With the advent of instant messenger, myspace, and facebook it is easy to maintain contact with old friends, acquaintances, classmates, co-workers, etc. Most of my friends have myspace, facebook, or both. I don’t think it is inherently unhealthy to maintain old friendships, but I see people trying to make contact with people they haven’t seen since middle school. It just seems odd to me to stay in contact with people that will likely never again play anything other than a minor role in your life beyond a random e-mail, message on myspace, etc. I will be the first to admit that I too am guilty of this in some ways. I was always too lazy to make a myspace or face book page but I do use instant messenger. There are some people on my buddy list I have not seen in years and probably will never see in person again, though I still talk to them at least intermittently. I guess it boils down to the ease of doing so in the electronic age.
I don’t think it is about not being able to let go necessarily, but I think that the ability to keep in contact with someone (or begin contacting someone you have never met before) leads you to believe that there is more to a relationship than there is in reality. It makes you feel like Suzie from your 3rd grade class of Sharon from Seattle who is your “friend” on myspace is your closest friend in the world even though you would never spend time with her in real life for whatever reason, be it personality differences or trust issues, etc.
In some ways, I think it makes it easier for them to let go.
If someone you know is online all the time stops responding to you, there is very little room for doubt. They don’t want to be in contact with you.
If they are still intermittently in contact with you? Then they don’t want to let go…completely…either.
Mostly, I just envy them the time they have to spend staying in contact with ANYONE. I can’t even manage to stay in touch with my best friends.
My mother calls it “maintain the friendship”. I’ve never given a shit about that… to me, friendship happens or it doesn’t, you don’t “work” on it. Since mine is an attitude that’s very common for my father’s culture, but which gets me weird looks elsewhere, I think it’s not really a matter of age but of how you define friendship.
My SiL’s definition of friendship has been refined with the years (she’s 32 now); until recently, to her a friend was pretty much anybody whose address/cell number she had. Including some backstabbing bitches that, if they’d done to me what they did to SiL or to real friends of SiL, I wouldn’t even have counted as “acquaintances”. Again, different definitions.
Well it’s easier to let go practically but I think somewhat harder psychologically. The amount of transparency young people tend to have nowadays in their social lives is probably way above what even the biggest celebrities had in the 1970s. For just about everybody this creates this view of hundreds of people who are aware of your existence but actively choose not to communicate with you – if you’re currently watching some friend fade away into this group of people, it can be overwhelming, even if the reasons are clear (you moved, you slept with their significant other, etc.)
It’s certainly easier to do, because the indirection of the Internet allows people to bring the middle school send-a-friend-to-say “Susan doesn’t want to be friends with you anymore” all the way into college years and beyond and with an impartial and compliant computer for a messenger. Every single communication and networking tool I’ve seen contains three fundamental functions - to communicate, to learn something about who you are communicating with, and to block that person from communicating with you. If people grow up with it, they are probably less likely to develop this repulsion I have towards the idea of ostracizing somebody with a press of a button. It’s part of their world from the get-go – and while providers can’t avoid putting it in because of spam, harassment and stalking, by doing so they are unintentionally changing the overall perception of the concept of blocking. People, young people especially, are very quick to suggest ‘restraining order’ as a panacea of interpersonal problems nowadays, and while I’m sure Law and Order contributes somewhat to this, the idea of blocking somebody online being not only acceptable but routine is probably also a major factor, even if just subconsciously.
You may be overestimating the level of contact people are trying to make. I’ve had people who hated me in high school add me as a friend. Mayeb they just want to have a lot of friends on Myspace. The vast majority of people who add me, but that I haven’t talked to in years, won’t say anything. Once in a while someone will send a private message which will basically be the same conversation we’d have if we ran into each other at the mall. And a very once in a while I’ll actually reconnect with someone I end up hanging out with again. But for the majority, anyone I’d want to keep in contact with from those days, I have kept in contact with.
Well, you never know who will come back into your life. People move all the time, and if you’re new in town and the only person you know is someone you went to middle school with, why not send them an email? And if I got an IM from an old co-worker, and they seemed like they really wanted to get together for lunch one day, then I’d be up for it. I personally don’t hold onto old friends that well but I do appreciate the ones who make and effort to hold onto me, because I know that future communication from me is not unwelcome. I suppose if you already know that you don’t have the time for any more friends, then such attempts to stay in touch seem out of place, but then you can just ignore the emails. But people of all ages go thru phases where they need to expand their social network, so I think its good to have these resources for when you need them.