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People on their technology at an airport. (Credit: Shane Rounce)

Why is it hard to make and keep friends in the digital age?

Last week an old friend messaged me and asked me if I was going to be home over the weekend. I hadn’t talked to her in years and was surprised to hear from her. She explained she would be in town with her son for a Lacrosse tournament.

She hadn’t even mentioned it yet, but I said, “Hey, do you want to get together?” A plan was set. We would meet up at the tournament and spend a few hours talking while her son did whatever he was going to do, play, rest, whatever.

When I learned my friend would be coming to town, I didn’t hesitate to say, “sure let’s get together.” As the time to meet got closer, I started to wonder, was meeting with her going to be worthwhile? I hadn’t talked to her or texted in ages. Was she going to be the same? Would much have changed since I last spent time with her?

I made it to the tournament and I texted once I arrived. There she was looking almost the same and nothing had really changed between us. She was still the same person I knew, as open, fun and outspoken as ever. And, despite our circumstances having changed over the years, not much was different when we sat down to catch up.

The interesting thing I’ve found about old, but good friends, is that somehow despite time or distance, life changes or getting older, meeting up with these friends is as if time has not passed and we were never apart.

I’ve experienced this a few times with some good friends after I moved. On one occasion, I was invited to interview in the city where the couple lived. I asked if I could stay with them for a few days to save money, rather than stay in a hotel. It was kind of a big ask because I hadn’t seen them in several years, but the response was, “of course.”

When I saw my friends, we picked up where we left off and it felt as true and as real as it had been hanging out with them 10 years earlier, when we first became friends. (In actuality, our relationship grew more apart than together, as I moved away only one year after meeting them.)

As I reconnected with my friend this time, during her son’s Lacrosse match, we both pondered an interesting question based on our similar experiences.

Why is it so hard to make authentic friendships now?

Prior to her visit, we had texted a bit and my friend explained that it was easy to meet people where she lived, but not so easy to make friends.

I experienced the same dynamic. I’ve moved a bit too and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed more and more the difficulty of finding a close friend, let alone a group of friends. I’ve debated whether it’s the fact that people as they get older find less need to bring new friends into their already established groups. Or, is it because of a change in the way we interact with others in general, a result of technology?

One of the funniest comedy bits I’ve seen is Sebastian Maniscalco talking about how back in the day, uninvited visitors were welcomed with coffee and cake. His bit “doorbell” reminded me of the days with my own suburban Chicago family and how mom always had a poundcake and coffee ready. Family would sit around and talk. But, today, I don’t answer the door — or the phone for that matter — if I don’t know who might be calling.

I have to wonder what has changed that we no longer feel secure opening the door to a stranger, or even having close family or friends over without a heads up.

I’m a pretty goofy person and maybe it’s because I am now part of an older generation — though I don’t think of myself as old — but sometimes if I’m in line at the store I may notice something and comment on it, try to have a simple conversation with the person next to me to pass the time and more often than not they respond with hesitance, if they respond at all. It’s like I’m a crazy person. They would rather stare at the screen of their phone. So, I do the same.

I guess, people would rather interact with their followers or watch some meaningless video than have a conversation with a human being.

The lack of interaction, of letting others in, makes me question if this hasn’t also impacted our societal sense of empathy and compassion toward others. How does this impact our understanding of others? As a society does this make us less willing to get to know the “other,” to talk to our neighbors, rather than build six-foot security fences?

I once belonged to a yoga studio that talked a good game around being all about connection. And, on the face it appeared there was connection happening. But, after several years at the studio, that could draw 100 people to one class, I had made no real friendships, surface yes, but deep, meaningful relationships with friends I could rely on, no.

Which also made me question, is location a factor? I’m originally from the Midwest, the Chicago area, and despite what some people may say about Chicago, I have found overall the people are friendly and authentic. For the most part, I’ve always enjoyed the people I worked with and making friends wasn’t that much of a struggle.

When I belonged to a small community yoga studio in a suburb of Chicago, I built relationships with a variety of the people who attended, (including the friend I was recently reunited with.) We would go out for drinks, dinner, movies. Now, it wasn’t something that happened all the time, but it wasn’t an unusual thing to be invited over for some thing or another.

Could it be my personality? I’m just too off-putting? Sure, it could. To be honest, I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. After I’ve had conversation with other friends who have encountered the same situation, I think it’s less that I’m some kind of weirdo or freak and more related to the way people and society have changed in relation to our use of technology and our ideas of connection and “friendship.”

A friend of mine, who is much younger, regularly posts on Instagram and gets all kind of likes and comments on her photos and videos, which helps her feel good and bad when people are “haters.” She has all kinds of “friends,” yet when we talk about real relationship friends, she says she just doesn’t feel very connected to anyone.

Maybe this disconnect between real vs. digital relationships is playing a larger role in our turning toward isolation, border walls and fear of the stranger. We live this daily online.

Or, maybe it’s something completely different?

I have to wonder if other people, just like me, are experiencing the same sense of isolation and inability to connect in a real emotional way that isn’t surface and simplistic.

I’m in a community where the hipsters abound and wearing and waving your freak flag is the norm. So, I’m on the lookout for the accepting group who will see the richness of my personality and quirky style. Until that day, I’ll be scrolling in line at the grocery store, so as to not make anyone uncomfortable.

Mary Ann Lopez is a writer living in Austin, Texas. When she’s not walking her dog Sadie, she’s home hanging out with her three cats Bubba, Bella and Kiki. She is about to publish her first book, a children’s story. Learn more about her and be a part of her publishing journey on Patreon.

I’m interested in the human condition.

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