Hi Damon: As a person in my 30s, I seem to struggle with the simple act of keeping in touch with friends who live out of town. I tend to lean more toward the extroverted side, which means I have made friends and acquaintances at every stage of life. Friends from childhood, high school, college, grad school who all live in other states … and I feel like the worst friend in the world to all of them.
I’m starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with me, because nobody else in my life ever seems to feel this way. Or maybe they’re just not talking about it, I don’t know. I find myself so wiped out by my day-to-day that I either completely forget to check in with people, or I truly just don’t want to because I’m already so wiped out.
Am I so self-consumed that I forget to think about other people who (seemingly) love and care about me? How can I possibly keep in touch with all of these people who genuinely deserve to be kept in touch with?
— Out of Touch
Out of Touch: So let’s just start with the bad. You can’t possibly keep in touch with all of those people who genuinely deserve to be kept in touch with. I’m sorry.
If your friend group is as robust as you suggest — and congrats on being in your 30s and still having friends from each stage of life — the physical universe we currently occupy just does not have enough hours in a day to work and rest and work out and eat and hobby and consume and love and then stay connected with 20 BFFs.
Also, because your friends are from distinct places in your life, I’m presuming there are distinct dynamics within each group, too. Like maybe, for instance, your relationships with your grad school friends — whom you met as an adult — are different from your relationships with the friends who’ve known you since you were in third grade. Just thinking about the work and bandwidth necessary to be mindful and considerate of all of those distinctions within your friendships is making me tired.
But here’s the good news! Well, it’s not necessarily good news. But it’s sobering, at least. No one else can, either! All your friends — at least the ones with as many friends as you have — are struggling, too.
Of course, their struggles might not be as noticeable, but you can probably attribute that to our strange cultural commitment to the performance of ease, where we offer the world curated snapshots of our lives that project supinity instead of reality. Most of us, however, are barely treading water, just like you are, but pretending to be swimming, just like you wish to. This doesn’t make you a bad friend. Just, unfortunately, an adult.
I have two pieces of advice for you. First, you should make an assessment on each of your friends. Not to measure their “worthiness” as a friend, but to know how much is necessary to nurture the relationship. For instance, in my (much, much) smaller group of close friends, there are some I communicate with multiple times a week, some where we talk maybe once a month, and one where we see each other once a year. Not every friendship can survive the once a year thing, but no relationship is one-size-fits-all, and I think it would be helpful for you (and them) if you made adjustments on the frequency of interaction based on who needs what. (Also, are each of these friends making a consistent effort to connect with you? If the answer is no, this doesn’t necessarily make them a bad friend. Just someone treading just like you are. Just like we all are.)
Before you even do any of that, though, I want you to give yourself some grace. The fact that you have this much anxiety about whether you’re a great friend means that you’re a great friend. And I hope your friends treasure your relationships with them as much as you do.