November 26, 2002

Regrets. I've Had a Few

If I had life to live over again, I would hope to have more and closer friends.

Picture a pyramid. The broad base measures the vast number of friendships in my early years, full of classmates and neighborhood children I knew so well that their parents felt free to report my misbehavior without apology. I played in their sprinklers, skated on their sidewalks, and they, mine. We took turns spending the night in each others homes, being pestered by siblings perceived as worse and coddled by parents always 'better' than our own. Friendships were many, if not deep, in those days.

Highschool years brought 'them and us' clickishness. I was in the next to the highest echelon, by my reckoning, dating most of the cheerleaders and majorettes, hanging out with the class officers though not one myself. I particularly had a lot of gal friends, and of course, all that ended when one particular one was chosen from the menu. Not a jock, and not in either of our highschool hoodlum fraternities, I still had a close cluster of guy friends I had come up through grammer school with. Our parents knew and liked each other, and most of us were from the same side of First Avenue, the proto-yuppie 'right side' of Birmingham. There was the comraderie of sock hops in the school gym, shared fight songs at Legion Field on cool October Alabama football nights, and then the bitter-sweet rending of graduation.

Constrict the pyramid by 50% after highschool. Maybe more. From there on, the base of the rapidly tapering triangle of the friends-pyramid remains tiny, needle-like into the present. I can't say why. We've moved a good bit over the past years, but have tried to keep in touch with a few people in each location. People just seem so absorbed in their own concerns of family and work that once you leave that immediate envelope of contact, absence and distance seem like a kind of benign death. I have had the best of intentions to not let our friendships die, but they die soon and sure enough.

Somehow, I had always expected the pyramid to be inverted, with friendships accumulating over time, expanding rather than contracting in number. Maybe it is like this for others, I don't know. I envision everyone else having broad and deep frienships, large families, confidants, comrades and chums. Maybe friendships are particularly hard for guys; I hear we have an especially hard time with the male bonding thing. My circle of association is too small to draw any conclusions about statistical norms.

Now here we are, living a reclusive existence imposed by geography, not personal preference to move away from contact with people, empty nesters far from our small families. You can't get here from there. I'm not willing to move to find the missing elements in my life, but I would hope to find a better balance between solitude and community.

I am truly thankful in this season of thanksgiving for abundant blessings, far in excess of what I deserve. It is against this vast cornucopia of good things in my life that this small regret stands in contrast and feels large, empty, like a missing tooth. As we approach semi-retirement, there is now time and place for friends, and when it does happen, sitting up on the porch with friends sharing a glass of wine, listening to the creek, the wind in the trees and the things said and unsaid between us is a true joy.

I am thankful for the 'friendships' made through this weblog and feel they are no less 'real' for the fact that you and I will not likely meet and sit on our porch on a sunny afternoon. I do get to feeling self-absorbed in this largely one-sided 'dialogue' and know that I often fail to say or say well that which is important for me to 'tell' my distant friends. Kindly just blow off the chaff, maybe there will still be left some fragment of meaning and goodness to share in what remains.

Have a full and memorable Thanksgiving Holiday, friends.

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away. ~Dinah Craik

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~Albert Schweitzer

Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow. ~Swedish Proverb

Posted by fred1st at November 26, 2002 06:51 AM

You aren't alone in finding it more difficult to make friends in adulthood.

I feel very fortunate in having more friends now (in my forties) than I did in my twenties and thirties. this happened because I connected with a fannish social scene in Seattle (say that three times fast) when I moved here twelve years ago or so. Many congenial folks with projects to work on together, a monthly social gathering to build connections at, and so on. Online stuff helps too.

Posted by: Anita Rowland at November 26, 2002 10:52 AM


The phenomenon you describe is very, very common among men. For must of us, our circle of close friendships dwindles as we grow older, for all the reasons you describe. It's a constant battle to stay in touch with the few guys I commune with on any regular basis.

I feel very alone sometimes. My wife and family are wonderful, but I miss the walk in the woods, the late-night conversation, the comraderie and fellowship of other like-minded men.

Posted by: Curt at November 26, 2002 04:51 PM

Well said, as usual.
You cause me to reminisce about the last time I saw my best freind ever until after high school. It makes me sad.
In my sixties, I visit once a week with men from the church we attend, for breakfast.
I am the oldest by about 10 years, so there is at times a "generation Gap" but that is what it is.
Funerals and weddings are a time to meet, promise to get together again..............
Thank God for grandchildren.
They'r kinda like puppy dogs. They love you no matter what.


Posted by: Charlie at November 26, 2002 08:34 PM

It definitely gets harder and harder to make new friends as one gets older. That's partially a consequence of schedules... Even my 30-something friends are now in their own homes, some of them building new families. The opportunities for spontaneous get-togethers are fewer and fewer.

One of the reasons its easier to cultivate online friendships is that frequently they are asynchronous. You, Fred, for example, don't have to keep my dopey hours... !

Posted by: Pascale Soleil at November 27, 2002 03:02 AM

Friend Fred,

Friendship I too find few and far between...where I work the school either by conscious design or by the happenstance of massive economic growth (billionaires live here by the dozens the business journals say) has become a cold and lonesome place not a house of learning filled with faculty fellowship and collegial camraderie...isolation...frustration...and highways choked with cars headed nowhere an inch per hour...the porch sounds good Fred and I hope someday I can escape here just for a while and find myself rocking there with that glass of wine and a good cigar to talk of books, and life, and words...your weblog does my heart and life much more good than you may suppose. From the back porch of thirty years teaching history in the high schools I say thanks Fred...happy holiday...

Posted by: Steve Gunter at November 27, 2002 06:42 AM

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