The Randomness of Friendship
This past weekend, I went to a small party held by an old friend and attended by several other friends from a long time ago. That circle was born of our employment at Grumman Aerospace in the late 80s and early 90s. While I have kept up with one of that group, life's happenings separated me from the rest, but for a couple chance interactions with the party's host at a couple concerts in subsequent years. In other words, I got to catch up with several old friends (and a couple house-mates) whom I hadn't seen in 28 years.
It was a great day. We're all older, grayer, and with three decades of life experience since our last meeting, but we fell into old, happy rhythms easily and naturally. We talked about the great old times, when we were all in our 20s and finding our way through early adulthood. We triggered memories in each other, rebuilding tales otherwise lost to time bit-by-bit, with one or the other remembering some datum or offering some clue that extracted tidbits from the deep recesses of our brains.
We also pondered the circumstances that brought us all together at that time. As in, I met J freshman year of college, where we were on the same floor of a particular dormitory, and where we discovered we shared both geography (he's from Queens, I'm from Brooklyn) and some interests. J and I stayed in contact after I graduated to a job at Grumman while he stayed for graduate school.
J got a job at Grumman after completing his master's, during which time he met A and D. Soon thereafter, he learned from me that the main part of the house whose basement I was renting had become available, and by then A and D had come to work at Grumman as well. J and D, along with P who worked in the same group as J, rented the main part of the house. Via those associations, I met another J, and C, and D, and V, and B, and many others that comprised the circle of friends and friends-of-friends that informed my 20something life on Long Island.
As I noted, life circumstances severed most of those links, but that doesn't diminish their value to me or the importance of that span of time to my life and to who I am.
A parallel "randomness of encounter" also created my strongest and most long-lasting friendships outside that circle. While in high school, I was friends with a kid, A, that lived a few houses over from me. Through A, I met M and M and G, among others, and through G I met T and T and G's older brother PL, among others. After I graduated college but before I moved out to Long Island, I hung out a fair bit with PL, and having played Dungeons and Dragons in college, we got to talking about starting a game up.
M expressed interest in the game, and he brought a friend A from Staten Island to play with us. A brought his friend M, and M brought his brother E. Through E and M I met P and T.
Time and interests and commonalities and geography and the vagaries of life ultimately severed my ties to A and M and M and G and T and T and PL and others from that chain of friendships and acquaintances. But, E and M and P and T are my closest friends today, despite our only getting together face to face a handful of times a year at this point in our lives.
One more, of a modern style. A number of years ago, I started arguing politics on the Internet. In the course of time, I found a home in the comments section of a certain daily column written by the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto. I became a regular there, and got to know other regulars. The emergence of Facebook as a place where people did this sort of thing produced a "Fans of" group where many of the regulars congregated and coalesced. That group grew into a community, and I became virtual friends with a good number of the more active folks there. Then Trump happened, and the "Fans of" page became a Trumpy echo chamber, where skeptics and dissenters found themselves on the outs. One such set up a smaller Facebook group, and that became my new on-line political "home." The virtual became real-life, as we had several dinners and other get-togethers across a few years. From this chain emerged friendships with M, D, and E, with whom I trade messages almost every day, and with whom I get together a couple times a year.
Other long-time friends can be traced through similar "random initial encounter" circumstances. Had my parents moved us into a different house back in the 1970s, or had I gone to a different college, or had I started in a different dormitory, my circle of friends would look drastically different, perhaps entirely different, than it has been or is today.
I'm not the best at maintaining connections with people. I'm not terrible, but it's a life-skill I recognize isn't among my finest. Certain friendships have endured, others ran their course. I lament the loss of some, recognizing my own failures, but there is also the reality that it not only takes two to tango, but that people evolve and that it’s hard to say with certainty that they would have kept on if some more effort was put into them.
I could parse the most enduring ones to figure out why they, and not others, have stood the test of time. But, it remains that the first contact in each of those cases rests on a sequence of events, happenings, and butterfly-flutters of fate that could have gone differently in countless ways.
That these contacts blossomed into friendships where others didn't is certainly a function of various commonalities, simpaticos, and "chemistries," but how they happened has far fewer of those ingredients. They're not truly random - geography matters, age matters, shared interests put some of us in position to become friends - but there's still a huge amount of chance involved.
Much the same can be said for this connection between me and you, the reader. Obviously, the commonality of interest is highly germane, but given how many blogs there are out there, how many social media groups have emerged even within that commonality, and the Pachinko nature of social-media shares, the haphazardness of the paths that brought us in contact is quite the thing to ponder.
What to make of all this? I'd say the takeaway is that those good and genuine friendships you have should be cherished. While, given how many people we encounter across our lives, we have many opportunities to build friendships, it does take the right mix of ingredients to form the best ones, and even good ones can be severed or otherwise 'spoiled' by the things the world does unto us. The sheer improbability of some of those friendships ever having a chance to happen makes then even more valuable.
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