Friendship? Who’s Got Time?

Three best friends
In the same room! Image via Wikipedia

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?

8 thoughts on “Friendship? Who’s Got Time?

  1. Wow, I can totally relate to this post! I am a very private person and revealing stuff about my personal life is just very… rare for me and I have to have someone I trust if I’m going to share my life with them. I have very few friends, and all of them are from work, so we rarely get to see each other in a day and when we do get to talk we have managers finding us, we have to rush to look busy, which is kind of silly. I’m glad you got to hang out with your friend, it’s definitely much needed to make that time and enjoy it with each other.

  2. I also have been lamenting the lack of intimate personal time with friends lately. You are right. People are too busy. Or at least they believe they are. But we all find time for stupid things like television and iPhone games and other ridiculous time wasters. I wish we could find ways to better manage priorities and maintain relationships. They are the real stuff of life.

  3. I totally understand what you are saying and I think most people feel the same way. I am pretty sure its what has caused Book Groups to be so popular (we seem to need an “excuse” to meet – a reason, which is crazy). I am out in the Edinburgh Festival tonight with my small book group (5 friends) and it is unlikely we will talk for long about books (although we are going to hear Nick Thorpe talk about his new book, “Urban Warrier”). Its really just about 5 friends sharing food & wine and chatting. I also think if we didn’t have any social media we would see a lot more of each other and be more spontanious and less arranged.

  4. I enjoyed your blog. It is interesting to hear you speak of the NYC culture. I have a few friends who are in NYC, or have lived in NYC, I believe they feel the same. I live in a small, southern town, however, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference. Especially when you weren’t born and raised here. The people are distant and unwilling to allow you into their circles. It does take time. I have been here for 17 years and am just now feeling welcome. I has been an interesting journey, and I get terribly lonely, especially for friends who have similar interests.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Please feel free to visit my blog.

    1. I’ve heard this said of the South. I grew up in Toronto and people who have moved there say it is also closed…

      I lived a mere 18 months — and they were the most lonely of my entire life — in rural New Hampshire. I found one person there, and only after I’d decided to leave, who “got” me and became a friend, It’s hard!

  5. I think we have a lot in common. I just moved to Paris from Brooklyn, where I had a few friends but was far from my very close friends. Now I spend almost all of my time alone, whether sitting at my computer writing, researching in an archive, or taking long rambling walks through Paris or one of her many beautiful parks. I am also a woman at an age that most other women are wives and mothers. I am usually very content in my solitude and relative unusual-ness, but I relate to everything you so poignantly wrote about here, from the pleasure of spending a long leisurly day with somebody, to being skeptical of if not horrified by the culture of over-sharing. Fortunately, that is more subdued in France. Thank you for reading my blog, I will definitely be returning to yours.

    1. Merci!

      It’s really tough for women who are less conventional in their choices (i.e.not married and/or no kids, let alone having overseas adventures.) Not only do many people not get what you’re choosing, but they have little in common to celebrate your spirit of independence. Many of my current friends — perhaps not surprisingly — are 15 to 20 years younger. I do not think or behave like a woman at midlife. Bon courage!

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