Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Mystery of Relationships - Old Friends, New Friends

My West Point class regularly publishes a magazine that keeps me up-to-date on the activities of my classmates with reports of family, cruises, fishing trips, reunions and ceremonies. We're now in our mid-sixties, and I haven't seen most of these guys in over 40 years. Changed by the years, their faces are almost unrecognizable.

As I read the latest issue, I remembered a funny story that made it's way around the planet and found it's way to my email inbox:

My name is Alice, and I was sitting in the waiting room for my first appointment with a new dentist. I noticed his DDS diploma, which bore his full name.

Suddenly, I remembered a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name who had been in my high school class some 40-odd years ago. Could this dentist be the same guy that I had a secret crush on way back then?

Upon seeing the dentist, I quickly discarded any such thought. This balding, gray-haired man with the deeply lined face was way too old to have been my classmate. But after he examined my teeth, I asked him if he had attended Morgan Park High School.

“Yes. Yes, I did. I'm a mustang,” he gleamed with pride.

“'When did you graduate?” I asked.

“In 1975. Why do you ask?”

“You were in my class!” I exclaimed.

He looked at me closely. Then that ugly, old, bald, wrinkled, fat-ass, gray-haired, decrepit son-of-a-bitch asked, “'What did you teach?”

Thanks to the Internet, I've been reunited with old friends I haven't seen in decades. I always initiate these contacts with excitement, eager to rekindle the old relationship and pick up again where we left off.

It never works out that way. Yes, familiar reminders of the old friend are there. But a lot can happen in all those years, and a lot has happened. People change. I know I've changed quite a bit in that time. I'm still me, I still have all the memories, but I'm not the same guy I once was.

I realize now that while we were once good friends, the truth is that with all the water under the bridge, we're now mostly unknown to each other. We're now acquaintances. "Rekindling the friendship" is harder than I once thought.

First, I'll have to get to know the person all over again. If I do this right, I'll get to know a more complex person in a more complex way.

Second, I'll have to maintain contact. Otherwise, who they are will be lost to me again. In other words, I need to make the same commitment and investment I do with all my friendships.

And that's what I'll have to do if I want my acquaintance relationship to grow into a friendship again. It's a choice I didn't expect to have to make. And in several cases, I've decided to maintain the relationship as an acquaintance. The person I chose for friendship all those years ago isn't someone I want to work on getting to know that well today.

Strangers, acquaintances, friends, best friends and partners. We decide how much intimacy we want, whether we're conscious of the choice or not. And then we act accordingly.

For the people we really care about, we make the effort to spend time together and stay in touch.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from


Steve Borgman said...

Denny, it's true: the internet has put me in touch with so many new people and so many people I never thought I would hear from again. It's definitely a challenge to know how much to connect, and how much time and energy to put into those connections. Sounds like a good topic for a future blog post!

Nora Boekelman said...

A very familiar story, nevertheless quite interesting! I too have similar 'friends', we are definitely not the same ( but we are ), but I wouldn't want to visit or go to dinner with them...Pity really in some way...but that is the way!