The Struggle to Commit to Friendships in Today's Culture

by ParentCo. February 05, 2016

I’m sitting in the break room at my office using my ten minutes to catch up on some imperative text messages. I text a friend about how one of the pediatricians on “Grey’s Anatomy” reminds me of her (which is true), and I wait patiently for her to respond with something equally as significant to both of our lives. My phone vibrates in response with a “Heart-eye emoji, heart-eye emoji, Yeah, I love that show. We need to hang out soon.” The blood drains from my face. I nearly choke on my cashews and am immobilized. I feel the full weight of those words as a swinging door that goes unrealized until it’s too late. “We need to hang out soon.” “Hey, we need to hang out soon.” “We need to hang out soon.” The phrase plays over and over again in my mind as I slowly realize what the sentiment actually means. I begin to grasp that it will be approximately 6-8 weeks before I see my friend again. That estimate, by the way, is generous. So I start to cry. A few years ago, I would have responded to such a text with something like, “Yeah, you’re right. We do need to hang out soon. It’s sweet of you to notice/point that out.” But now that I know people, I know that this is one of the assorted pleasantries they pass around when they, like most of our generation, are horrible at making friendship commitments (or, as we will now refer to them, “friend-mitments”).

Now, I love this friend.

She’s fantastically sweet, insightful, and athletic (the big three for me, because I am none of them, and I feel they balance me out). So I’m sure you can understand how pained I was to find that she no longer wanted to have anything to do with me. It was a rough break period for me, to be sure. I wanted to respond by asking why she had suddenly come to despise me so, but I figured that that would only give her the opportunity to tack on a few more cringe-worthy remarks, such as “No, we’re cool,” and “I’m just super busy.” These phrases reveal an enormous lack of friend-mitment. They are tossed about like trash cans in a windstorm amongst people my age, and up until recently, I was probably the leading offender. I would constantly tell people how soon we needed to hang out, only to, upon being met with agreement, do things like not call them for months at a time. My understanding of friend-mitments was shockingly low. I have seen this in many of my other friends as well, and have grown to wonder why my generation is so lacking in this area.

I’ll tell you why: because the Internet.

Why are we so incapable of communicating in meaningful ways with people we like? Why do we keep telling each other how much we like each other and doing absolutely nothing about it? I’ll tell you why: because the Internet. Often times you will hear people say that they like social media because it helps them keep in touch with people who are important to them. But here’s the thing: social media also helps users keep in touch with people who mean nothing to them. And unfortunately, I think the latter use trumps the former much of the time. Sure, plenty of people use Facebook to message old friends from college and find out what in the heck they are up to now. That happens. But most twenty-somethings go on Facebook to scan their newsfeeds for things that appear funny, interesting, or just generally amusing to them. Instead of keeping in touch with old friends, my fellow Millennials and I just “like” random photos that people from high school post of themselves at important sporting events and hope that they don’t think it’s super weird that we did that. Heaven forbid we were also at that sporting event, though, because we definitely wouldn’t have said anything to that person when we saw them. A girl I haven’t spoken to since third grade commented on a photo of my son the other day to tell me how cute she thought he was (which, I mean, I can’t blame her) and I had actually to go to her page to figure out how I knew her. I think we may also have “needed to hang out soon,” but I can’t be sure. Millennials are so technologically advanced that we can now talk to people we don’t really know casually and without having to feel weird about it. We can then make what might be called friendships with others without doing any work whatsoever. Thanks, Al Gore. The “We need to hang out soon” sentiment rears its ugly head, but so do much less specific phrases, like, “I miss you,” “Where have you been?” and my preferred mode of expressing vague nothingness, “Get in my life.” Social media might allow us to be lazy with our acquaintances, but its primary target is people with whom we would like to have a real connection. Indeed, one of our generation’s all-time favorite things about social media is that it allows us to stay in touch with people who we like without having to do literally any work. The “We need to hang out soon” sentiment rears its ugly head, but so do much less specific phrases, like, “I miss you,” “Where have you been?” and my preferred mode of expressing vague nothingness, “Get in my life.” We see these phrases being thrown around between friends all the time on the internet, and they seem to be overall kind things to say. But in reality, they are the biggest red flags of horrible friend-mitments there ever were. The phrase, “I miss you” normally speaks of an emotional attachment that one person has for another and a longing to strengthen that emotional attachment by oh, I don’t know, spending time with that person in real life. But 98% of the time it appears on the Internet, it says, “Hey, I appreciate your Internet presence and you as a person, but I refuse to take this conversation to a more intimate medium. So please just acknowledge that you know this and understand that I will be there for you at least 2% of the time that you need me.” “Where have you been?" is a more nonchalant offender, which, when spoken in real life seems to portray a desire to catch up with a person and know more about their life. On the Internet, it reads, “You are doing stuff with your life that makes me feel like I am out of the loop (which, by the way, is mostly my fault). You should probably comment on something of mine to confirm that I’m not. And hey, maybe just let me know when you are free and I’ll let you know that I’m not.” “Get in my life” is the cream of the crop when it comes to sucking at friend-mitments because it’s just a weird thing to say in all instances. When you say it to someone in real life they think, “I didn’t know I wasn’t, or that maybe you weren’t in mine...? Which one of us is the protagonist here?” When you put it on someone’s Facebook timeline it says, “The ball’s in your court on us having any sort of relationship whatsoever,” which is just a really sweet thing to say to someone. This destruction of all friend-mitments means we can go around commenting on each others’ posts and staying in touch with the occurrences in each others’ lives without even having to pick up the phone or send an email. As time goes by, we get further and further away from having to make any effort at all in order to have friends.

