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In between our last meeting and now, my friend and I had gained new friends, new jobs, new romantic partners, even new world views and ideals.
Yesterday I met an old school friend after many years.
I use the term friend loosely. We had met after almost five years and our interaction in the meantime had been reduced to sundry likes on Facebook pictures, the odd comments here and there, and the even rarer nostalgic old group photo sharing. I’d learnt that his father had passed away in the recent past and being taken in by the odd sensation that he had begun to seem like a stranger, made the impulsive move to set up a catch up session. It was to my surprise that he responded immediately, perhaps realizing the same thing.
We set our date for a coffee shop in a mall close to my house. I reached the place before him and took the time to calm my nerves and mentally prepare myself for what was certain to be an extremely awkward meeting. He finally arrived, with a sheepish smile for being 15 minutes late and sat down after a quick hug.
Our interaction was dull and stilted to say the least. While I realized that his questions about my life, in the years since we’d lost touch were out of genuine interest, there was little if no emotional engagement in our conversation. I carried on however, needing desperately to make the best of an old childhood friendship.
Finally, after covering the whole gamut of life questions, where are you working, are you seeing anyone, how is the family doing/ coping, plans for the future et al, we bid goodbye, promising each other to be better this time around at keeping in touch.
The promises however rung hollow and I left feeling deeply deflated. While I knew deep down that time does change circumstances and people, I’d reassured myself that a mere five years gap would be quite easy to navigate.
What I learnt though was that time in your 20’s time just passes faster. In between our last meeting and now, my friend and I had gained new friends, new jobs, new romantic partners, even new world views and ideals. We had undergone heartbreak, deaths in the family, change of cities and most importantly had lost completely the carefree nature of our early adulthood. We now had jobs to balance, relationships to nurture and sometimes overwhelming responsibilities to shoulder. Friendships were just another task, to be maintained for the sake of duty, not real affection and frighteningly easy to dismiss and ignore.
On my way back, I contemplated as to why exactly is it so hard hard to connect with people after long gaps. After all, there is Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, the whole arsenal of modern technology, just aching to be used to maintain and personalize relationships.
Maybe, I decided, its the peculiar age that my friends and I find ourselves in that is to blame. On the one hand, we have stable careers, if very current, houses that we do still share either with our parents or roommates, and a lifestyle that is comfortable but not luxurious. On the other, we are not yet completely adults, we have the pressures of marriage to deal with, the pain of college debts to clear, the uncertainty that inevitably accompanies almost-adulthood.
When I had last met M, he had been an overachieving student, an allrounder and greatly beloved by teachers and peers alike. Most people, me included, had labelled him as the one most likely to succeed, after graduation. And he appeared to be the same person on the surface at least. A curious look through of his college pictures on Facebook revealed a carefree young man, popular and a leader. But lately, his posts (can social media ever be taken as an accurate benchmark for revealing a person’s deepest, darkest thoughts, I wonder?) disclosed a man disgruntled by his life, pessimistic and just sad. He never turned up for the formal reunions organized by my more enthusiastic peers and was notorious for last minute cancellation of plans.
During our conversation, he had let slip that he was thinking of quitting his job and moving back to our small town to manage his family business. I had encouraged him, being the devoted friend that I was, trying to make up for his own lack of excitement. But he was not convinced. He admitted, reluctantly and after much prodding that he felt disconnected from his family but didn’t really have any choice in the matter. And that was that.
Something else troubled me too. When he asked me about my own life, my job – while his questions were suitably inquisitive, my answers generated indifference in him. He almost looked upset when I’d revealed that I’ve begun dating again after a messy breakup and was close to putting my life back together again. He had immediately ranted about the depressing nature of modern relationships, the “corporatization of love” as he called it, a mere way to further career goals. I had joked that I didn’t recognize him as the eternal romantic of our childhood. But, somewhere I’d understood his lack of idealism. And that made me much more uneasier than his admission.
I was definitely not the same person I’d been in my early 20’s. I was the same person in college as I was in school, more or less but the few years that had passed after college, had made me barely recognize myself.
While my job fulfilled me monetarily, my lack of friends whom I could emotionally rely on scared me. I had a decent social life with someone or the other always available to hang out with on weekends. But there was not a single person I could think of who knew how deeply frustrated I felt with my job, the family pains that plagued me now and again and how frequently I lamented not contributing enough to the world around me.
I had always been involved in some sort of social work growing up, and that kind of peace was irreplaceable and one I longed for. I also worried regularly about my aging parents residing in a different city and battled constantly with my need to be independent and the inherent duty to take care of them.
Nobody, except in passing remarks during casual conversations was aware of my “real” worries. Maybe it was a front or maybe it was was a defence mechanism.
But I was not alone. My ‘friends’ did it too. “The more vulnerable you are, the easier it can be for people to shake your morale” is probably what we had all secretly concluded, or maybe admitting how hard life really was made the fact more concrete. In the end, we all laughed louder than necessary at parties, made plans for vacations that were much too expensive, all mainly to believe in our own happiness and carry on the facade. Nobody dared admit that they were suffering and utterly alone. And I strongly suspect, we all were, in some way or the other. Lately, I’d also observed the mask unraveling.
Our world views had changed drastically too. Now the same friends who had once waxed eloquent about joining civil services or doing pro-bono work after graduation, had resigned themselves to the fact that a corporate firm job was the one which provided the quickest amount of money, self respect and stability. There were family pressures too which could not be ignored. It was as if we were acting out a false reality in college and suddenly stumbled upon the world in which we had to survive and carry on, irrespective of personal desires or motivations.
Then, there was the question of Time. There never seemed to be enough of it.
The closest friendships in college happened over canteen food, there was a forced unity which a class of 150 develops when faced with the same professors, the same assignments with unfathomable deadlines, the same real estate broker troubles and the questions of what to wear for class parties. Now, spread over multiple cities and multiple hours in the same cities with our struggles being equally disparate, we found ourselves, for the first time truly alone. In the two/three years that had passed since college and expectedly the few that would pass after, time had acquired a different speed, one which we had become unable to forsee or manage. People had become quickly unrecognizable, the impulses and priorities which once connected us to each other, no longer existed or with the same force.
It also probably boiled down to how much each of us were willing to hold on to and invest. After all, even friendships require investment, time, emotion and money. There were some of us therefore who still stayed connected to our old mates. But there were more others like M who avoided any sort of emotional alliance, staying as close to the surface as possible to avoid revealing how much had changed. It was a time warp, our 20’s. Unless, one kept in constant touch with old mates, it was harder, near impossible to reforge connections with people who were understandably no longer the same people as when the friendships were originally formed. And, as I had learnt this week, it was getting harder to slow down time, to hold on tight, only getting harder as the years passed.
Image source: shutterstock
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Shriya Pandey is a qualified lawyer with specific work experience in the area of intellectual
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