Goodbye, again: Essays, Reflections, and Illustrations
By Jonny Sun
I hear ya, Jonny Sun. Friendship is hard! And it gets harder. Over the years I've struggled as friendships have remained consistent or evolved or disappeared.
Instead of constant questioning, I am now aiming to sit in gratitude for the varied friendships I do have and have had, and for the wonderful people I am lucky to know and be loved by. I try to show up as best I can when I can and give myself grace when I'm unable, continually reminding myself to extend that grace for others as well. It's an everlasting process.
I am trying to pressure myself less on what a friendship "should" be. Is it not enough to see someone once a year when we live in different cities and one of us is passing through the other's? Or get coffee once a year with a friend who lives in the same city when we are both overwhelmed and underwater with the rest of our lives?
I've never been sure what friendship even is, but even so, sometimes I worry, shouldn't it be more than this?
I know that I have friends who I have spent time with in person maybe three times in my life, who I met through social media out of a mutual respect and admiration for each other, who I text a few times every week, who feel incredibly close to me.
Are friends supposed to be people I see in person on a regular basis? Am I supposed to hang out with my friends in a coffee shop in New York for a few hours every day? Am I supposed to even talk to my friends every day? And do text messages count in that? Does saying hi every so often in a group chat count? And if they don't respond, does that still count because I did the reaching out anyway? I don't begrudge anyone for not responding and not getting back to me, because I do that too. I understand other things get in the way, or that sometimes, the burden of configuring a response that encompasses everything that needs to be said is too great to face at the moment.
Who or what is influencing my thinking on what friendship "should" look like anyway? Where did I learn that from and why do I give that authority over my own experiences? Is there some standard for friendship that I internalized from a kids' show, decades ago, before the internet, before I grew up into a world that a kids' show never could have predicted, that I somehow still hold myself too? If my friendships don't adhere to the expectations I've learned from TV, from media, from hearing stories about other peoples' close friendships, then does it mean I don't have any "real' friends? Or do those expectations just make me feel guilty, or make me feel like the relationships I have with the people I care about are not enough, are never enough, will never be enough?
Perhaps the expectation of what friendship "should" be is ruining whatever semblances of friendship I do have. Maybe what I have—maybe a few texts a week, seeing someone once a year—maybe that's it. Maybe that's friendship enough.
I do know that as I and all my friends are squeezed by this pressure to work in all aspects of our lives, everything and everyone else suffers and is squeezed out. I know that includes friendships. And everyone is so busy and under immense pressure trying to survive that I think we are collectively doing our best.
I think I am better off just calling friendship by whatever it is that I have to call it by. If it feels like friendship, and I enjoy it, and I feel fulfilled by it, perhaps that's what it is. Perhaps I am safe to call it that. What else is there to go by, right? Or am I giving up?