I’m sure I’m exaggerating a bit here. Maybe plenty of people my age manage to make specific and well-established plans with one another over the Internet.

But I think that much of the time, even when we do complete the painstaking task of actually making plans with others, they are the worst-laid plans ever. Whether we want to “meet up sometime this weekend” or “see each other at x event,” we always seem to cap off our commitment to spending time with our friends at about 60%. One of my biggest friend-mitment offenses as far as planning goes is the ever-useful phrase, “Just text me.” It’s the best because it makes it seem like you are chill and reachable when really you are terrified that they actually will text you about hanging out and you will have to come up with something to do and some time in which to do it. I think we fall into these awkward situations because we just care about too many people at once. It’s a good problem to have. We just need to approach our friendships differently. And it’s not that these tendencies come from any animosity or lack of love. In fact, I think we fall into these awkward situations because we just care about too many people at once. It’s a good problem to have. We just need to approach our friendships differently. As I’ve mentioned several times now, I am the master at sabotaging friend-mitments. I’ve done it all, from tweeting “Hey” to people when they are in the same room as me, to responding to someone’s phone call with a text that reads, “What’s up?” instead of picking up the phone and just CALLING THEM BACK. But I have found that becoming a parent has made the issue of dwindling friendships an, even more, significant one.

Before I had a child, I always heard people talk about how you sort of drop off of the face of the Earth when you get married and have kids.

And in a lot of ways, it’s true: parenting takes up time you never thought you had. But in many ways the reason parents stop seeing as much of their friends is because this popular lackadaisical approach to friendships is a terrible foundation on which to place the family lifestyle. When I get texts from friends about how we “need to catch up” I no longer simply see them as vague and disappointing. I also realize that my life just doesn’t really allow for phrases like that one. Unless my friends are willing to make plans more than four days in advance, there’s pretty much no way they will actually occur. And for the most part, they don’t. Parenting requires things like schedules, meaningful interactions, and, you guessed it… commitments. It’s not because parents have become lame or distracted or less amiable; it’s because parents are now held accountable in a dramatically different way than ever before. I am wagering that normal friendships require proper friend-mitments, and friendships with parents require even more firm ones. But of course, as with all beneficial relationships, both parties need to put in the work.

Without waiting for our friends to grow out of their bad friendship habits, what can we do to make better friend-mitments?

It may just be simple things like calling each other on the phone when we want to talk instead of just tagging each other in photos they need to see on Instagram. Whatever the solution may be for you, it’s important to make a commitment to your friend knowing how much work it is going to be to follow through with that commitment. We parents need to work harder at a lot of things, and friendship is, unfortunately one of those. But who other than our dear, wonderful friends deserve that effort from us? No one, that’s who. I hope that one day we will all live in a world where we don’t get texts (text messages, things that you often don’t even realize were received, much less check the second they come in) from each other asking us to meet up in an hour. Because that’s just an outrageous thing to ask of someone else, especially someone we consider a friend. Lately, when people ask me if I can meet up with them in an hour, I actually laugh audibly. “Lol, you’re joking. It’s quite possible that in an hour I will still be trying to get my son into one of his coat sleeves.” One sleeve.



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