Our histories are those of people that have come and gone. Reflecting upon the past is bound to bring up names that once held meaning, faces that once held names. Even reflecting on the current often leads one to contemplate ongoing friendships and romantic partnerships, wondering whether they will endure into the future.
And so we, being humans, devise a thousand mechanisms to make us feel like our relationships last longer than they do— to hold onto a shred of permanence, perhaps. We are compelled to take pictures when hanging out or on vacation. We promise to keep in touch. We link pinkies. We exchange mementos. We write our names in permanent marker on graffiti walls. We sigh our love into padlocks on the Pont des Arts bridge over the River Seine, or perhaps on top of Seoul Tower.
Because it’s bitter to recall a childhood friend you now barely think about, knowing you once used to share your entire universe with them. What does that say about our current loved ones? As a high schooler facing graduation, time seems to take on heat and accelerate. The year that seemed to extend forever in front of me is now a semester—wait—not even. And in the most mundane moments, laughing at a stupid joke in the drama classroom, for instance, my mind suddenly freezes, recognizing there is a goodbye to come in a matter of months.
It goes the other way, too: when a friend complains about a classmate that is bothering her, I now tend to brush it off with a “hey, you won’t see him ever again after this semester”. But why should that diminish the challenge he presents in the here and now? A similar dilemma arises when, say, making friends while studying abroad for the summer. Teens may grow impossibly close in a matter of weeks, knowing at the back of their heads that these relations are probably ephemeral, just waiting to fade away. When asked for a list of the most important people in their lives, most people exclude those they have only been around for a short amount of time. Why should we value permanence and longevity so? Why can’t we accept that people come and go, and that the quality or intensity of a relationship does not necessarily depend on the time frame? And how are we to cope with the impermanence of most relationships?
Here, we are faced with the uncomfortable truth that friendships or romantic relations are mostly arbitrary, occurring due to the sheer chance that you would be thrown together with someone in a space rather than some inherent fate or a connection that binds specific people to be close. This also illustrates that we should accept the transience of relationships, because life is transient. Most of us move from one phase to another, and are faced with a different group of people at each stage. This makes it completely natural—if connection is based on circumstance—that connections come and go. The truth is that we should perhaps accept a different visualization of social life. We are not circles, perpetually increasing in size and overlapping with more circles as we go, but pathways that curve, converge, and diverge.
If circumstance and convenience sound like awfully unromantic reasons for friendships to occur, here’s a sweeter version of the truth as put forth by my theater teacher. She thinks of friends as seasons, each season bringing a whole different set of beautiful landscapes, the beauty partially rooted in the impermanence of joy—the gleaming moment which not only captures the exhilarating bond between two people but also the stage of life you as an individual happened to be passing through. And just as we let seasons come and go, with no more than a touch of longing for an extra few days of breezy autumn, we can let friends come and go. As the November leaves lose color. As they die with a crunch once the glory has all but left entirely.
This, for me, is a much more forgiving worldview, and it has helped me accept a few truths that are relatively new in my life.
The first is that I no longer relate to some of my close friends as I used to a few years ago. For a while, I questioned and berated myself for not holding them as central to my life as in the past— how could I? So-and-so used to be so close to me, I thought. But knowing that the intensity of a friendship is not some rock-solid entity that validates our history has liberated me from feeling bad. Dorothy is not in Kansas anymore (or middle school), and she doesn’t need a BFF. Hopefully, most of her intimate friendships will endure well into adulthood, but a few will inevitably float into the distance.
The second is that I may reconnect with someone from the past for arbitrary reasons. I realized this at a recent elementary school reunion I went to, where I met friends I barely remembered. We had said goodbye as 12-year-olds, and now, drinking champagne together as near-adults, I realized I wasn’t “getting back in touch with them”; I was getting to know entirely new people. I expected the reunion to be an awkward, lukewarm affair, since it seemed that we had nothing in common anymore, but it was instead a flourishing of renewed friendships. Perhaps some of them will be a part of the next season of my life.
I live in a city that never sleeps. Some lights flicker on and off, but the illumination is constant and throbbing. When I stare out my window at the dim glow reaching from the blinking buildings to the blackness of the night, I tingle at the thought of how many people I have yet to meet and marvel and be awed by and be enraged by.
The other day, I re-read a parting letter a friend wrote to me a while ago. I noticed that it read at the end: “please don’t forget me”, just before he signed it off. It echoed in my head a little. It seemed like an odd way to close a letter, almost assuming the negative, leaving me with a plea— not begging to keep in touch, not to send emails, but to keep a fragment of him in my fallible brain. I’m still trying to figure out what it means to remember someone, and whether or not that can impact the past—in retrograde somehow—and the value of the time you once spent together. After writing all this in defense of the fleeting, I don’t blame my friend. I hope he doesn’t forget me either.