Thursday, August 31, 2017


            I don’t see much cause to be thankful for Facebook, where it is estimated that many will spend two years of their lives doing whatever. But I am grateful that Facebook turned “friend” from a noun into a verb. You don’t just have a friend – it’s something you do. And I don’t mean that you click something on your “device” to create or announce a new relationship. To friend somebody is not quite the same as to “befriend” them, which one dictionary defines: “to act as a friend to someone by offering help or support.” To friend someone involves more dimensions than help or support, and does not simply involve an offer, a gesture, however sincere.

            As psychologist Rob Pasic noted in his book about men, Awakening from the Deep Sleep, most of us typically don’t have friends – we have contacts. I believe he is right, as far as any generalization can be right, about men who are younger than I am. When you are trying to build a career, a life stage that my friend Peter summarizes as being “on the make,” contacts are important. And to our loss, they sometimes take the place of friendships. This was never really true about me during my teaching career because with tenure, my career curve pretty much stagnated – I was not on the make and thus didn’t need any contacts. No, my reason for not having many friends was different.

            Once I retired, I continued not to have many friends. I hung out with Kim and Kim’s friends. She is much better at friendships than I am. She phones people, sends them cards, gets together for breakfast or lunch. Not me. I have acquaintances who I am always glad to see and talk with, but I never made the follow-up “let’s get together” phone call, despite Kim’s prodding. I do not act to friend my friends. (A collateral benefit: I have few enemies, either – none I know about.) My basic model of a friendship occurred when I was working at Starbucks and I’d engage in a few minutes of conversation with customers who were invariably incurious about me. We would “connect,” usually, and then they would disappear.

            So, you are probably not asking, what is my problem? The problem is that I don’t see it as a problem, because I see real friendships as deep and enduring, despite time and space. And unlike those who feel good about having a lot of Facebook friends (aka faux friends), I feel good about my relationships with the few friends I have, even though they may disappear for years, or be miles away. I think of Peter, an Amherst friend who flew out to see me and with whom I instantly resumed a friendship with the warmth, openness and depth that I remember from college and our few meetings since then. And there is Rick, a Gainesville friend who I did not know all that well but who has sent Kim a few witty and thoughtful gifts as Kim recovers from surgery. Or Jim, who with his wife Angie keeps in touch by responding to my blog. Or Megan and Miguel, young friends who share their lives with us from 2000 miles away. Deep friendships, in a way, and generous, despite the lack of face-to-face contact.

            Distance may not be a problem for friendships. In fact, it may enhance them. Most of my current friends (except for you, Alice and Mike, and you, Jerry and Fleda, and the bartenders in the restaurant downstairs) don’t live close. I sustain these friendships by writing this blog, and by occasionally hearing back. I work better with pen pals because I find that I can open myself better in writing than I can in person. The David in my writing is a filtered or created version. I learned this when I wrote my book about my recently murdered schizophrenic brother, and I, the narrator of the book, became a better brother to him once he was dead than I was when he was alive.

            My act of friending, then, is pretty much an act of writing. Sorry about that. And the deep, warm and open friendships I imagine may be just that – imagined. Works for me, though.

I remember reading some of my love poems to a class of students. One of them asked how my wife liked my being so open with my feelings. I said that I’m not really very open, and when she asks me how I feel about something, I usually say that I will get back to her on that in a few days. Or it’s like the old truism that when you ask a guy how he feels and he says, “Fine,” what he means is, “I don’t understand the question.”

Alice Shirley commented:  "As chicks, however, we will tell each of you men you don't know what you're missing when it comes to deep and true friendships. You may share activities ( hunting, fishing, poker, drinking, tennis or croquet) and feel you have a real buddy. With women it is the interaction and conversation that goes on during shared activities that really matters - makes for closer friendships."

1 comment:

  1. This is a pretty accurate assessment of friendship and differences between men and women in their ideas about friendship. I think men and women really have major differences in their interpretation of friendship. I have mostly female friends because my so called male friends deserted me after I got married. It's their loss! I truly agree with Alice Shirley's comment about friendship. In a true friendship, there is a special connection and there is longevity, regardless of distance! Hola to my friends, Kim and Dave. Happy to have you in my life!