I’ve thought a lot about friends lately. Planning for my wedding last year required consideration about relationships in general. Both in who it was appropriate to invite from our families and in who from my friends it made sense to invite.
One result of moving from Palo Alto, to Boston, to New York, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to New York, and finally Berlin where I live now, is that I have a lot of friends in a lot of cities. Keep in mind some of them have moved elsewhere since I left our mutual stomping ground.
Looking through that list of potential invites the friends at the end of the tail in Boston or New York are very distant. Friends from Palo Alto who didn’t maintain direct contact with me since high school are automatically passive friends. We look at each others family vacation photos. Occasionally share or disagree with points made on social media. We like each others instagram posts. But as time passes, the bonds between lose strength.
People who promised to stay in touch when I moved away, are also the people who stopped showing any indication that I’ve crossed their thoughts since I left.
Not an easy thing to realize. But it makes me more steady in momentum too as we’ll see ahead.
I made a lot of investments in keeping those distant friends by visiting my former residences. This was especially true of New York, and Los Angeles. I didn’t want to let those connections go cold over time. I’ve intentionally avoided this by making trips back to each of my haunts and making an appearance with as many old friends as possible. But as the lists of former places lived gets longer, and the lists of friends gets longer, it becomes less and less realistic to make enough rounds to see everyone. One can’t visit new places if one keeps visiting the same ones over and over.
The other side of this is some people have come to Berlin and visited, others come to europe and don’t tell me, ignoring the fact that it’s relatively easy for me to grab a flight to most cities in the E.U. for the weekend. It hurts to see friends coming, and not even get a note, text, or call. Nothing makes me feel forgotten more than this.
Introducing the Friend Framework
And so when the guest lists were made for our wedding I had to create a framework to help filter out all the names. I thought about not just who I’d seen, but who had made an effort to see me. The ones who somehow communicated before the wedding that they were making an investment in our friendship – thus establishing a two way investment.
Friends who maintained contact exclusively on Facebook didn’t count. I decided that an Internet friendship held very little weight for me. If there weren’t emails, text messages, postcards, or face to face time between us outside of those likes and comments on FB, it just wasn’t a real thing. Even one phone call a year counts for something. If I couldn’t remember the last time someone reached out to me, it was fairly easy to take em off the list. It also elevated my affection for the people who were invited.
Choosing friends who reinvest
The framework made some sense, especially in the context of a wedding invite because it was a two way street, for the wedding and for life. If someone didn’t want to come to the wedding, it showed they didn’t care about seeing what was arguably the most important moment in my life. And afterwards, when choosing which branches of this family/friend tree to continue supporting through investments of time (and money to see them), it only made sense to choose the ones that bear fruit.
Does this mean we’re not friends anymore? No. It just means that I’ve finally given up on using my personal time to see people who as far as I can tell don’t think about me or care fo know me anymore.
Some rules of the framework
Skipping past the wedding itself, I now have a mechanism not only for deciding who to reach out to when I’m making the rounds, I also have a filter for who to follow in social media, who to send cards to when traveling, or for the holidays. Last year I removed 200-300 friends from my facebook account, it wasn’t hard, if I hadn’t communicated with a fb-friend in two years, I unfriended. Facebook’s algorithm had probably already long-ago stopped sharing our posts across boards, recognizing much earlier than I, that these people don’t seem to care for each others content.
Now that I live in europe, I usually have less than two weeks in the US to visit friends each year. After removing any family events, and mandatory things to do in the US (i.e. renewing drivers license) I usually have about 8 days to socialize. I try to give the folks in the places I’m visiting lots of warning when I’m coming so we can plan ahead, but there is admittedly very little time. Making use of my methods in the past I like to try and string together 2-3 friend hangs in a day, if I’m in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, that’s pretty easy to do and a good way to see several people over a short period of time without zipping around too much. But if the schedule doesn’t work, I expect people to come my way, whether I’m in Venice Beach, Williamsburg, or Palo Alto, I just can’t waste my trip driving on freeways because someone doesn’t fully understand the gravity of it being the only chance of the year to see each other. This more than anything else has forcibly reduced the number of people I see with any regularity now.
At first employing these methods felt harsh, but when I looked at it from the reverse, how others had handled their friendship with me, it only seemed fair.
It’s depressing, at first
Only a year or so into this way of choosing who to focus time with, I often get sad. I miss a lot of my friends. I know how easy it would be to just make an effort to reach out to them, but when the opposite of that is the absence of any friendship at all, I feel empowered to focus on the people who are making an effort to be in my life. It’s working too. We’ve made new friends here, and some of our friends from the US and Poland visit, make skype/facetime calls, send postcards, etc. So we have a shorter list, but a stronger purer group.
And so now?
I still intend to reach out to the outer ring of friends who don’t make an active presence in my life. I still let them know when I’m coming to the US. But I know where my focus is, and who I’m planning to see first, most likely we’ve already talked about it a lot before I even got on the plane.
If you’re my friend and your reading this and you feel like you unrightly fell into the wrong side of this equation, I hope you send me a note soon. Or if luck has it, we’ll connect again down the road in one way or another when the time is right.