If there is one ongoing lacuna in my life it’s face to face time with friends.
I miss them.
I miss it.
I feel very out of step where I live, in a super-affluent suburb of New York. People here, and in the city, seem to devote the bulk of their time to work, commuting, family and self-improvement, not to time spent among friends.
I know this likely feels tougher for me because I spend about 80 percent of my life alone at home, where I work. No office cooler jokes or chitchat leaven my days. I miss the eye-roll!
Nor do I have any family members nearby, all living far away in Canada.
I recently made a new friend while we were both attending a conference in a city far from our homes. He lives in Zurich and I live north of New York. It was one of those instant coups de foudre, an immediate meeting of the minds that I find so rarely and which is so blessedly precious. Maybe because I’m not doing most of the things women my age do: worrying about kids and grand-kids, climbing or clinging to the career ladder, racing back and forth to my country house, I rarely meet women here I can identify with.
Frankly, it also seems to be a question of money — I live happily in a one-bedroom apartment and drive a 10-year-old vehicle. The women near me here live in enormous mansions and often out-earn me by many multiples. We have little in common except our gender.
Tristan and I spent a fantastic day together, as it turned out we’d both stayed after the conference with no fixed plans or agenda. We wandered (!) the Mall of America, all 520 stores and 78 acres of it. A world traveler with sophisticated tastes, he wanted to eat lunch at…Panda Express, a fast-food Chinese joint. We went out for dinner and enjoyed one of the best white wines I’ve ever tasted, from Argentina, which he chose.
It was terribly hard to say good-bye and I realized how rarely I now spend an entire day with a friend. When you spend uninterrupted hours with someone, the conversation has time to meander, from your earliest histories to your favorite bands, from that day’s news headlines to sharing stories of a fantastic trip five years ago.
People are too busy.
I do have some friends here in New York, and am glad, but if I see them once a month, that’s a lot. If we meet for a meal, it’s hurried. No one seems to have the leisure to just hang out. Emotional intimacy is not something you can rush.
But you have to want it, and you have to make time for it.
So this past weekend, Scott came to visit, about a 90 minute drive from his home. We see one another about every three or four months, punctuated with chatty emails. We celebrated with a big lunch on the balcony and he brought a great bottle of red wine and then we sat in the pool to cool off and talked about everything from the recent London riots to our own writing careers.
I live in the U.S., a culture weirdly addicted to the overshare, the blurt, the unwanted confession. Tristan knew of the conceptual model — whose name I forget, but I learned in my cross-cultural work with Berlitz — that visually explains how Americans relate to one another. It’s the opposite of many other cultures. Within seconds of meeting you, an American will unload a ton of extremely personal detail, but later remain emotionally aloof and distant.
In Canada, and other places, people often initially appear cold and unfriendly, but they’re reserved — wisely and cautiously reserving intimacy as a precious resource.
Self-disclosure follows, but takes time. You can’t rush it.
Scott is one of my 427 Facebook friends, but we’re also quite private people and there is much that only emerges over time. There is always news so good, or so bad, you need to share it in the same room with someone, not diced into status updates. I find it depressing as hell when people I’d like to become better friends with tell me — on Facebook — they’ve just had major surgery or their partner has died.
How are your face-to-face friendships doing these days?