Who are your friends? Who has your back? Are these friendships flesh-and-blood . . . or digital?
Driving home from work yesterday, I put on a little Morrissey, because real life just isn’t mopey enough sometimes. I also happen to enjoy the sound of his voice and think he has one of the most underrated ears for melody.
When I got to “Hold On To Your Friends” from his 1994 album Vauxhall and I, I almost had to stop and write these thoughts down on the spot.
A bond of trust
Has been abused
Something of value
May be lost
Give up your job
Squander your cash, be rash
Just hold on to your friends
There are more than enough
To fight and oppose
Why waste good time
Fighting the people you like
Who will fall defending your name
Oh, don’t feel so ashamed
To have friends
But now you only call me
When you’re feeling depressed
When you feel happy I’m
So far from your mind
My patience is stretched
My loyalty vexed
Oh, you’re losing all of your friends
Hold on to your friends
Hold on to your friends
Resist or move on
Be mad, be rash
Smoke and explode
Sell all of your clothes
Just bear in mind
Oh, there just might come a time
When you need some friends
I particularly love the lines “But now you only call me when you’re feeling depressed/When you feel happy I’m so far from your mind.”
That’s how it goes, isn’t it? We call and talk at someone because we need to “vent.” We don’t have conversations just to talk.
The Internet did that. Texting did that.
Yes, I’m turning into cranky old Grandpa Alex, but it’s true.
An interesting happened when I ditched social media–only three or four people I had considered my online friends reached out to see if everything was okay. Now to be fair, a few of them had my personal email, but others contacted me through this blog.
I’m not throwing anyone else under the bus. We all have lives and we’re all busy. And let’s face it–online people are real in that they exist as human beings using technology to communicate, but they might as well not be real because you don’t actually see them face-to-face.
Video and blog posts and Tweets and podcasts are not the same as standing in the same physical space as another human being. It’s just not. It’s a facile simulation, it may lead to lasting, real-life friendships, but like actual real-life friendships, it takes a lot of work.
So what else has changed?
- First: I’ve started to make more of an effort to call and text people out of the blue. That they’re not doing the same to me isn’t the point. We’ve all been conditioned this way. Especially men, who have fewer friends than women as they get married and have children and embark on careers. Maybe I can start the habit in myself and others.
- Second: I want to engage in more real-life, man-to-man interactions, and create what writer Neil M. White calls “Dad Networks,” though not necessarily based around fatherhood.
- Third: This might sound gay to you über-bros, but I’ve been trying to just approach other guys and talk to them. Just shoot the breeze. The funny thing is, I’ve gotten good responses. I think most men of a certain age similarly crave relationships with other men where they can just be men. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s weird, it can be awkward, but it’s a skill that’s been lost thanks to social networking.
The age-old advice rings true: put down the phone and start living.
I am not technological averse and I do not despite the modern world and all it’s accoutrements. My problem is with modern attitudes. Instead of our technology augmenting natural and healthy modes of living, it is replacing them with things that are far less beneficial to our minds, bodies, and spirits.
Consumerism over culture, snark and sarcasm over sincerity, materialism over faith, individualism over community, convenience over accomplishment, and the Internet over friends.
I suppose this is why big tech was such a compelling thing to have as a sinister presence in my forthcoming book A Traitor to Dreams. The main character is looking for an easy, convenient solution for her existential angst, and by God she finds the right bit of technology for the job, and more.
Not like big tech has its own sinister motives and agendas in real life or anything like that . . .
So per Mr. Morrissey, I don’t want to be that guy who only reaches out to others when things are bad. I don’t want to be just another atomized, domesticated American male, kept docile so we don’t get together and cause trouble for the Powers That Be and their schemes.
I’d rather be a man in the tradition of my ancestors.
Sometimes it’s good to call a friends just to see how they’re doing and for no other reason than to hear their voice. Sometimes it’s good to get together, not for a special occasion or tragedy, but because you’re both still alive.
“Just bear in mind . . . there just might come a time when you need some friends.”
Update: The article’s title is misleading, but here’s some more about the importance of friends:
People with strong friendships survive 7.5 years longer than those with weak or few social ties, according to a Brigham Young University report that covered 148 previous studies, which included more than 300,000 participants. Friendship, it concluded, extends life.
When Marla Paul, author of “The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore,” researched her book, she discovered that having long-term friends was “emotionally and physically protective. People have healthier cardiovascular systems; they’re less likely to die of a heart attack.”
In fact, she said, people with solid friends “sleep better.” Loneliness has a real physiological effect on one’s emotional and physical being, Paul suggested.
As always, view “the science!” with skepticism. But nobody can doubt, based on personal observation and experience, that it’s better to have friends than to be alone.