Hello… friend?

A girl sitting on a bench with her friend. Hopefully, they're in the middle of a deep discussion that passes the Bechdel test.
Two out of a few or many. (Photo by Rosalind Chang on Unsplash)

Konnichi wa (or Konban wa), friend. Welcome to Semi-Online, issue #14.

Anyway. I read a really good article a week ago. Well, it’s a transcript of a podcast episode, but same same. And it’s quite apt for me because it’s about friendships. Specifically:

  • What our friends deserve from us
  • Dealing with flagrant flakers and last-minute cancelers
  • Setting mutual expectations, and
  • Connecting and communicating vs. shutting down and feeling like a burden to others.

Here’s the transcript from The Atlantic for avid readers like me. And here’s the actual podcast if you’re the listening type.

I had two initial thoughts while reading the transcript:

  1. Shit, that explains a lot about my remaining friendships.
  2. Wait, how many friends do I have left?

From many to few

Yep, I’ve been doing some personal ‘auditing’ lately. Friendships are included here, and the actual number’s gone way down. Acquaintances and casual friends I rarely see are in the double to triple digits. Close friends whom I would make a real effort to leave my cozy apartment for? Single digits.

Many would start pitying me at this point or say something’s wrong with me, in the typical judgmental manner of those who think they’re just perfect. But I don’t think of it as a bad thing. Not all the time, anyway. I view it as a natural development, just a part of how I evolve through years and decades.

There is one important difference, though. Back then, people didn’t want to be my friend because I was a terrible person with underdeveloped social skills. Today, I’m the one wielding the ax. 🤣️

Why am I cutting or downgrading my friendships now? I have several good reasons.

People’s priorities, circumstances, and common threads change through the years.

We don’t hit life milestones at the same time, and we define ‘life milestones’ differently. Maybe marriage and/or children aren’t on the horizon for all of us (and that’s always OK!). We can be in contrasting situations with our biological or built families. We could be on varying work and career trajectories. Maybe we just don’t have that much free time as adults.

Physical locations can also impact friendships. Filipinos move around a lot now and seldom stay in the same place (or within the same social groups) until old age. Long-distance friendships can be tough to keep going too, especially when someone’s commitment to it and you flags.

And our past shared personal interests don’t always keep us linked today. These change over time, too. If you’ve managed to keep that friend from way back whom you met through a common friend, or that friend with the same hobbies and pop-culture tastes, that’s great. But most of us aren’t as lucky.

People have exited my life gradually because of these factors. I don’t harbor any hard feelings, and I can get quite sentimental when I think of them. I can only hope they think of me in the same way.

Their identities and behavior change as they do.

I’m all for personal development. But sometimes, friends’ new selves don’t jive with who I am and how I behave and treat people.

In one recent case, a close friend of almost two decades was taking me and another close friend for granted. She’d ask to meet up with us, saying we hadn’t seen each other in a while and we must catch up. Since these catch-up sessions last several hours and the pandemic kept us cooped up, we’d set aside half a day or night of our time for this + countless hours on our group chat.

Then, on the day and time we’d set, close friend #1 would suddenly stop responding to messages and calls. Close friend #2, her husband, and I met up without her, anyway. But of course, our feelings were hurt.

Hours to days later, we’d get a halfhearted apology from #1. She’d say she fell asleep and woke up well after she meant to, or work kept her glued to her desk. We get it – shit happens, we’re all dealing with something, and we have to give everyone more leeway and patience than usual. 🤷‍♀️️

We were fine the first time she did it. It was annoying the second time around. But I just fucking lost it after the third time.

Her trying to laugh it off with me – and then making a big and public effort to see her other friends – is really shitty behavior, and something I’m 100% sure she never wants to be on the receiving end of. And her being showy with her love and affection for those friends while saying nothing about us is extremely insulting.

#InfluencerLife, am I right? 🙄️🙄️🙄️

I told her to get back in touch when she’s learned to respect us and our time/effort again, and take full accountability for flaking out and being rude. She hasn’t responded or even tried to re-initiate contact since, so that shows me how much we mean to her: very little, if at all. I’m done for now.

