Friendships: where's that "hibernate" button?
June 5, 2008 3:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm pretty bad at keeping in touch with people. How can I cultivate low-maintenance friendships? What's the minimum required to keep a friendship alive over time?

I'm decent at making friends, but can't seem to keep them long-term. As long as everyone's living nearby, things are fine, but when they move away, the relationship dies pretty rapidly, no matter how close we were at parting. I attribute this to two factors:

1. I'm pretty introverted-- so while I find it easy to like people, it's exhausting to spend a lot of time with them, and I don't especially miss seeing them. This means I usually can't muster the will to plan the sort of roadtrip visits/joint vacations that would give me facetime with old friends.

2. I'm a terrible correspondent-- I hate phone conversations and get dreadful writer's block with email, so both forms of communication usually end up being procrastinated for months until it's too late.

The way it usually goes is: Friend moves away; Friend sends a few update emails; I put off responding to the emails; a year or two of silence passes; I finally scrape things together enough to call/write Friend; Friend answers coldly, sounding offended at the lack of communication; friendship is effectively over. This makes me sad, because nine times out of ten I still really care about Friend and would love to have a relationship, still.

For me, the golden ideal would be the sort of friendship where participants might not talk for years, but the next get-together feels as though they'd never been apart, and they always know they have each others' backs in an emergency (I don't mind at all being called on for isolated stuff like moving assistance and airport pickups and post-breakup shoulder-crying; it's the constant, draining communication I can't handle). I know lots of guys who seem to be able to forge these kinds of relationships, but I (female) haven't had much luck-- everybody seems to want a whole lotta interaction, or else none at all. What's the secret? Is there anything I can say/do to make my friendships less like delicate orchids and more like, say, spider plants-- hardy, reliable, needing minimal watering?
posted by Bardolph to Human Relations (20 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Can you caution those departing that you're this way, and that they shouldn't take offense? Do Facebook-type platforms offer an option, or are they too draining?

Basically, it sounds like the only way this is going to happen is if you put in greater effort, or happen to cultivate a friendship with someone who feels and behaves the same way. To my impression, the reason it works with many guys is because two or more of them happened to have their values aligned in this way. It doesn't work the same way if you are imposing your own mode on someone else.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:17 PM on June 5, 2008

If a friend moves away, and you don't want to visit them - and you don't want to call them - and you don't want to write them - what's left but the idea of friendship? What kind of interaction are you looking for?
posted by moxiedoll at 3:18 PM on June 5, 2008

Okay, my experience with friendships is this: you don't generally need to perform special maintainence with real friends.

But from what you say it seems you don't feel like interacting with your friends even when they're around! That seems very strange and comes across like a form of depression.

You mentioned procrastination, so work on replying to those emails as quickly as they get in. You seem to care about your friendships, so it shouldn't be hard to make that little effort. You mention other people being able to have those idealized friendships that you desire -- I would think that they may generally be putting in at least the minimum amount of effort that you seem to avoid for whatever reason.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 3:25 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Random thoughts:

1. Make friends with guys.
2. Don't fall into the trap of thinking those emails have to be long newsy updates; they can be two lines long. Just be sure, in a two-line email, not to demand that the recipient tells you "all about what they've been doing" if you're not going to do so yourself.
3. If this kind of thing works for you, resolve to contact one person each day. Or one person each week.

As with everything, remember that motivation follows action... Don't wait till you feel excited by the idea of contacting a friend, and don't tell yourself you need to "be motivated" or "muster the will" in order to do it. Sit down at your computer, feeling demotivated, write a few lines of text, not worrying whether it's great prose or whether you're saying the right kinds of things: after all, the alternative is not to email and lose the friend anyhow, so what have you got to lose?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:34 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Facebook, with all of it's lameness, is good for the introverts. Comment on a picture of someone every once in a while, or post an old memory on their wall should something remind you of them. It lets people know that you haven't forgotten about them.

Low-maintenance way to keep friendly relationships going...not necessarily recommended for your BFFs.
posted by phunniemee at 3:40 PM on June 5, 2008

I am the exact same way as you, except that I only take a couple months to respond to e-mails.

Anyway, LiveJournal gets a bad rap among MeFi users, but any journal/blogging service is only as good as its users. You don't actually interact with anyone you don't know unless you purposely try to, anyway. You add friends' journals, and you have a friends page where you see your friends' entries chronologically, most recent first. And you can comment on each other's entries.

