I think about this one a lot in the context of everything going on. COVID began the whole deal — I wrote about COVID and friendships and COVID and mental health in the past — but then there’s social unrest, racial discord, and hot takes galore swimming around. Americans are more stationary than ever before, per research, but I’d argue every friend group has one or two people (or more) who moved for work, spousal work, kids, family, or something else. In the aggregate we are moving less, but every “crew” has a few people who move away, no doubt.
This has been a topic of interest for me for years — especially what happens to people around 25-to-40, when you see more career jumps and kids and mortgages and aging parents. Heck, I designed a podcast of low-level popularity around that idea.
So, what are the logical expectations of friendship?
Here are the high-level words people tend to attach to this question
- Shared experiences
- Some in-person context
- Easy conversation, fall back into it (“like riding a bike”)
- Shared interests or backgrounds
All those are accurate and I’d say they need to exist within a friendship for it to be successful either short- or long-distance.
Some stuff we discuss less openly, but it’s still important
- Kids go to school with each other
- Spouses/partners can generally tolerate each other
- Same political leaning on the core issue of importance to the other person
- Have generally the same expectations for the end game of the friendship
- Text responsiveness rate (or other platform)
- How busy the person is with work/kids
- How big a workaholic the person is
- Each person’s corresponding mental health
- Whether one person seems to do all the outreach and heavy lifting
There’s lots more I could put on this list. This honestly just scratches the surface. I think the “same general expectations” thing has burned me a ton of times in my life. I’ve moved a decent amount — 5/6 times — and I have one or two crews of people (let’s say three) who were with me through a lot of those moves. I lost 2/3 by getting divorced, so that was hard but not insurmountable. I’m still in the other 1/3, but they all have young kids and local friends and I think, over time, I made that group paramount to me but I wasn’t necessarily paramount to them. For example, I got divorced in ’17. I think maybe 2/3 people in that group of 8/10 even reached out to me. It happens, and people get busy with their own life and kids and you cannot fault them for it, but … it speaks to misaligned expectations, so I’d say being on the same page about that is a big deal. (I also dove in the deep end with my ex’s siblings because I’m an only child, and that shit blew up on me over time too. I was almost too invested.)
Are long-distance and neighborhood friendships different?
Absolutely, and neighborhood ones can easily be buffered day-to-day based on bars/restaurants, kid activities, the need for salt, “come over and watch this,” church, or whatever. Long-distance friendships, just like long-distance relationships, you need to work at. Here’s a halfway decent research piece on that.
The difference between “long-distance friendships” and “long-distance relationships” is that usually, if you’re sleeping with someone / love someone, you set a standard phone time or Zoom/Skype time every night. Most friendships that does not happen. (Sometimes, but not common.) Also, it’s a little bit tougher for guys, who tend to form friendships around activities and “side-by-side” stuff like sports and bars. I have a bunch of friends around DC. They go biking and, within the context of having small children, go to bars (see also: we just had a pandemic and many bars closed). I live in Texas. I cannot bike with them or attend bars with them, at least not weekly. Could I replicate that on Zoom? No. Not in the same way. So there’s a natural somewhat fade out there. It’s not an end game, but it’s a fade out, sure.
The mental health piece
This I would say is very important yet under-discussed. People go through different things in their life in terms of career, parents, kids, romantic relationships, health, whatever else. We have some friends that we feel we can “hit up about anything,” although that’s a small set. (And it should be.) Then we have a bunch of friends and acquaintances who we might not discuss our mom with, but we know they’re still there.
But as people go through stuff, they change for better and worse, and then change back and change again. The human condition is not static. For example, after I got divorced, I had a decent period of mixing day-drinking with some productive work. Some of these days I would classify as “out of hand.” I’ve gotten better overall. But once or twice in there I was in some heated group text about Trump or something, and I told a friend/high acquaintance of mine to fuck off. He has no idea that I’m writing that text from a bar, because he’s at his office at the same time. He has no idea what I’m going through, and I haven’t done a good job conveying what I’m going through.
So the mental health piece collides with expectations, and that can wither friendships as well.
So what should you reasonably expect from friends, then?
- They care about you.
- They have respect for you.
- They want the best for you.
- They treat you with integrity.
- They meet up when they can (if not local).
- They respond to you when they can (understanding that people get busy).
- They have roughly the same expectations for the level of friendship you reside at.
- They reach out with random, funny shit sometimes and sometimes just to check in.
- The shared experiences form the bedrock of the stories and inside jokes, but you also build layers on top of that tied to new experiences.
What else might you add herein?