Politics, baby. 🌷️🌷️🌷️

(I wanted to use an emoji of a pink rose, but it seems there isn’t one. Luckily, I love tulips. 💗️)

I ‘culled’ my friend list after the 2022 national elections, like countless other Filipinos. In taking my own advice – dropping many longtime friends who supported the Red and Green side – I lost friendships going back to my high school and college years, as well as some work connections.

I don’t regret it, though. I thought I could get along with everyone regardless of our political leanings. But now, I want my friends to share my values, morals, and loyalties.

More importantly, I must feel safe with them. Otherwise… 👋️ Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes rely on collaborators and informants. This was true during Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship; it remained true during the Duterte regime – and now, the Marcos Jr. ‘presidency’.

Even so, I have a ranking of sorts for these people. The Unfriend/Unfollow button is reserved for ex-friends who spread fake news and attack my side of the political divide. The people who remain on my ‘Friends’ list now have minimal access to my online posts, which is as close to banished as one can be these days.

They didn’t grow out of their old bad habits.

I’ve had this group of friends since my grade school and high school years. Their families know me quite well, and there were times when I felt more loved by them than by my own family.

After high-school graduation, some of us moved away from our ‘hometown’. However, many stayed there even as they started working and/or building their own families.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping to your roots. But what I think happened here is they formed a variation of small-town syndrome. They rarely ventured out of our ‘small town’ and thought there was no point in it because it already has everything they need. I was always the one visiting them, going to places in town they wanted to go to, and driving >40km round trip every weekend. Whenever they visited me, they made such a big deal out of it – never mind that they do this only once or twice a year!

I’ve told them all of this several times using these same words, and they simply ignored my displeasure. And they didn’t notice or care when I finally stopped making plans with them and became so exhausted by their self-absorption.

They’re still in my social circles, and I’ll always be fond of and grateful to them for saving me from loneliness and pariahdom when we were kids. And they’re good people deep down, then and now. But I’m not seeing them anytime soon, nor will I ever exert any effort to set anything up for the whole group. Bahala kayo diyan. 🙃️

They’re physically gone now.

No one wants to deal with death, and we are never truly ready for it – whether it’s ours, or someone else’s.

I’ve said permanent goodbyes to a few friends over the years, with the most recent one occurring just a few weeks ago. Illness is the usual culprit here, and their passing (from natural causes) was always sudden and unexpected.

So while there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do here, I also say treasure the time you do have with your friends and tell them you love them while you still can. And I believe that no one completely dies if you still remember them and talk about them. 😭️

Scott Platt Salcedo was a fictionist based in Boracay, Philippines. He was a damn good writer (and one of my national writing workshop co-fellows) who was nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. But he was an even better friend.

He was working on his first novel before he died in June 2023.

Read his published short stories:

– “Where Fish Grow the Fattest”, Salt Hill Journal #43/44
The Best Asian Short Stories: “Hunting Season” (2019) and “Mud Bound Country” (2020)
– “Leaving Catabuan”, SAND Journal #17
– “Sins of the Father”, GNU Journal
– “A Happy Ending”, Philippines Graphic
– “Yield”, Bull and Cross
– “The Edge of the Fields”, Kitaab.org
– “Outside the Rooms of Love”, The Chaffin Journal (2019 issue)

‘Strictly online’ friendships?

My prospects for offline friendships are bad ATM. What about making and maintaining them online?

The concept isn’t exactly foreign to me. I made two friends online when I was still in my teens: both Filipino by lineage but US-based, and both readers of my anonymous Geocities blog I thought no one ever read. 🤣️ I kept in touch with them across email addresses and free blogging accounts, but our conversations stopped after some time.

Gotta admit though, it was fun talking to two strangers who told me they liked what I wrote, and they meant it. I also realize I was extremely lucky that they were friendly, caring, and sane. I mean, we’re talking about the Internet here. We can always fare much worse, especially these days (and most especially if you’re a woman).

Now, in the 2020s, the dynamics of online friendships have changed. At least in my social circles, I never hear any more of people I know intentionally making friends online. What’s happening today, and particularly at the height of COVID-19, is that people maintain real-life friendships solely online via social media.

Again, it could be due to life priorities, physical distance, or conflicting schedules, etc. But it can also be due to medical and/or mental health issues, and putting self-care ahead of socialization.

I was in a group chat a week or so ago with my and Scott’s two other writing co-fellows. Another friend of Scott’s from another national writing workshop was asking if we wanted to meet up with their group and hold a memorial for him.

