Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Evolution of Friendship

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's the year 2000. My wife and I have decided to move three hours away from the only town my kids have ever known. It’s time to break the news to them, and we dread it, partly because “moving” was one of my great childhood fears, right up there with the boogieman in the closet. But our 8 year old, Zachary, didn’t inherit that phobia from me. I remember exactly how he responded to our news. "That’s OK, because I'll get to meet a lot of new friends, and I’ll be able to keep my old friends."

What Zach said is true. Well, sort of. Well, not really. Every time we have a major life change, like switching jobs or moving to another town, we welcome new people into our lives, but we leave other people behind. It’s as if we have a fixed number of friendship slots. If new ones come in, old ones must go out.

Some of our friends just gradually drift away after a major life change, not because they weren't important to us, but because the relationship succumbs to the erosive effects of time and distance- victims of the zero sum game I describe above. It’s rarely a conscious decision on our part. It happens outside of our direct control. That was the case after I stopped working a little over a year ago. I stayed in contact with some former coworkers. Others have begun to fade away, and I’ve also gained new friends.

Who are these new friends? I'm not working anymore, so how is it that I’m meeting people and building relationships? I’ve gone from interacting with dozens of people every day and traveling all over the country, to sitting at home most of the time. Thank goodness for the Internet. If I had gone on disability retirement 20 years ago I think I would've gone crazy from the boredom and loneliness.

In just the last decade or so, an entirely new type of human interaction has evolved, and the subsequent relationships often become meaningful, fruitful, and enduring. They start out as “virtual” relationships, but they can become very real over time.

I am active with several online groups having to do with multiple sclerosis and more recently with my iBOT wheelchair. My relationships with these people are like the close relationships I used to have with some of my coworkers. We share common goals. We get to know one another’s life stories. We talk “business” while sprinkling in conversations of a more personal nature. We support one another. We learn from one another. My life is tangibly better for having fostered these friendships.

Technology helps. I communicate with my online friends over the telephone, though email, texting, Facebook, Skype (perhaps the most intimate online communication platform), and several other methods. Last night I had my wife take this photo with my phone, and I emailed it to my new friend Michelle, with the caption, “Summer has begun at the Old Port.” I knew she’d appreciate the photo.  It took me about 20 seconds to make that quick connection to somebody three states away.


One of the advantages of online relationships is that they are not constrained by geography in any way. My friend Herrad, in Amsterdam, is an example of that.

I’m grateful for my online friends, and I appreciate the blessings they provide. It’s a particular thrill, though, when I get to meet any of these friends in person. Online communication is a wonderful substitute, but nothing replaces personal contact.

IMG_1345me with virtual friends turned real 

By the way, my son Zach didn’t keep any of his old friends from ten years ago. We kind of expected that, but there was no way we were explaining the realities of life to him on that fateful day in 2000. Childhood ignorance can be bliss.
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  1. Hi Mitch,
    Here is the mailk about the award.

    Please go to my blog post from
    Sunday, June 20, 2010
    and collect your
    You Are Beautiful Blogger Award.
    "A Beautiful Blogger is someone who blogs with truth, honesty and integrity. They blog from their heart, sharing their story, humor, and life with others. They go out of their way to support others, giving of themselves to provide encouragement and brighten someone’s day. They glow with a beauty that comes from within, and it shows in what they write and how they interact with others."


  2. Great post Mitch! The Internet sure does makes the world more accessible and a great place to create relationships - and I am very glad for that.

  3. Hey Mitch,

    I loved sharing a virtual beer with you last Friday - you on your deck and me and my dog on our porch. The internet is a beautiful thing. And we didn't have to drink and drive!


  4. Herrad,

    Thanks so much for the award. I hope you have a wonderful day.


    I'm glad to have "met" you. Did you take down your blog?


    Let's "share" another beer soon!


  5. Hey Mitch, great post. Getting to know you has definitely enriched my life, and in more ways than just having another Red Sox fanatic to commiserate/celebrate with. Hard to imagine the isolation of people suffering with chronic illnesses in the pre-Internet days. MS teaches you to appreciate much that you might have taken for granted in the past. Thanks for being a friend.