Recently, a couple that Bhavana and I used to meet every few months prior to the pandemic invited us (along with the rest of the group) for dinner – to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. I was meeting most of the group after almost three years. What surprised me was the ease with which the conversations flowed – even though we had not met for a long time. For those few hours together, we were all just ourselves – laughing, joking, sharing, gossiping like we used to. As Bhavana and I returned home late, she remarked, “This is what friendship is about – the ability to easily pick up from where you left off even after so much time.”
It is important for us to have friends. We have some good friendships when we are in school and college, and then tend to drift apart. We can build new relationships, but it gets harder as we get older and busier. And yet, friendship matters – we need a few people in our lives we can share without restraint. Time and distance may push us apart but if we take the effort to keep the relationship going, we will find great benefits from these friendships. As Vincent Van Gogh said, “Close friends are truly life’s treasures. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves.”
In school, there were three of us who were inseparable. And even as we have all aged, we have kept the friendship going. All of us are in different parts of the world, and it has probably been more than 15 years since we all met together in person. Now, we do Zoom calls on each other’s birthdays and talk about not just the present but also the shared past. It is the same with some friends from my days at IIT. A year ago, I connected through LinkedIn with a Greek friend from the Masters program at Columbia University after more than 30 years. We had shared some wonderful times together doing late-night projects even though we were from very different cultures. We discussed our professors and memories from the days at the Engineering school. One could argue whether this was really a friendship given the gap in communications; the way I think of friendship is that there are some tight relationships and some loose connections, but the bond of shared experiences is one that never fades away.
Robin Dunbar writes in his book, “Friends”: “Friendship and loneliness are two sides of the same social coin, and we lurch through life from one to the other. What has surprised medical researchers over the last decade or so is just how dramatic the effects of having friendships actually are – not just for our happiness, but also for our health, wellbeing, and even how long we live. We do not cope well with isolation. Friendship, however, is a two-way process that requires both parties to be reasonably accommodating and tolerant of each other, to be willing to spare time for each other. Nowhere has this been so obvious as in the modern world. Just when we might think social life couldn’t get better, suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of a plague of loneliness…Friends do a lot for us and we invest in them to ensure that they do.”
Here is a pictorial representation of the “circle of friendship” from the book: