I think many in our generation have attempted to maintain only fickle relationships, and I think some have attempted to insulate their lives completely. We have developed a habit of accumulating 'party friends'; shallow friendships that are mostly based around weekend festivities. Sometimes it's to the point where we feel awkward around those friends if we are not actively doing something. It seems we have this insatiable need to be constantly distracted and entertained, and as a result there seems to be an overwhelming sense of loneliness in people our age. Why is it that in our society we choose to stay so isolated, so guarded? Is it the fear of being known for who we really are? The fear of responsibility and commitment? The fear of vulnerability and failure? It might be a combination of all of those things, but fear seems to be the constant theme.
You may have friends who make plans and then break them, their words about as fickle as the passing moment in which they spoke them. How many friends out of insecurity and fear of disappointment make multiple plans with multiple people in one night, and in some lame effort to appease everyone they end up making the majority of their friends resent them? Sound familiar?
You may have friends who call you only when they need something. Or friends that refuse to hang out with you if all it means is just 'hanging out.' There has to be a common goal to battle the inevitable awkwardness. The awkwardness that we are all so fearful of.
I can tell you this; when my close friends tell me they are going to do something with me, they usually do it. I suppose this is why they have rewarding relationships with other people as well. My friends whose words lack integrity seem to suffer in all of their relationships. They are always wanting more out of life, never being deeply satisfied or deeply known. They tend to move from friend to friend, or from new thing to new thing, searching for what they would most likely be rewarded with had they practiced relational integrity in the first place. They end up living on the empty carbs, or the 'pixie sticks' of life, bouncing from one sugar high to another, never really satiating their appetite. You can't live on candy, at some point you have to have something meaningful.
Humans are born with a deep need for community. Even if you don't believe in the Bible; where Adam, while in paradise, felt empty and longed for a friend until God gave him Eve. Even if you don't believe all that stuff, you should believe that ever since you were a baby you needed attention and affection from your mother, and as you grew you needed attention and care from your parents, and as you got older you longed to be accepted into social groups at school, to be asked to play with the 'cool' kids... to be known in some way, to be liked by somebody. And as you got even older, you longed for a soul mate, somebody to know you intimately, down to the core. Someone to love you despite all your faults. Even if you don't believe in the Adam and Eve story, it's still a great metaphor... Adam had all he wanted, but he was lonely, like most people are who have a lot of stuff and nobody to share it with. This is human nature... so why are we so afraid of it?
A few months ago there was a snow storm in Seattle. I think they called it Ice Storm 2008 on the news or something clever like that. As a result, snow and ice had covered all the roads for about a week straight. I was amazed at what happened during that time. Complete strangers started talking to each other, apparently bonding over the thing they had in common: the weather conditions which had affected every ones lives.
One of these nights Kristie and I went to watch a musical at the 5th Avenue Theatre. We took the bus there, which arrived a bit late because of the snow. The bus driver, a boisterous lady, was very loudly and comically speaking of her fear of crashing the bus or getting it stuck in the snow. She told us how he wanted to get home quickly because she was already late to see her grand-daughter. She started opening up and explaining personal details about her life, and so did the people around us. We all started talking, apparently bonding over the common fear of the road conditions. People started chuckling and smiling at each other, looking at each other as humans instead of strangers or potential threats. It was remarkable. If you've been on a city bus, then you know that bus etiquette is much like elevator etiquette: avoid eye contact, be quiet, mind your own business etc. It's that whole I-don't-want-to-be-here-awkwardly-packed-in-this-machine-with-a-bunch-of-strangers-so-lets-make-this-as-painless-as-possible vibe. Suddenly, because of this thing, this fear that we had in common, people started empathizing with each other. Guards were dropped, prejudice was thrown out, and people started treating each other as people.
Imagine if we chose to look past the different exteriors of people, if we chose to give them the benefit of the doubt, if we chose to ignore these unspoken rules on a daily basis. Imagine if we believed in the humanity of strangers. Every time I've experienced someone casually breaking the silence it has generally brought smiles, eased the mood a bit, and allowed me to feel more comfortable. The point is, it's true that we all want community, yet we are fearful to step out and create it. Even on a shallow level we want to find things in common with others, but instead we act against it and for no particular reason. In the same way, I think the folks who deep down desperately long for rewarding friendships can sometimes be the ones who are doing everything they can to keep people at a safe distance.
So, be friendly and brave, and stop being afraid of community... its only natural.