein lies a perfect summation of the conundrum. The culture we live in today makes it so easy to stay in touch, but only if we’re willing to remain at arm’s length. Are we willing to risk potential awkwardness to jump the barrier? The answer will determine the difference between genuine relationships and Facebook friends.