Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot?

…and never brought to mind?


That’s because the Inverse Square Law says so. And the Inverse Square Law eventually works its way on all relationships…including extended family members.

So what does the Inverse Square Law have to say about this? Well, the simplified version is that the intensity of a relationship falls off more and more quickly the farther away you are from it…until you’re down to practically nothing.

This came to mind as I was looking at the list of people we send Christmas cards and family newsletters to, and thinking about the five people who would be culled from it in the coming year. People who I haven’t heard from in like forever. And after I thought about it a bit, I realized that I was OK with culling them…because the Inverse Square Law had had its way with them, and maybe it was time to let them fade out. Maybe, for them, the Inverse Square Law had had its way with me long ago, and they were more than happy to let me fade away, but I kept sending those damned cards and newsletters.

But really, think about it…your best friend from high school, your old college roommate(s), all the people you hung out with at your old job, even your cousins from across town that you used to play with all the time…as you go farther away and see them less, the relationship is bound to fade as time goes on; and it’ll fade more quickly as more time goes on.

Unless, of course, you are intentional…or even unintentional…about keeping it up.

What are the intentional ways of keeping it up…of keeping the relationships from fading? The usual things: regular cards, letters, email, phone calls, and visits….in both directions. If one party thinks they’re doing all the heavy lifting, resentment will speed up the work of the Inverse Square Law.

And yet sometimes, even with being intentional about trying to keep up a friendship, there comes a point where it starts to feel forced and unnatural. There comes a point where you realize that maybe it’s time to let the other person go. After five years you still have a lot in common. But after 10, 20, 30, or more, your lives have diverged to the point where you have nothing in common anymore except some fuzzy memories from “back then.” Memories which may not be enough to shore up this fading relationship. There comes a point where you ask yourself if you’d still be friends with this person if you both met each other now for the first time.

What are the unintentional ways of keeping a friendship up? Well, one of the best known ones is Facebook.

Facebook is an odd hybrid of both intentional and unintentional. Yes, you’re intentional about joining Facebook. Yes, you’re intentional about accepting someone as a friend, or asking to be theirs once you find out that they’re on. And yes, you intentionally joined that group dedicated to your old high school, your old hometown, the choir you traveled across the country with when you were in college, or some other organization you were a member of at one time. Yes, you were intentional about all that. But after that, a lot becomes unintentional and coincidental in a way that feels very natural and unforced.

It becomes unintentional because Facebook’s magical algorithm has things randomly pop up in your feed from these people every now and then, for you to see, reminding you that they existed. And the beauty is that they didn’t have to specifically target you, which could be awkward. You just happened to be in the “virtual hallway” when they walked by. And if you happen to comment on one of those posts, you briefly enter their lives again, in a natural and unforced way.

As long as you are Facebook friends with someone, the work of the Inverse Square Law is slowed down.

And yet…and yet…sometimes there does come a time to realize that it’s time to let go of someone who used to be a friend. And sometimes you’re relieved when they let you go. Which brings us back to my original question:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…and never brought to mind?

I’m thinking that sometimes auld acquaintance should be let go.

But...I’ll privately drink an occasional cup of kindness to those I’ve let go…and who’ve let me go.

Including the five I’m culling from my mailing list for next year.

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