On Facebook it’s easy to “friend” someone, as you know. Apart from the grammatical solecism (what’s wrong with “befriend”?), this process may simply mean you have a six-degree-of-separation friendship. It’s “virtual,” “remote,” “online,” and, typically insubstantial.
In the “real world,” as they say (some of our worlds may be more real than others), friendship comes harder, especially as you age. If you think about how you acquire friends, or how they acquire you, you’ll have to admit a great deal of serendipity is involved. You meet someone accidentally, that is. He or she bumps into you. You go on a hike together, or he tells you to take a hike. She says something funny, charming, odd, or tells you to fuck off, and a bond is made or not.
Sort of like romantic relationships, which start with a sighting (strange new bird there, what species might it be); grow with a joke or two, or a brushing up against a sleeve; and deepen with a meal or drink.
As you age, you acquire friends more slowly and lose them more sadly. You are set in your ways, after all, which may be real or unreal, according to others, and may not accommodate just anyone that comes along with a smile or handshake. You form impressions, or judgments, more readily, which may open up the door to friendship or slam it shut.
Mysterious how the process works, and how, if at all, we can hurry it along. As we age, after all, we have less time for friendship as for everything else. We pick and choose more carefully, and so are picked and chosen. If someone invites us out to coffee, do we go? To a hike? To a bar?
In just the last year or so I formed a good friendship with a guy whom I met on a hike or a bike ride, and who happened to patronize the same gym I do. He would show up regularly at the gym for a workout. I would see him hiking or biking. Like me, he liked to drink (how about that!), liked to laugh (what’s not to like about laughing?), and had a sardonic disposition. Soon we began talking anything and everything, and one of the big reasons I took to him is that he didn’t moralize or criticize. Oh, sure, he thought I was nuts, but that was part of the attraction too. Pretty soon he was partying with Jen and me, at our house, breaking bread, and meat, and veggies for that matter, sharing wine.
When he returned this summer from a family reunion, however, he was changed. Something was working in him, like a worm in the craw. Not that he was unfriendly, just less available, and suddenly he announced that after almost 20 years in Arkansas he was moving back East. In fact, he put his house on the market, sold it in a day, packed up and was gone within three months.
He said he was going back to his family, who live in Pennsylvania, his sisters and nonagenarian dad. But I strongly suspect the driving force was a woman with whom he was set up by a sister. My friend had been married twice; neither marriage took. But here was another chance, wasn’t it? At true love and understanding, not to mention sex? When I first heard about her, I asked, thinking she might be attracted here, Didn’t you tell her about the wonders of the Ozarks? I showed her the wonders of the Ozarks, my pal replied.
Sadness then, as he’s up and gone. I know he doesn’t write. I know that I don’t call. I helped him pack and he left me with all sorts of stuff he didn’t want to take with — buckets, bike stand and carrier, tools. Things that I’ll associate with him as I use them. But to lose him is not something I can appreciate.
We get over losses, don’t we, though less resiliently as we get older? We form new friendships, don’t we, just as we might find new romantic partners? And we certainly, at last, have to work at friendship and can’t afford to simply let it find us out.