The biggest determining factor for friendship is proximity.
My mom picked this tidbit up when she was researching her Master’s degree in Family Therapy… and I have been noodling on it ever since.
I’m a member of the Friends generation. The show supports Mom’s research. How else other than proximity would Ross, a geeky paleontologist, end up at the same dinner party as Phoebe, the eccentric masseuse?
My own life is no exception: I have bonded with neighbors over snow shoveling, power outages, and tick removals.
One of my teachers, a Cherokee medicine man, taught that in traditional culture the individuality that we strive for here in America would have been seen as a sickness. You didn’t go tromping all over looking for your like-minded friends. You were a part of the greater whole of your village and they were a part of you.
But our modern concepts of friendship are similar to our concepts of romantic love: we are searching for a soul match, a click, a tribe of like-minded folks. We create family and friendships of choice. And modern technology—from cars to computers—make it possible to search further than our neighborhood to find these relationships.
The gorgeous friendships that result, the friendships of the heart, sometimes root in the most outrageous soils. They thrive despite oceans and airplanes and the issues that distance brings.
The friendships that happen over borrowed cups of sugar and porch-sitting through power outages are a bit like native plants—they can thrive through droughts and windstorms, strongly rooted to a specific place.
But these other friendships, the long-distance ones, are more like hothouse flowers. They can be oh-so-sweet, but they need a bit of water and fertilizer, a few extra minutes to text “I miss you” or to juggle the time difference for an afternoon chat.
And when you have a few friends, or a tribe of friends, at a distance it takes yet more work.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard students and clients say they are looking for their tribe. There is a pervasive loneliness in our deeply (and dearly) developed individuality.
And yet, there is often a failure to acknowledge that finding and keeping a tribe of heart-bonded friendships takes a commitment. It means going into the hothouse a few times a week and not just basking in the glow but watering and fertilizing.
In this way, community becomes a verb instead of a noun.
Recently, a Witch Camper wrote to me:
I am interested in doing group work with women around my age with similar interests but I’ve come to the conclusion that it needs to be a self-defined group, self-chosen, and cooperatively run.
I don’t know if this particular Camper is psychically attuned, so she may or may not have received my high-fives.
For a community to function as a community, people need to be webbed to each other, not all turned to face a guide or leader. When each individual takes personal responsibility for creating connection and collaborating with others, a true community can be born.
And, like a village, you will probably find that even amongst these like-minded folks, there are some with whom you want to share your deepest dreams and others with whom you don’t speak much until your car needs a jump and they happen to be the one who has jumper cables.
So what’s the lesson here?
For me it’s that each time I walk into a new experience, whether it be live or virtual, whether it has existed for decades or is just getting started, I am walking into a new opportunity. If I want that opportunity to become community, then I need to build that for myself, one hot-house flower at a time.