— Ben Wilkoff (@bhwilkoff) February 18, 2016
My first master’s degree took a year to complete. It was a whirlwind of activity that rarely gave me the space to pause and connect with folks on more than an academic and discursive level. And as much as I love a good classroom discussion, I can’t say the experience left me with more than a handful of people whom I call friends.
Though we were in different programs, Paul and I found ourselves in many of the same classes across both of our semesters. I liked how his brain worked. I loved how he listened, paused, and deployed questions that had just enough of his own ideas lining them while still pulling out more of the thinking of the other person.
While I don’t have it in writing anywhere, I’ve got a hunch Paul felt the same way about me.
This mutual admiration made it sting quite a little bit when, facing the end of our year, Paul and I had the conversation. While he was glad we’d become friends, Paul explained, he wasn’t the kind of guy who really talked to people on the phone or kept in contact with people who weren’t immediately present. He was breaking up with me. I told him I understood, and in fact, I operated much the same way.
I’d been worried for a few weeks that Paul would take it as a lack of care when our daily communications abruptly ceased or went down to a trickle when we weren’t living in the same city. Worse, I was concerned he, like most people, would take this infrequent communication as an indication I no longer cared for him or wasn’t interested in what might be going on in his life.
In truth, I have a difficult time remembering time. If you and I are friends and we go years between visits, I will conceptualize us as having only parted ways moments ago when we next meet. Maybe it’s extreme object permanence, but for relationships?
Either way, Paul and I agreed to a conscious unfriendliness. In the unlikely event he and I would see each other again in person, we both agreed not to take it personally that the other hadn’t reached out more to check in.
In the four years since Paul and I said goodbye, we have seen each other in various locations across the country. When each of us was considering moving to a new job or had a major life event take place, we reached out to one another for counsel. We’ve kept checking in.
I’ve tried to figure out the why of our friendship’s sticking power. I cannot understand why Paul and I have kept in contact while I struggle to be a better friend to people I’ve known much longer and even lived with. I was part of the same group of friends all four years of college. We were inseparable. Now, I know what they are doing because of social media and from infrequent updates from the few with whom I still keep close contact.
As for the why of it, here’s what I’ve got. New friends are difficult. They come with interoperability standards that live deeper in the programming that makes you you than the surface features of family, hobbies, and the like. What’s more, we’ve all got old friends. They’re folks with whom we’ve already formed connections. We’ve written the patches necessary to meet those interoperability requirements. New friends mean a willingness to go through and debug your programming with a whole new person. Much of the time, it’s difficult to imagine making that commitment.
Then again, maybe it’s chance.
This post is part of a daily conversation between Ben Wilkoff and me. Each day Ben and I post a question to each other and then respond to one another. You can follow the questions and respond via Twitter at #LifeWideLearning16.