During the last five years I have received e-mails, phone calls and comments from readers on the subject of friendship in our town. One of the most surprising things I learned was how transitory most friendships were. The majority of people who had lived in Chapel Hill during at least some portion of their childhood and attended Chapel Hill schools or UNC recall many more friends than people who came to town as adults. During our school years acquaintances were plentiful with hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals in the same year of school and college, we spent many years in parallel lives. We also had the wonderful advantage of being immature and not knowing ourselves very well, which allowed us to be open to many more types of people. However almost everyone who had made good friends in their school and college years schools had lost touch or grown farther apart over the years as they became adults, married, had children, and most moved away from Chapel Hill. Recalling those times almost everyone remembered quite a few acquaintances, several girlfriends or boyfriends, and one or two close friends. When I started Chapel Hill Memories I still considered almost everyone I had known in Chapel Hill (from the time I was born until I moved away when I was 40) as my friends, but I now realize many of them may think of me as little more as an ex-friend or former acquaintance.
Charly Mann October 2013
Readers I spoke to who came to Chapel Hill as adults said they made few if any close and long-lasting friendships. A common reason was that they had experienced a series of relationships in which they felt they gave far more than they received. They recounted stories of spending time listening to and helping people who they thought were their friends during challenging times for them, only to be ignored or cast aside when they had similar problems. Many also felt people had misrepresented their true nature to gain benefit from their friendship with no intention of forming an authentic friendship. I heard at least a dozen stories about rejection, betrayal, and selfishness from people who were thought of as friends.
I have written articles in Chapel Hill Memories about more than one hundred current and former Chapel Hill friends and acquaintances I admire and really have no ill will for anyone. Five years ago several people who regularly read Chapel Hill Memories convinced me I should join Facebook to connect with even more former Chapel Hill acquaintances. Within three months I had 437 "friends" with Chapel Hill connections. The only problem was that just a small fraction of those were people I had any close relationship with when I lived in Chapel Hill. Going through hundreds of Facebook posts every week from people I hardly knew quickly became very uninteresting to me. If we had talked on the phone or exchanged letters to share common experiences it would have been different, but I soon simply eliminated about 80% of these people as Facebook friends. Even among most people I kept as friends on Facebook there are no real back and forth friendly conversations. Interestingly, most of my closest friends have never even joined Facebook. With them I continue to regularly exchange letters or long e-mails that are both enjoyable and emotionally fulfilling to write and receive. I believe human interaction should rejuvenate, reaffirm and replenish our souls and social media does not do this for me. Although Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter provide us with hundreds of connections, a recent study by the American Sociological Review found the average American has fewer close friends today than they did twenty five years ago. Few of the people I communicated with for this article who were Facebook users had a single close confidante outside their own family.
The last bit of preparation I did before writing this article was to call six people I had previously talked to over the years about Chapel Hill friendships and collect their most current thoughts on the subject. A female, now in her late thirties and living in New York City, told me she had lost contact with all her old friends because she had to focus on the stresses and time commitments of her marriage, children, and job. A male friend in his early 60s who is recently divorced told me his only friends now are co-workers who he rarely sees outside of work. Even though I remember him as one of the most socially active in Chapel Hill during the 70s and 80s, there is only one Chapel Hill friend he keeps up with, by way of an annual phone conversation that lasts about ten minutes. A current Chapel Hill resident, who has lived in Chapel Hill on and off all of her life, says there are several old friends she grew up with who she gets together with several times a year for a meal, movie, or cultural event but they no longer share anything personal or have deep discussions like they did when they were young. A buddy of mine from elementary school, who now lives in Durham, says he still has a handful of good friends in Chapel Hill, but all they do when they get together is watch sporting events and occasional movies. One of my ex-girlfriends who still lives in town has a couple of girlfriends who she has known for most of her life, but one moved to Florida about a decade ago, the other to Raleigh, and now she hardly sees either. She says it is her relationships at work at UNC Memorial Hospital that sustain her, but none of those people are really friends.
Finally I have a friend who is a psychiatrist who I talked to about this subject. He told me that even close friendships rarely last more than seven years. Most people become our friends not so much because we have a lot in common, but because of their proximity to us at the time we met and because they were fun to hang out with. Through his work with patients over many years, he has found that one of the main reasons we seek friendship is it provides an alternative to loneliness. He says the happiest people he knew were those who married someone with whom they had a lot in common and became their best friend for life.
by Charly Mann
Please send your experiences and stories about Chapel Hill friendships to me at email@example.com.Comment
What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.