Archive for January 17th, 2008

Knowing Who Your Friends Are

WE ARE A MOBILE GENERATION. We uproot. We move west, we move east, we move across the ocean. And as we settle into our new environs we are faced with that eternal human challenge – making good friends.

The difficulty here, especially after leaving the cushy confines of the academic world, is not only in meeting people but in determining if they are your kind of people. People you could have coffee with. People who will pick up the phone. People who will be honest. During the cold winter months in a new place it’s more valuable than ever to have someone at your back, who you can chat with face to face.

I know a little something about this; I’ve relocated several times and, facing the alternative of being an isolated introvert, have thrust myself out into the fray. Today I sat down with The Harbinger (aka my friend Soren), who recently moved to Chicago. Over a hearty vegetarian meal at Earwax in Wicker Park, we discussed the difficulties of getting connected, the finer points of what it means to be a friend, and about how easy it is to fall back on old ties.

Comparing our experiences, Soren and I identified a common issue in meeting people – as disconnected individuals in a new place we have little to offer but ourselves. Approaching a new scene or group of people it becomes somewhat tempting to embellish the facts; for example, if we connect with people through a shared interest in riding bicycles then we might assume the persona of a “biker.” But we are complex human beings, and friendship is more than just fulfilling a role.

Moving to a new place on your own is a little like doing gymnastics without a spotter; it builds confidence, but falling into hard times is especially rough. Investing time and energy in friendships without knowing whether these people will hold you up when it counts can be hard – but it’s necessary.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge is to overcome the urge just to continually fall back on friends back home. There’s nothing wrong with old friends, but playing it safe this way can keep you from the best of experiences; case in point – Soren was just some guy from Minnesota to me two years ago. Now he’s among my close friends, someone I will stay in touch with even as we move in different directions.

No matter where you go in this world, the most cherished memories come from interactions with people, whether you’re in New York City or Normal, Illinois. A chic urban cafe is just an empty building without conversation percolating between its walls. When we travel or move, what we’re really looking for is change of scene. If we can’t connect to our new community, then what’s the point? The key is keeping honest, and then just getting out into the thick of it.

Photo: wintry mixed, by johnnyalive. chicago.

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