If I hadn’t had several career incarnations, I might not have realized that many of the people I commonly called “friends” really aren’t. They’re fun acquaintances that I laugh with day-to-day and maybe even meet for drinks after work occasionally. But most won’t, and didn’t, survive the career split.
I don’t begrudge that at all. I’ve heard many ex-employees bemoan the fact that the people they spent time with at the old job faded away after a few weeks or months. I had this happen as well but the truth is that if I’d really wanted to cultivate a long-term friendship I’d have tried a little harder to make sure we got together on a regular basis.
Perhaps my definition of “friend” is a bit narrow but most of the people I associate with are fun and worth a laugh or two at work but we don’t have enough in common to sustain that relationship after I’ve moved on. I think it’s normal to put your time into the establishment and learn to “fit in.” Consciously or not, that often means acting according to the group norm but not really revealing your innermost thoughts. Workplace relationships can be fickle and it only takes one disagreement or one assignment where you’re pitted against your friend to discover that it’s each one for herself.
That’s just human nature, I think. Everyone wants to succeed; everyone wants to be well thought of at work. And it’s that same survival mode that taught me to tread carefully. I’ve had plenty of friends who turned out not to be when a promotion was at stake or when the company was weighing the worthiness of each of its team members in times of financial crisis. And yes, I use the term “team” loosely because it’s really quite amazing how fast a valued team member can get thrown under the bus. I’ve watched far too many be given walking papers shortly after being told they were one of the most valued employees and would never have to worry about their position disappearing.
But I digress. Friendships. I enjoy my time with many of my fellow workers but I don’t expect that many, if any, will still be in my orbit about six months to a year after I retire. I don’t know if that will make me feel isolated and lonely or not but I tend to doubt it. I always have a gazillion things to interest me and to occupy my time. But who’s to say that I won’t enjoy all those gazillion projects for about a month and then find myself sitting around in a quiet house twiddling my thumbs, wondering who I can call in order to stop chatting with my cats and hear a voice besides my own.
I can’t actually remember a time when I’ve been lonely but that time may be coming. Who knows? I first started contemplating this possibility when I was approached one day in my local grocery store by an elderly man. I noticed him standing back staring and I thought perhaps I was in his way. However, when I moved away to another display, he came over and told me he loved the guacamole I had decided not to buy and wondered why I didn’t try it. I can’t tell you why, but I sensed that he could care less about why I didn’t pick up the guacamole. He just wanted to talk to someone. So, suddenly wondering if that would be me one of these days, I draped my arms on the shopping basket, parked my foot on the lower rung and had a lengthy conversation about what makes a good guacamole.
I measure a “friend” by someone who I’ve learned I can pour my heart out to, good and bad, and they’ll always be there for me. They are the ones that I’d entrust my cats to if I died tomorrow. They’re the ones I’d feel comfortable calling in the middle of the night if I needed something.
I think it’s harder to cultivate friendships like that as I get older, mostly because true friendships develop slowly. They require a gradual give and take of relevant information, the sharing of likes and dislikes, and the realization that this individual has passed all the little subconscious “tests” that have resulted in trust. In any case, I won’t be surprised if, in a few years from now, some of the people who swear we’ll always be in touch when I leave, one day hear my name and say, “Whatever happened to her?”