The Problem of Distance

Distance is the biggest killer of friendships, in my opinion. When I was 8, I moved 300 miles up north with my mum and brother in order to live with her fiancee (who hated me and my brother, but that’s another story.) At 8, I lost every friend I had. At 8, that’s not such a huge deal. Very few people are still friends with the same set of people they were at age 8; if they are it’s a rarity- it’s beautiful but it’s a rarity nonetheless. As you grow older, you’re more likely to stay friends with people no matter the physical distance, you make the effort to stay connected to those you truly care about. But also as you grow older, emotional distance becomes more of a problem. Losing friends is part of growing up.

When you’re young, you don’t think in terms of the power dynamics of relationships and the consequences of disclosure; when you’re young, emotional distance is never a consideration and thus is never a problem. Now, I am chronically aware of every bit of information I share and every bit of power consequently transferred to the recipient. Now, I don’t have friends.

It sounds far more depressing than it is, I’m of the strong opinion that friends are overrated- but then again that might be a defence mechanism. My group of acquaintances is huge; I loosely know many, know well few and know intimately probably around 3 people. There are 3 people I could genuinely call up and kick it with, those three are my ‘squad’, if you will (and you won’t.)

Though the very nonexistence of my friendship group does not bother me hugely, it’s fairly embarrassing when it comes to demonstrating or explaining it. Take my boyfriend, for example: he is a rarity in himself, he is one of the very few people left in the world who genuinely cares about people and his passions and is inherently good. Because of this, he unsurprisingly has a group of close, intimate friends who he can talk to. Yikes- imagine that.

For the past 3 years, I haven’t celebrated my birthday (first world problems, I know) partly because I don’t actually have a secure group of friends to celebrate with me.

“Just get a group together for some drinks, even just a small group!” he says, “It doesn’t need to be anything huge.”

Ah, but the problem of a small group is how small. When you get down to a gathering of 8 to 10 people, those people need to be a squad. It’s a small and intimate gathering where you see and talk to everyone- if you’re loosely acquainted it feels wrong to be invited and awkward to attend.

I have a squad of 3, including my brother- the meme loving fuck. There is something intensely uncomfortable about explaining to your boyfriend that you haven’t arranged a celebration because your friendship dynamics are so poor that you’re unsure who would attend. It’s similar to saying, “hey, I’ve got absolutely no friends because I’m generally dislikeable as a person and put conscious effort into distancing myself from people.”

Deep. But not particularly personal, in fact it’s very millennial- isn’t it? I’ve wanted to write an article about millennial alienation for the longest time, but I’ve never quite had a context to pin it on. In that way, this piece of less of an article based on the news but instead an autobiographical observation. Struggling to plan a party with a few friends in an age when I speak to so many people on the daily seems bizarre. I have a 300 day Snapchat streak with someone I don’t consider close enough to feel comfortable inviting to my house.

I hate to be all ‘hurr durr technology is bad,’ but I’d be ignoring the obvious if I said it

“durr hburr technology is bad fire is scary and thomas edison was a witch”

hasn’t changed our idea of friendship. It was Twenge (2004) who pointed out that we have created a culture of “cynicism, individualism and self-serving bias,” which can’t be being helped by our half baked friendships over social media that mostly serve as a like-generator on our latest instagram post. We don’t need to make real friends anymore, it’s just not essential. We can seek instrumental support from family, emotional and esteem from strangers on the internet- to deeply know someone takes effort and risk and is not entirely self-serving, so why bother?

There’s the cynicism.

Even if that is just a cynical vision of the youth world, I know it applies to me- and I’m aware it’s something I need to work on. Friendship puts one at risk, it requires effort and trust, and so instead I- like many others- create deliberate emotional distance. I have one friend that lives 200 miles away from me whom I consider my best friend, where the physical distance is no problem because I share with them every aspect of emotion; and I have friends 7 miles away that between them and myself I have created such a chasm, we may as well be on different continents.

Distance is the biggest killer of friendships, in my opinion- but it can always be stopped, and many of us just won’t put in the effort. We’ve got instant access to endless support with minimal risk. Much like the ‘Strangers on a Train’ phenomenon, we can share our problems and doubts with random internet users and leave unscathed and with a weight lifted from our shoulders. It’s all false though, what happened to the life-long-friend culture that was around when my mum was at school? Friendships can be so shallow and easily replaced that it’s almost trendy to be distant; trendy if it weren’t for the realistic consequence of further isolation.

We’re isolated as millennials in a world that doesn’t belong to us, and so we isolate ourselves further in defence. With globalisation and transport, physical distance doesn’t matter anymore- emotional distance does. And we may all just need to take a step back and evaluate the metres we’re putting between ourselves and others, I know I do.


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