This is an EXTREMELY low maintenance way to keep in touch with people, and it has worked wonders for me. I can know what's going on with someone, but I don't necessarily have to comment unless I have something to say. When I do comment, there is no pressure to leave a long comment whatsoever; a few sentences would seem terse in an e-mail exchange, but it's just natural on LJ. I find that I speak more frequently to people because of this. Furthermore, my introvert heart flutters because when something interesting happens, I don't have to tell the same story, over and over, to everyone I know. I just write about it once and they all see it. Furthermore, it's not as exhausting to just update every day or two. Sitting down to try and summarize the past couple months takes too much energy for me, though, so e-mails can be a hassle.

Now, the majority of my friends are on LJ, so that's easy for me. I have encouraged friends to join in the past and they sometimes do, sometimes don't. When they don't, I do my best to respond to e-mails. Depending on the friend, I will sometimes go so far as to explain the whole introvert thing and it helps. Some people just don't get it, though, which is fine.

There are alternate services very much like LJ, like InsaneJournal and DeadJournal and some others. I only suggest LJ in particular because that's where the most users seem to be, and if you have to start checking multiple friends pages or updating multiple journals with the same stuff on different services, I imagine it would be tiring.

Facebook exhausts me because it has no substance, and it takes some effort to figure out how to get what substance you can from it. Plus people are always trying to send me fluffy e-animals and take some stupid quiz and it's just too manic and pointless for me. The upside of Facebook, though, is that you don't actually have to log-in. You just add people and should the time come that you need to contact them, you *can* send them a private message that works a lot like e-mail. I have used this from time to time if I haven't spoken to someone in a while and I want to check in with them.
posted by Nattie at 3:51 PM on June 5, 2008

I have a friend who sends me a birthday card every year. She's like clockwork, and that's almost the extent of our yearly interaction sometimes. I'm almost willing to bet that it means so much more to me than the effort it takes her to sign and mail the card.
posted by maloon at 3:53 PM on June 5, 2008

I second Facebook.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:36 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I, too, am exactly like this, and Facebook has been an immense help in that regard. It honestly takes no time whatsoever to drop off a wall message, which are meant to be fairly short (2-3 sentences) anyway.

Then, once in a while, when you have time and energy - maybe set aside a weekend where you have absolutely no commitments and make an effort to keep it free - fire off a few emails to friends. Sometimes, even having taken the initiative can pardon a lot of past silence.

Livejournal is useful, and I myself am an avid LJ-er, but the system sort of dies if your friends aren't into blogging. A lot of people write insanely long emails, but are at a loss for what to say when it's directed at a generic crowd instead of one specific person. Some people don't like communicating in such an impersonal way - unless someone comments, whereas an email sort of calls one person out specifically - and I do find that the platform tends to be limited in terms of actual one-on-one bonding, which is what a lot of introvert friendships need.

Anyway, if you've got friends on facebook, give it a shot. What I've known friends to do in the past is to start up a BBS/Forum on one of those free forum servers and make it private to their circle only. That could be another idea?
posted by Phire at 4:51 PM on June 5, 2008

Yeah, I'm like that, too. The friends I'm left with tend to be the same way, or lean in that direction. (Actually I have some very extroverted long-distance friends, but they're as poor at keeping in touch as I am.) I find long-distance friendships to be pretty superficial; there's nothing you can't talk about when you get together again that you'd be talking about on the phone if you kept in touch that way. I'm not as much about talking as I am about doing. I despise the phone, and thank Al Gore for The Internets.

But a couple years really is a long time. As another poster said, at least write something back. Even if it's a canned two-sentence response that you keep in your Drafts folder. The longer you put something off, the harder it gets to do, and the more obligated you feel to put your every effort into it. Just keep it simple if you can. Simple and quick.

I don't think there's anything you can really do with people who just don't get it. Be upfront with them about your personality. Tell them you really want to stay good friends but you're horrible at maintaining the hands-off relationships. It's cliché, but if they're a real friend, they'll understand.
posted by iguanapolitico at 5:08 PM on June 5, 2008

Twitter allows for you to have a peek into friend's lives and maintain a connection with them without being obtrusive. It allows for just 140-character updates and replies so there's no obligation to sound meaningful or deep or whatever -- quantity over quality, to put it bluntly.

well, Facebook too.
posted by drea at 5:58 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I realize this doesn't work for everyone, but as far as email correspondence goes? I do a lot of "saw this (link about some interest of theirs or that they'd find amusing, but dear god NEVER a chain letter), thought of you." Somehow, doing that also makes it easier for me to add the usual pleasantries.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:08 PM on June 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Facebook.

