At the end of the world: thoughts on friendship

The Moon Valley, near San Pedro De Atacama, the opposite end of Chile to the blog post…
Chile, January 2020.

Despite being the sort of person who is called towards hours solitarily reading or writing, who’s happy spending hours or even days with little company, who finds a large group of people delighting and exhausting, I’ve been blessed with many friends. Maybe because if you want to be my friend, I am likely to accept with very few conditions. I have an expectation of mutual kindness and interest; however, I do not measure the depth of friendship by contact hours.

For me, what matters is a meaningful intent to have an authentic relationship

It doesn’t have to be complex, just real. Some people mistakenly imagine that to be my friend requires a certain level of education or worldliness, mistaking values I cherish within myself as what I need from other people. Similarly, my concept of friendship is not limited to people of my age. Some of my most treasured conversations within any friendship have been with people decades older than myself. And, at the same time, there is a teenage girl who I am looking forward to having to visit as soon as I am back home. We are going to bake a cake together, and she, I know, will have me in fits of giggles.

One dear friend once remarked how lucky I was to meet so many interesting people. Yes, it is true I do have such luck, but, still, there is something also about having the willingness to be interested.

However, meeting an interesting person is not the same as a long-term friendship

When I meet people who are also travelling, they often have strong opinions regarding the difficulty of staying in contact with friends back home. I have been known to be like that. Sometimes there develops a feeling of obligation, the idea that a ‘true’ friend would behave in a certain way. And, to my cost, I have worried about the necessity of knowing the detail of what was going on with my friends’ lives. Nowadays, thankfully, my cares are less rooted in my own ego. I have changed my mind. Such a style of friendship might well work for other people, but it doesn’t really work for me. This change of attitude doesn’t stop me being a good friend, if anything, it leaves me the room to be a better friend because I am less worried about my own inadequacies and less frequently overwhelmed.

People often talk about the need to stay in better contact; sometimes less is better

I recently went away to a national park here in Chile, a place where there is zero phone signal. I was away for nine days which is a long time to go without touching the internet. When did you last spend nine days internet free?

On the bus home, my companion exclaimed at the number of messages on her phone. I looked and saw lists of lit up notifications. At first, I felt bad about my own lack of popularity. When I’d switched it on, my phone had no notifications showing and only, I believe, three quiet messages waiting to be read.

But once the initial emotion of comparison subsided, I smiled

One of the things I had to do during therapy was to take control of when I was receiving information. There was little coherence in the pattern of my emotions and everything that could send a sharp prod of emotion through me generally did. Whilst I’d still say it’s better than feeling numb, it’s not fun. To deal with it, I became very strict with how I used the internet and particularly my phone, habits that, with time, have strengthened to the extent that now in a nine-day period it seems not one notification gets through.

And yet, I have to admit that I enjoy my friendships now much more than I used to. Both those friendships that are many years old and those which are much newer.

And technology obviously still plays an important role in maintaining these friendships

One of my three quiet messages, by which I mean only visible when I opened a particular app, was a long thoughtful email, another was a friend marvelling at the fact that I’d bumped into his brother-in-law at the top of a mountain the day before. I laughed. How miraculous it is that on top of a mountain at the far end of Chile, a place where the road is called ‘the route to the end of the world’ I bump into a guy who once kindly walked me home.

It has not been an easy journey to change my way of thinking about friendship and switch from insecurity (which inevitably, regardless of the volume of contact, leads to a sense of loneliness) and towards a sense of general trust, yet I have to accept that I have done so. Knowing that I care for a number of people scattered across many countries who in one way or another also care for me feels like a miracle. It is freedom.