Thursday, December 24, 2009

Connection in an Age of "Text-tion": All We Want for Solstice is Some Friends under Fifty

Disclaimer: This title is not to be taken as an insult to my many amazing mentors!

I have 19 sets of personalized, glossy address labels from charity organizations, just from this holiday season alone (Anybody have an art project idea?) While these nonprofits rejoice at our signed checks, perhaps they'd be at a loss for words if we wholeheartedly offered them what's fast becoming the most valuable donation in America: our full presence, our time.

I say this as an observer, not a "Judge Becca Jane." I say this as someone who knows how much easier it is at times to give of my paycheck than my day planner most weeks; and as someone who's learned after many years of doggie paddling that I cannot realistically care about-- and give deeply to--every major ache in this world.

And yet, I'm struck tonight, the Eve of Christmas (when many of us are already tucked into homes with in-the-flesh folks we love) that overall,  most of us seem to be OK with doggie paddling in various areas of life. Mostly socially. 

Text-tion--what I call the habit of surface communication in its many modern forms--has become, somehow, our way of trying to "know" many people enough to feel...something. What that "something" is, I'm still trying to figure out. Most days, it leaves me a bit restless, overwhelmed even, mulling over friendships that used to meet regularly in person--or that potentially could.

The solstice always makes me ready for long indoor conversations. I'm not sure why people fear winter and this blessedly dark time of year. It's true that so much time to think can bring about many emotions we thought we'd "mastered"...or blogs like this one! But short, cold days also bring us a unique opportunity to reflect and fellowship more than we might on days calling us out into warmth. We must find warmth from other things.

My husband and I had a recent conversation about our life status: We're nearing our early 30's in a lively but transient college town (most folks don't stay past their degree years); no kids, lots of potential mentors over the age of 50, but not so many friends our age we see consistently within 75 miles. Invested in faith and politics, activism, environmentalism, philosophy, etc., we admit to being "intense" (friends, feel free to insert other adjs. here!) . We're beginning to wonder whether we'd have more friends if we weren't like this...Who knows.

For some reason, December has hit this isolated sense of social strangeness out of the park for us. Perhaps because this is the time of year all those yearly update letters on speed arrive--or that old friends come into town for that once-a-holiday season get-together, then disappear except for Facebook status updates--but to put it mildly, we've been bummed, we've been downright mopey at what seems to be an extra layer of red-and-green-themed surface relationships. No young married couple is an island, eh? Well, they can still feel like it.

Note: I realize the potential Grinchyness of this post and hope to be singing in blonde pigtails around a maypole and decorated holly tree by its end. I write whatever asks to be written, whatever has floated to the surface and buoys there stubbornly...So here tis.

Now, some of you might snif, "Well, geez. Something is better than nothing." That's what all these OSN (Online Social Networks) are banking on, anyway.

There comes a point after high school that you accept the natural separation from comfortable friendships; it's not an easy thing, but everyone's evolving, and it seems almost natural to seek out "new, new, new." Then there's those first few years after college when other folks are moving, settling into jobs, dreams, relationships, families that no longer involve any part of you, not even a tiny history. This is the harder change.

I can attest to the strangeness of realizing that chasing down old buddies now content on being "Facebook friends" is pretty futile when it comes to forming a deeper, consistent connection--or to the out-of-body feeling of being in a group of fourteen women talking about breast pumps and separation anxiety from babies home in bed, all while your little un-mom-not-sure-if-you-wanna-be-a-mom self sits and tries to think of something supportive and genuine to say...and realizing that breaking into this particular circle of friends would be as difficult as natural childbirth itself.

But what's not so strange is a longing to connect and commune with people. Sometimes, the friendship magnets obviously won't (or shouldn't) connect on the big blank white space we call maneuvering a full and challenging adult life.  But I know what friendship, with all its whirling and colorful ribbons tied brightly to my current self, feels like. It's glorious. And inspiring. And real as the changing light patterns coming in through the window.

And so I'm holding out for more of it, the real-as-sunlight, face-to-face adult friendship that takes a lot more than being stuck in the same study hall or dorm together. Even if it means getting a whole load of kindred spirtits when I hit 50...or get pregnant; seems to be the trend around here...

The question is, which will come first? 

ps- to anyone who sends us a Christmas letter, we do read 'em/keep 'em! And we'd love seeing you to talk about the year even more...

*photo credit: muha on flickr


  1. Dear Becca,
    I'm so happy you're on the blogosphere! This is great. I agree with what you're saying here with my whole heart. I've always thought I was a little odd (or had bigger-than-normal attachment issues) b/c I found those transitions you speak of quite difficult. It's gotten better for me over the years, and I do realize that I will always make new friends, that people are sometimes meant to be in your life for a short time and then leave, etc., but it's still tough.

    All the things we humans have advanced in have come at a cost. People don't know their neighbors anymore. It's rare to meet someone of our generation who has stayed put in one place for more than 5 years.

    I wish you and I could have been closer in college. I love your spirit!

    Merry Christmas.


  2. So I basically proved your point when you started to tell me about this post and instead of listening to you like a respectful adult I turned to the computer to look for the blog? Sorry.
    I agree that friendship for adults without children can be an interesting challenge. It's difficult for me to tell sometimes when someone is not able to do things because they are legitimately busy or when "busy" is code for "I really don't like hanging out with you all that much but don't really know how to say it" or when it actually means that they are feeling low but able to say it. Human connection makes my head spin sometimes...ok...most of the time.