What is the point of a Friendship if it fades?

I’ve been asking far too few questions lately.

Usually when I share something with you here, I want to give you something to be excited about, someplace you can dream to see someday.

But today, as I was triaging through old files, I came across a folder on my Mac called “Friend Docs,” resulting in a cascading series of events that led me straight down Memory Lane.

You see, ever since I got a new iPod, I’ve been shooting ABSURD amounts of HD video, and it’s filling up my drive faster that I anticipated. Turns out, a surprisingly large chunk of my space was also going to files that people have sent me over the past decade or so. Within the “Friend Docs” folder were photos of people I haven’t talked to in years. A Japanese musician, a German photographer, a graphic designer from New England. I suddenly wondered why I hadn’t spoken to them in so long and what their lives had become.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not expected to stay in touch with all of them. Sometimes connections just fade naturally. Travel has taught me this. Life has taught me this. And I get it. I accept it. Usually, I even welcome it, because when we let go of a connection that doesn’t resonate with us, we make space for something even better to come through.

I am living proof of this.

But as I shuffled through old videos and photos (even pictures of post cards), I couldn’t help but get a bit melancholic. Once upon a time, these files had meant so much to me. And now I didn’t care at all about most of them. Only a few, the few that sparked a memory, held any remaining value for me.

And I couldn’t help but ask myself: What was the point of these friendships? We don’t stay in touch any more, so were they a waste of time? Was I pursuing a weak friendship connection in the first place with some of these people? Perhaps. Perhaps.

Heck, I used to have a pretty good Japanese vocabulary! (Reminded of this by a screenshot of me Skyping with an old Japanese friend.) When I try and read hiragana now, I almost feel embarrassed at how much I’ve forgotten. What was the point? What was the point of any of this if my memory for language is like a sieve?

Stepping into a flooded fieldI let this thought stew for a while, and this afternoon I decided to go for a walk.

Outside, I discovered that a nearby stream had flooded, no doubt from all of the recent snowmelt. I’d been here dozens of times, maybe hundreds, and I’d never seen it like this — like a perfect mirror had been placed slightly above the landscape, and I stepped into the water with my waterproof shoes (just because I could).

Then I realized something.

In this changed environment, the stronger elements, often the older elements, reached out of the water easily. They would be fine.

I reflected: perhaps the passage of time is like a slowly rising flood. The memories are still there, submerged, but they aren’t always available for me to consciously access. And each of those memories has roots that go deep, even if I can’t see them. They reinforce other memories. (It’s all one big neurological network, right?)

A tree rising over a flooded field

It’s funny, because I’ve had this attitude toward relationships for a while now, that if something ends, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. As long as I learned something, as long as I grew, it’s not a loss. But I guess I wasn’t applying this same belief to friendships. Or at least, not all of them.

But it remains true.

As I stood out and reflected upon my own reflection in the water, I realized: even if I learned another language fluently from a friend and then forgot it because the friendship faded, there would be growth in that, even if I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what I’d learned about life. Even if I completely forgot the language afterward, it would still be worth it.

And then I expanded upon it. I realized that everyone I’ve ever met, no matter how briefly I’ve known them, has added to my learning in some way. Either they’ve provided more data for me to realize something new about humanity has a whole, or just provided a minor perspective shift, the learning is there, no matter how small.

In the end, not everything has to be remembered. And not everything has to be practical. It just has to be experienced honestly.

That’s something I expect I’ll have to keep telling myself.

What about you? From traveller to traveller:
How do you react when you reflect on friendships long faded?

Why Long Distance Friendships Always Fade in the End

Travel is a wonderful and beautiful part of being alive, isn’t it?

New places, new food, and often, new friendships. But there’s a dark side to travel. As wonderful as it is, there are palpable challenges associated with making friendships as you travel from place to place. In this article, I’ll explain the core of the problem, and the way you can intelligently solve the problem without much effort, because the problem is solved through understanding and self-knowledge.

A Major Challenge when Travelling

Many travelling challenges are not obvious from the outset. For instance, sometimes when travelling, at least if you’re lucky, new friendships will form quickly. Sometimes you feel that you resonate with the other person very much and may even see yourself becoming lifelong friends with them. This, in itself, is a beautiful thing and one of the great rewards of exposing yourself to new places and people. However, there is a serious challenge posed by making friends while travelling.

Invariably, you have to say goodbye.

The nature of travel is Movement. This is paradoxically its greatest challenge and its greatest strength.

