A few months ago, we bought the box set of all the Harry Potter movies. I’m one of those people who likes to watch the special features; I like to see how they managed to achieve all the amazing effects, and in the case of Potter I enjoy hearing how they went about adapting the books. So I’ve been watching the special features over the last few weeks. Last night, I was at the end of the whole series – and therefore listening to the cast and crew talk about reaching the end of this period of their lives. Many of the young cast have grown up and reached adulthood over the course of the series, and they were commenting about the many close friendships they’ve made and how much they will miss the routine of seeing these people every day for most of the year.
Most of us regular people won’t ever have that experience of working on a movie – let alone a series of movies – ever in our lives. But I was struck as I listened to one cast member (I think it was Rupert Grint) talk about how they all had these movies in common but now they won’t have that reason to see each other regularly and they have to adapt to a new way of relating to each other. Really, this is an experience we all go through, simply from attending a particular school and then not going there any more because life moves on and we’re not school children forever.
Stop and consider for a moment. How many of your friends from school are you still in contact with? Is that because they still live near you? Is it because you still see each other through some other kind of mutual activity, such as church? Have you had to put in an extra effort to see your friends, compared with the days of just seeing each other at school, and maybe suddenly you’ve found you don’t have much to talk about because the things you have in common are few and far between?
For myself, I’ve gone through this a number of times in my life. I left the UK, where I’d lived since I was almost 4, a few weeks before my 15th birthday, leaving behind all my school friends and church friends. The internet was only just gaining a hold in the average home, and for a while I had to write good old fashioned “snail mail” letters in order to keep in touch. This didn’t work out too well, and with only a small number of exceptions, I fell out of touch with these friends (until the advent of Facebook but more on that topic later). But, I was in an exciting new country, at a new school, and had a choice of local churches to attend. I made new friends. Four years later, high school came to an end and I left the small town I’d been living in. The first six months after school ended was a time of transition – I was still spending most of my weekends going back to see my parents and attend my old church, so I still saw my old friends a fair bit. But after that I spent 6 months living in the UK, and then returned to Sydney to go to university. My life experience had now moved on quite a bit to what my old school friends had been up to, and I had new friends at university demanding my time.
University itself was an interesting friendship experience, now I look back on it. I was involved with the student theatre society extensively. This meant I met quite a large number of people over the four years I was an undergrad student (and a fifth year, when I still lived in the area after I graduated). I’d be very tightly connected with a small group of people over a short period of time: the months of rehearsal and the week(s) of the show. But after the show finished…then what? With the people I really connected with the most, friendship continued beyond the show experience, but for many they became just another show acquaintance. And now, a collection of Facebook friends.
But then I left that part of Sydney – after spending 10 months in Melbourne (and collecting another two distinct groups of friends through my studies and my church) I moved to a whole new part of Sydney. A new job, a new church. What of the old friends?
Now, I could say something like “sometimes I think it’s big moves like what I’ve been through that help you sort out who your real friends are”. But how do you define friendship? What makes one person a “real friend” when someone else you just happen to hardly see anymore is still a really lovely person who you would love to see more often but life events and commitments just make it really hard to do so?
I recently took a six week overseas holiday. One of the great things about this break was that I got to visit with two of my best friends: someone I went to high school with in the UK, and someone I only ever got to see every once in a while when I went to South Africa on holiday. When I think about these two, and what makes them such good friends, it cannot be measured by frequency of contact or by shared experiences. But, whenever we do manage to land ourselves in the same town, it’s like no time has passed at all.
Now let’s reflect briefly on Facebook. Others far more eloquent than I have already written about the impact of Facebook on friendships. Then just today, I read an email quoted on postsecret.com where someone admitted that they don’t call their friends now they have Facebook. Has Facebook impacted on how you communicate with your friends? For good or for bad? I like the way it has connected me with old friends from the other side of the world, but I don’t like how it seems to have decreased the quality of my friendships with those who live nearby. To some extent, it feels like Facebook allows me to keep “up to date” with what is going on in my friends’ lives, leaving me no need to have an actual conversation with them. But is that really just a false sense of connectedness? And does it really allow me to get into the deeper and more meaningful conversations so I can feel supported and loved by my friends?
I’ve rambled on for long enough this morning. I blame the virus scan which is taking ages to run and stopping me from doing my work.
If you’ve read this far, I encourage you to add your own thoughts on the topic via a comment below.
Photo credit: from my wedding album on Flickr.