Friends on Pause

I land in Narita Airport, Japan, pull two thousand Yen out of the ATM, and get on the train for Tokyo. From memory I walk down familiar streets until I get to the New Zealand Embassy in northern Shibuya, where my friend Elliot lives. I haven’t seen him in almost two years, and have only emailed a few times since then, but it’s as if I never left. We joke around, walk to dinner, and make plans for the weekend.

The next day I pop my Japanese SIM card into my phone and call my friend Toby to let him know that I’m around. He tells me about a party he’s throwing in Yoyogi park, so a couple other friends and I join him.

Nothing about these individual scenes is particularly noteworthy. That’s the point. In various places around the world I have enough good friends that I can have a pretty normal life there while visiting.

I was reading a book called Distracted, which, ironically, was so boring that I was constantly distracted from it until I finally stopped reading because I enjoyed it so little. One of the points she made was that we have shallow friendships all over the place, rather than a few deep friendships within our local communities. And, further, she said, we’re all nomads, traveling everywhere rather than setting down roots in one place. These are bad things, according to her.

I obviously don’t feel the same way she does about being a nomad, but I also disagree with her that infrequent friendships are necessarily shallow.

I was talking with my friend Derek once, who I think I’ve actually only hung out with in person three times, each time in a different location. He made a comment about how it’s assumed that the quality of a friendship is assessed by how much time the two people spend together, but how he believed that wasn’t actually the case. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I realized that he was right. He and I had a lot of common interests and ideas, which created a quick friendship and respect. Other people I’ve spent tons of time with, but our values and interests are so different that we never become very close. There are clearly other, more important ,factors at work.

The same is true with these long distance friendships. The fact that I’m not able to spend most of my days with these friends doesn’t mean that they aren’t great friendships. In fact, I’d say it’s the opposite: they’re such good friends that they don’t require constant attention to maintain. The depth of conversations I have with those friends is the same as with local friends.

So the author of Distracted can complain about how friendship is changing, but the rest of us can embrace it. Traveling is a blast, but it’s even better to be able to travel and have the luxury of being surrounded by good friends as you do it. That’s half the fun of traveling for me-making new friends everywhere I go, so that next time I go, an exotic country feels like home.


Can’t wait to see my Japan friends in 10 days or so!

I’m testing out the new Smartwool FiveFingers to see how they do for smell. One week into the test, full report coming soon enough.

I swear the RV upgrades post is coming soon. My dad’s in SF right now helping me out with my last upgrade before I’m ready. Direct quote: “You seem to really thrive on these monkeyed situations, but I can’t stand them. If I had a gun right now I’d probably shoot myself in the head.”


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