Obviously, when you leave, you won’t see your new friend face to face for a while, perhaps not for years. And often, if a strong bond is made, each person will try to maintain the new friendship through methods other than face to face. It’s only natural, right? And today more than ever, people are maintaining these friendships through internet services like instant messaging, email, or even Skype.

There’s a problem with this though. In the long run, it just doesn’t work. The reason why is directly related to the fundamental nature of people.

But why doesn’t it work? Let’s pilot our metaphorical USS Friendship… ship, around the Ocean of Knowledge and see what we can find.

The Reason why It Doesn’t Work

Let’s return to our analogy. Imagine you meet someone who really wants to stay in touch, whether it be through email, Skype, or (my personal least favorite) telephone. However, since you only knew this person for a relatively short amount of time, maintaining a friendship will be exceedingly difficult via remote communication of any kind.

Yet some people buy into expectations of growing their friendship this way.


Because they fail to understand basic human nature. A budding friendship needs a good amount of time to build trust and connection, and sometimes people try to progress through this stage through using remote communications (including internet-based ones), and fail to realize the following fundamental elements of human nature:

  • Strong friendships require high levels of trust.
  • High levels of trust are built by spending quality time with someone.
  • Spending quality time with someone requires you be within sight of each other, at the very least.

And this is especially important in the early stages of a friendship when both individuals are still beginning to understand one another.

Low Bandwidth vs High Bandwidth Communication

A good way to illustrate this is to compare and contrast the different ways you interact with people in your life. Today, you have lots of options, and each option has a different level of information that can be communicated by using it. You can call this level of information the “amount of bandwidth” that a kind of communication is capable of transmitting.

Some methods of communication are very low bandwidth in terms of actual information received, such as email, instant messaging, and SMS texting. A slightly higher form of bandwidth is Skype voicecalls or telephone, because you can now hear emotional inflections in a person’s voice. An even higher level of bandwidth is a video call (which is available in Skype and iChat now), and this is higher obviously because you can see the person and read their expressions (more or less).

However, none of them can even come close to the amount of bandwidth face to face communication is capable of. (To put this in perspective, people used to call this “talking to someone”, but as you can see, we need to be a little more specific these days.)

Actually, talking face to face with someone is the highest bandwidth communication available today, and it’s how humans build trust. Their brains are wired that way. You may have heard that when you speak to someone in person, most of your communication to the other person is not in the actual words you’re saying. Most of the communication is non-verbal, i.e., being communicated through body language, expressions, and more. This explains why so much information is lost when you communicate solely through email or even phone. In fact, massive amounts of information are lost.

A budding friendship in which the vast majority of time “spent together” is achieved through low-bandwidth means is frankly not capable of developing into a strong friendship. It’s only the pale shadow of what a real life friendship might become.

This is somewhat similar to if you try to revive a friendship that has faded by using primarily low-bandwidth communication tools. Do you think this method will result in a renewed and strong friendship? It can’t. Using low-bandwidth tools (like Skype) for high-bandwidth tasks just doesn’t do the trick. Sure, a friendly email (or if you’re really awesome, a handwritten letter) is a great way to rekindle a friendship, but it’s only a start, not a way to maintain. It’s only kindling, it’s not going to grow any fires. This is why it’s so important to remember to be realistic when it comes to maintaining a friendship using anything other than face to face interaction.

The Solution is Courageous Honesty

You’ll find the solution to this problem by looking back at your own experience and by realizing the strengths and weaknesses of each type of communication method. If you’re really honest, you won’t try to metaphorically fill a square hole with a round peg. You’re smarter than that!

If you remember only one message from this article remember this:

The more you maintain your friendships in person, the stronger they will become. Otherwise, you’ll be experiencing a pale shadow of what your friendships could be. So it’s best to focus the majority of your social energy on people that you’ll actually see more than once a month (preferably more than once a week).

Yes, it’s great to keep in touch with friends that you rarely see, but just remember to stay balanced. Remember to put more time and energy into friendships with people you can actually spend time with on a face to face basis more than once in a blue moon. You deserve to have good friends in person, too. You deserve to have friends you can actually hug!

It’s really important that you remember how valuable time is, yours as well as other’s. Value the time you spend with people you care about. (I’m speaking of time spent with them in-person, of course.) I know it sounds brain-dead obvious, but too often we forget to value that time spent together.

Your time is precious (and limited), so make your friendships as good as they can be and have the courage to let go of friendships that don’t serve anyone anymore. If you feel a certain friendship no longer fits who you are, give yourself permission to let it fade with grace. Remember, if one person in a friendship isn’t happy with the friendship, no one in the friendship can be truly happy.

Instead, focus on strengthening the connections you actually want.
You deserve nothing less.