What has happened to our friendships?

I do not call you servants any longer,
because the servant does not know what the master is doing;
but I have called you friends,
because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
John 15:15

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A millennial marketer tries to reassure everyone that the latest generation is still interested in human connection. She says, “Marketers can be confident that a desire for authentic face-to-face connection does not magically skip this digitally driven generation. While Millennials find and foster friendships online, they still want people they can invite to chat live over their cold-brew coffee (and they appreciate the ability of digital technology to help them do this). They see online personas as being largely honest and the catalyst for wanting to discover deeper aspects of individuals in-person.” Then she tells the marketers how they can wheedle themselves into the data stream. Another man from Philly suspects all this “relating” is really about being used to pump up your supposed friends’ name recognition, since friendship is mainly about business in the gig economy.

If my Memorial Day weekend and my last cell meeting are accurate indicators, it is not just the marketers and bloggers who are interested in where friendship is going these days. A lot of people are wondering where their friends are, and they are afraid they are not going to make any more, now that they are out of college.

Our cell thought it might be a good use of our map if we named the problem we all feel and do something about it. How about a year of friendship building? How odd that would seem so countercultural!

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As I talked about friendship here and there, a picture began to form about why people either have no real friends or at least think they don’t. I wonder what you think about these four reasons I ended up with, so far:

They don’t take the friendship they get.

It was interesting to talk about not having any friends while we were sharing intimately about friendship in our cell. I asked, “Are we not friends, here?” Is friendship the idealized relationship you hope you will have some day, or is it loving the people in your present circle? Jesus calls his disciples friends because he has given them his life, not because they qualify or they benefit him in some extraordinary way.

They don’t appreciate the friendships they have.

When I was doing my bit of research about friendships online, I was surprised to see how much advice there was about how to end a friendship [like from Oprah]. There is reason for this advice, of course. But I got the impression from my conversations that there was a lot of Tinder-like relationship making more than there was any great need to end connections. A lot of people have such limited trust for anyone, people get disposed of long before they are known or appreciated for who they are! One of my friends told me she was “firing” all her friends. She was moved to reconsider when I asked, “Can they reapply?” Her problem was more that she had never been honest or forthcoming about her discomforts and had done more managing than relating. The idea of expressing her appreciation and lack of it seemed like a better strategy for friend-making, rather than cutting someone off when a problem arose.

They don’t want friendships that need to be built.

When we were children we could make a lasting connection because someone decided to unfreeze us during tag. In college we could show up for breakfast at the same time. Now that we’re married, or engaged with work mates, or have children, our relating time could be a lot of necessity and not a lot of the serendipity that feels so good. Getting over the hump and creating something good seems like a stretch for a lot of us and just too much work. Recently I went on a walk with a relatively unbuilt friend and frankly said, “Let’s be friends.” He said, “Sure.” Naturally, we both calculated in the back of our minds how we would actually fit this in and do the work. But it certainly seemed like a good idea.

They don’t fight authentically.

This is probably the reason there is so little love in the world, in general. Healthy conflict is the key to lasting intimacy and people come to the end of their capacity for it long before the fruit of it is born. I think most of us think being part of a cell is “friendship lite” and we probably would not survive a fight in one of them (or ever dare to have a conflict of any kind). Feeling something deeply enough to fight about it, or to react unguardedly about it, is extremely risky for most of us and we would rather die than do it. We’d rather not have friends than risk losing them. We’d rather not connect than be known or risk finding out someone else does care to know us (as we fear they feel already).

Jesus has his work cut out for him, doesn’t he? We might prefer to be called servants than to be called friends. Friendship requires a depth of humanity we aspire to, but the rocky road toward it is so daunting, we may only try it a couple of times. And if the road gets too rough, we just might give up. Maybe we need to name our issues with friendship and even put a goal about it in our common map of the future. We might get somewhere and love might grow.

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