Work Friends and Party Friends are not Friend Friends: why I think adult friendships are hard to transcend

Adult friendships don’t have the bonds of adolescence and childhood to hold them together. Without an enduring common struggle (like growing up or years of school) or shared experience spanning multiple environments (seeing each other at home, school, parks, malls, fields, parties, etc), it’s tough to feel connected. I think that’s why it’s harder to solidify adult friendships. Adult friendships lack the benefit of compound time and space. Instead, adult friendships exist in one shared realm, like work or parties or the gym or mom groups. Adult friendships form in a vacuum, removed from the wholeness of the individual. Does that make any damn sense? I’m thinking about it today, as I do.

At what point does an adult friendship evolve into the kind of bond that transcends mere convenience or proximity? It feels like friendships out of convenience are the kind of friendships that are as easy to form as they are to walk away from. It’s easy to find another Party Friend or Yoga Friend or Hiking Friend or Work Friend. It’s not as easy to find a Friend Friend. This is something I frequently think about because most of my friendships have been those born out of convenience or proximity. As a result, I have a history of cycling through people when I move, change jobs or, before I married my favorite Friend Friend, broke up with a partner. Put another way, my friendships are largely the product of my environment, not the product of shared values.

Friendships serve my human need for companionship and belonging, but not in the kind of way that makes me actually feel like I belong or that we’d help each other move or that we’re cosmically connected. Most of my friends don’t know my parents’ names or how many cats I have (or why I have that many) or how I feel about string theory (I’ve recently been trying to figure out wtf it’s all about). Not all my friends know I started a nonprofit yoga mat company or spent my early childhood in New Zealand or have 4 siblings. And I don’t know this stuff about them, either. Are my friendships abnormally shallow, or is this just how shit goes with Generation Me (a book I’ve been meaning to read, is it any good?)?

During the GEICO hiring process, I met another woman who also got the offer. So we decided to exchange numbers and strike up a friendship before training. (She doesn’t know I keep a blog, which is indicative of what these kinds of Work Friends are like for me.) A few days before I left for training and before she failed her drug test, we sat on her patio and talked about the kind of nothingness that people tend to talk about. So I changed it up and asked her a question. I wanted to know how she felt about online privacy and personal data mining, a subject I find fascinating and terrifying. She evaded the question entirely and redirected the flow of conversation back to herself. Later in the conversation, I brought up a (literally) life-changing book we both happened to have read, and again she skirted the topic and resumed small talk. I got her life story, but in the few weeks of becoming Work Friends, she never once asked me a personal question or showed any interest in getting to know me as a person beyond what kind of beer I prefer or if I wanted to carpool to work. Conversations aren’t real with Work Friends. Were we energetically misaligned, or do Work Friends not ascend beyond mere convenience? I don’t know. I’m bad at this.

The last five weeks, I’ve formed Work Friends with a number of my colleagues. In Virginia, we lived in this microcosm of shared stress, and bonds that felt so real at the time were formed as a result. Now back in San Diego, removed from the orbit of chaos that was AD Basic, it occurs to me that whatever real connection I felt with those few individuals was likely the result of going through something together and grasping at shared commonalities like enjoying a beer on a Friday. None of it is real, is it? A friendship formed with the guy who happens to sit in front of me in the test room is not a Friend Friend. We talked for 3 weeks and convinced ourselves that we had a shared bond because we’re human and humans talk. I find this depressing. Building rapport and conversation for 3 weeks is social-emotional energy. Maybe it’s just practice. Or a hit of Love and Belonging from Maslow’s Hierarchy. Or both.

We have two more weeks in San Diego before we each fly back to our respective locations and begin work. Until then, I have Work Friends to nurture. Perhaps it’s a numbers game. Maybe we go through life making Something Friends, work at them, and hope for a few to grow into the kind of Friend Friends that we crave. Then again, maybe friendships are just that: Something Friends. Maybe we just bump against random humans as we travel through time, and through a series of brief and coincidental encounters, we convince ourselves that we’ve fulfilled our urge to feel connected. Or, again, maybe I’m just really bad at this. Entirely possible.

Tyler visited this weekend. He drove down Friday night and left this morning. Being with him, I feel that kind of Friend Friend connection that only exists between two people who, for the lack of a less hippie explanation, resonate at the same frequency. Tyler likes to describe it like sound waves, oscillating in synch, parallel. When two people match, they just click. When two people match for a moment, it’s like Sine and Cosine intersecting for just a moment in space and time, but ultimately traveling away from each other. Adult friendships feel like that to me. It feels like I’m constantly crossing paths with almost parallel but ultimately opposite energies.

Without the benefit of compounded time and space, adult friendships fizzle or never fully form. As a replacement, or maybe even as a distraction from the inevitable but subtle emptiness we feel as a result of this social shitstorm, I’d argue that we use social media (which I officially dislike), text banter, and email to convince ourselves that we have actual Friend Friends who see us as whole. But Friend Friends take time and space to form, and I doubt screen-to-screen communication really counts toward those requirements.

At the same time, I cannot help but take a step back and acknowledge that, as with everything, my perspective is the product of my self-generated and (probably) egoist reality, and that I could be living in some fucked up and sad bubble that disallows for the kinds of Friend Friends that everyone else does, in fact, experience. But that’s doubtful. People seem kind of sad. There’s entirely too much Tweeting in this world for balance to exist at a mass scale. If adult friendships were that easy to transcend, I don’t think I’d be thinking about this so much.

Unless I am, in fact, just bad at this.

Entirely possible.