Friendships, Change and Memories

Sometimes I think about all the good friends I made online over the years, ever since I first got on the internet in 1996. A few of them I’m in touch with, many others I lost all traces of. Most of those, I have no way of reaching: I may not know or remember their full name, or they may have moved, or not be very active online. Most importantly, they may not even remember who I am, or may not care. So I don’t even try to contact them: what would the point be, anyway?

But I do think about them, especially when I’m feeling low, or around the time when people start feeling festive. Most of those friends I never met in person, or I may have only met them once, yet those friendships did matter to me. They were never just “names on a screen”. They were real people, with whom I shared a part of my life.

And so, as yet another year goes by — a year during which so many things in my own life have changed, yet so many other things could not change despite my plans and hopes — I can’t help but wonder: how are they doing? are they alive and well? has life treated them fairly? did they make the right choices for themselves? I think about them fondly, even those with whom I had disagreements or whose friendship ended abruptly, not just because we simply drifted apart as life got in the way.

It’s amusing, in a way, how we never know whether we’re going to speak with someone again. When I think of all the people I lost, I try to remember when I last spoke with them, and what we talked about. I really can’t remember any such conversations, as much as I would love to, because we weren’t even aware that we would have never spoken again. Maybe we just stopped using the same software or the same server, or perhaps we kept postponing going back indefinitely, and just never did.

One thing I learned is that sometimes we — I do, at least — feel the need to take a break from everything, collect our thoughts, and focus on more urgent matters. We strive to put the world on hold, while we do what we must to handle whatever life has thrown at us. But it doesn’t work like that: we can’t tell the world to wait. It’s not that we’re not important enough: nobody really is, and that’s the point. We may delude ourselves into thinking that the universe is on our side, that we’re somehow special, but the truth is that life is a video game that you just can’t pause; at most, you can mark yourself “afk” (away from keyboard) but everyone else is going to keep doing their thing. And when you come back, well, things may not be the same. The world may have changed. People may have left, or moved on. And when that happens, accepting the new status quo is tough: was I selfish to take some time for myself? why didn’t they wait for me?

For those of us who are not blessed with an innately social disposition, it can be disheartening. Memories pile up, coated in nostalgia, hand in hand with an ever-growing sense of guilt: it is our fault, we did want to put the world on hold. We should have known better, but we were selfish; and that is why we ended up ruining everything. But did we?

It is only human to feel overwhelmed, and we all have a different threshold for tolerance. Further, we are not all on the same page. Not only we react to things differently, but we also go through wildly different experiences, ever since the day we are born into the world screaming, till the day we draw our last breath and fall forever silent. To think that two people would react the same way to the same events is naïve at best, hypocritical at worst. Assumption, after all, is mother of all mistakes. And we make many mistakes, especially when it comes to dealing with ourselves, even before considering our relationships with others.

Daniel Sloss, a Scottish comedian, talked about how we approach others and how rare it is for two to “click” for real on a deep level, since we all have different sides that most often do not match, and require reaching a compromise. His shows are on Netflix, and I urge everyone to watch them. While he mostly refers to love and couples, I believe that the deeper issue remains true for all sorts of relationships, even among friends. It is not exactly rare for long-term friendships to eventually die out, often spectacularly, under the weight of seemingly minor issues. Whose fault is it?

Our mistake is expecting that others will never change, yet everyone changes all the time. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, let alone ten years ago; nobody is, and that is just the way it is. We simply fail to notice it, much like we don’t realize how much our pet is growing because we live with them, yet someone else immediately notices and surprises us when they point it out. We only see the change in others; and we find that unsettling, because we are blind to how we change ourselves.
Even the mightiest buildings come crashing down when they’re built incautiously, without taking into account how external forces may and shall affect them over time. Constructions ought to be strong to withstand hurricanes, yet flexible to survive earthquakes. And even those that seem destined to rise above the horizon throughout the ages may fail and be destroyed before we have time to blink. Strong foundations, while absolutely necessary, are never enough on their own.

The same goes for friendships, and indeed all relationships. Some may only last a short while until circumstances change very slightly, others may thrive despite long periods of absence and apparent carelessness. Others yet may just run their course, however brief or long that may be, but that doesn’t make them any less important for the parties involved.

And so I think back on all the people I met over the years, mostly but not only online, whose current whereabouts are unknown to me. I think about them, and I do indeed wonder: how are they doing? are they alive and well? has life treated them fairly? did they make the right choices for themselves? Whatever the answers to those questions may be, and whether our paths will ever cross again, I’m glad that we got to walk side by side, at least for a while, along this insane road that is life.