It sounds like a great idea – and I still want it to happen. However, my current hearing and balance disability + my anxiety in social situations with strangers are holding me back.

So I said I’d go, but only if it’s in a place where we can actually hear each other talk, and with a manageable number of people. My co-fellows have their own personal reservations, and both didn’t want to stay out all night and drink/party.

In a post-pandemic environment where large and loud – and sometimes drunk – social groups are the norm (and unregulated daily noise can actually take years off your life span!), the three of us were like “We love him and we want to say goodbye properly, but maybe we’ll pass on this for now…”

Circling back

Let’s return to the podcast I linked to at the beginning of this newsletter. I understand the need to protect myself in social situations and put my health needs ahead of everyone else’s. This is what I and my co-fellows are doing, and what most of us do every day. Self-care is real, folks.

But people can go overboard sometimes; and I wonder if I have here, too.

I think we’re a little too quick to be like, If I am not in optimal, tip-top shape to show up, then I won’t show up. Or that we have to be completely at ease, completely comfortable, completely full of vim and vigor to totally hang out with our friends.

And I’m not upset if you lose your childcare and you have to back out, or if you get sick. Things happen. Life happens. I think we can all be understanding. What bugs me is that it feels just completely fine in a lot of social circles to just cancel with no explanation or the reason is just I’m not feeling up to it today or I’m really tired from work.

I think it’s kind of part and parcel with a big premium that we put on protecting our energy as like the greatest good. But I don’t know if we should protect our energy at the cost of our relationships.

Julie Beck, host, How to Talk to People podcast

Or do they? Because, as the podcast hosts emphasize, real-life, in-person friendships aren’t just a definite choice you make every day. Keeping friendships alive (and being a good friend) requires hard work (emotional labor, not outright labor) and matching expectations and efforts. You earn the title of ‘friend’; and it means you give and take and make sacrifices for them sometimes, but never see the whole thing as a burden.

A wonderful distinction was also made in the same podcast:

Good company: I like you as a person. We enjoy our time together. We have good conversations. Good friendship: A friend is someone you invest in. It is a commitment. It is: I’m showing up in your times of need. It is: I’m doing things that sometimes might inconvenience me, because I’m thinking about how much they’ll mean to you. It is: I’m going to celebrate your successes. It’s: I’m going to follow through with what I say that I will do to the extent possible. It’s, basically: I’m considering you, and I’m considering your needs. In a lot of our culture, we’re stuck on “good company” and we haven’t gotten to “good friendship.”

Marisa Franco, psychologist and author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make – and Keep – Friends

So sure, we can have online friendships, if that’s what we want to call it. And maybe we can be selective about social connections and friends-of-friends, or at least postpone planned socials with them. But in terms of the people I love dearly and I’ll call for help if I find myself in deep shit… Offline or in-person is, and always will be, the way to go.

And can I just say it can be super fucking weird when we finally meet up with these people in real life after years of talking strictly online. We’ve all gotten so used to being behind screens that I find it odd to actually see them in human form. I know that was the case last month, when I finally met the guy I’ve been buying books from (and now coffee) since 2010. 😄️

Next steps?

Now that the basic ‘rules’ of friendships have been set, I have a few more questions connected to my situation:

  1. How can I make new friends? Specifically, how can I do this as a middle-aged person with a disability that is so unfriendly toward most face-to-face social activities?
  2. Related to age – How can I (and other middle-aged folks) make friends when we are already so set in our ways and averse to compromise?

Another thing to remember here is that there’s plenty of advice on how to create friendships and keep them going, but these people’s experiences won’t mean mine or yours would be the same; or even that there’s actually a perfect, foolproof, fail-safe manual for modern friendships. And we can do everything right and still say goodbye to beloved friends. Hey, that happens, too.

Nor are friendships always like what we see on TV or social media. We need to have realistic expectations of ourselves and other people, and the content we consume seldom helps.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what my next steps are. But I also believe that by whittling down my close friendships and social circles, I’ve made big strides in specifying how I want to be treated and valued, and how I could be a better friend to people who call me that without question or reservation too. That’s as good of a foundation as any.

Also, can I just say: If you aggressively subject your friends to multi-level marketing, you’re a dick that I never want to have anything to do with. Byeeee.

Heyyy 👋

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