I find by browsing people's profiles, reading their updates, etc, I either end up with a fairly good idea of why we were friends in the first place, or why we drifted apart, which...well, I find myself being inspired to write reasonably thoughtful mails to people I otherwise wouldn't be in touch with. I have also seen long-lost friends in person, and find that Facebook takes a little bit of the worry out of that. Pre-Facebook I'd have fretted over how much time would have been invested in meeting up and what sort of pleasantries needed to be exchanged afterwards; now, it's "I saw your update; I'm going to be in that neck of the woods too in an hour, coffee?" and a wall post of "I had a really nice time; stay in touch" the next day and you're done. It takes much of the awkwardness out of these sorts of awkward friendships.

Christmas-season greetings are how, I think, these things were done pre-internet, and the holiday card is still a useful tradition...
posted by kmennie at 7:17 PM on June 5, 2008

nthing Facebook & LiveJournal - update everybody at once; respond / comment / message people in your own free time. Facebook 'events' are useful for seeing what movies, concerts etc people are attending, so you can organise your schedule to tag along - in situations where ppl would normally only specifically phone to invite their closest few friends becoz it's too much hassle to invite everybody.

LiveJournal gets a bad rap among MeFi users

idunno. I don't use it anymore because I got too addicted to mefi-type discussions & became frustrated at the way LJ encourages one-line comments & posts about "what i had for breakfast" but it's useful for a strictly limited purpose - as a way for real-life friends to communicate their daily doings & musings.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:10 PM on June 5, 2008

Don't be afraid to call people up on the phone now and then just to shoot the shit like you do now, as if geography wasn't any different than it was before. Don't be that girl who never got over high school, of course, but just every once in a blue moon remind the other person that "hey, that Bardolph is a pretty fun dude to talk to."
posted by Space Coyote at 9:08 PM on June 5, 2008

Being someone's friend means you care more about them than maintaining the -exact- comfort level that your personality desires all the time. Just respond to email once in a while. You are making it harder than it is.
posted by allthingsbright at 10:02 PM on June 5, 2008

For me, there are people I like enough to spend time with them, if they happen to be around, but who I don't really need to chase down. Most of those 'friendships', it doesn't matter if we lose touch. It's not always the end of the world.

On the other hand, it's important to have a few friends who you really care about and who really care about you. Once you've known someone for long enough, if you have compatible personalities, they'll usually be able to handle the fact that you're not in constant contact. But part of you caring about them (which is what makes this a real friendship and not just a convenient hangin'-out-buddy) is that you want to make sure they know you care and haven't forgotten them. So all you have to do is that little line, the birthday card idea was really good too - just something small so that they know you still want to be friends.
posted by Lady Li at 1:06 AM on June 6, 2008


they take all of 10-15 minutes to write, if that. they're cheap to purchase &/or make (roll of stamps & a stack of 3x5 cards & you're good to go). bonus: you don't have to write anything that you don't want to, i.e., it doesn't have to be news or intimate confessional or anything conventionally correspondence oriented

Dear Comrade Pal, Today I saw an otter & thought, "He really needs a banjo." love, Bardy
in this day & age, a postcard (especially the homemade kind) stands out & will probably get affixed to their refrigerator or the wall behind their desk where they will see it far more often than any emails one might send, thus cementing your friendship in their mind on a more regular basis

I don't do this as often as I'd like as I tend towards the introversion/hermity thing as well. but I have friends who send them to me & when I get them it is always a delight. so, I aspire to do it more. hmm, speaking of which....

- - - gets up to find a 3x5 card & a sharpie - - -
posted by jammy at 5:41 AM on June 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

What do you want out of friendships? Is all you want someone to talk to every couple of years? That should be easy enough.

Employ the golden rule. If you want to get a hold of people when you want to get a hold of them, you should at the very least return a call or email once in a while. At least every year or two by your standards! Be upfront with people about how you are.

There's a lot of people who share your feelings here. But it's the internet, sacred haven for introverts.

True friendships are harder to come by as you get older, and it's worth maintaining the ones you have. You might miss them someday.

Like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 12:39 PM on June 6, 2008

It sounds like you need to make like-minded friends on this front. I have a few friends (who are not longer) because this is how they operate and I will never be okay with it. The other alternative is to be more diligent in trying to communicate with your friends, but you sound as if you are not interested in doing so. You may have to decide which you want more: your comfortable old habits or lasting friendships.
posted by lacedback at 1:47 PM on June 6, 2008

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