No one to call: friendships in America

Loneliness hit me a few days ago when my roommates were out with their friends and I didn’t have any social interaction planned for the day. I opened Facebook and scrolled through a dozen friends. I didn’t feel close to anyone so I ended up closing the app. I spent the rest of the night spiraling down, saddened by the realization that I had almost no close friends.

This story is quite representative of how I feel about friendships around me. It took me a while to realize what’s wrong: First, friendships are abundant but lack depth. I have a lot of friends but only a few where I’d be comfortable sharing my struggles. You hang out to be happy, not to drag other people’s mood down. Second, even with close friends, the worship for independence makes the need for interdependence frowned upon. Asking for help might be okay once or twice, but the expectation is for me to have my shit together so I can survive on my own.

Lack of depth

I have moved around quite a lot in the last 8 years: China, New Mexico, Boston, Mexico, UK, San Francisco. Moving around has certainly fueled fast growth in me; I change into new versions every year. The uncomfortable result is that most of my friendships are nascent. Thanks to my outgoing nature I have no trouble attracting friends, yet I struggle turning most into significant connections.

A normal hangout goes as follows: we schedule in advance since both are busy and finally manage to meet up. Our conversation is filled with intellectual ideas, explorations into the depths of our experiences, and sometimes, vulnerable topics. I often feel a deep presence in the moment but as soon as we part, the connection is severed. I walk away without feeling love. We might continue to meet up every so often, but we continue to be two individuals living our independent lives. Our paths don’t cross much outside these intentional meet-ups.

It’s not that I don’t try to deepen my relationships. There are simply not enough opportunities to deepen them. Our shared experiences, these catch-ups, don’t carry much weight. We have not sufficiently invested into each other to turn the initially transactional connections into love-based connections.

Independence over interdependence

A huge reason we lack opportunities for friendships to deepen is that we don’t reach out when we need each other. I can recall how delighted I was when my friends would reach out for help. I did not interpret their help-seeking as a burden. I was grateful that they gave me the opportunity to serve.

Most of the time, we are either too polite or too proud to ask. I embraced the culture of independence in the US in sophomore year when I decided to become financially independent. I not only had high expectations for myself for being independent, I also perceive a general expectation from friends who are also exceptionally independent themselves. For example, I am expected to Uber from the airport instead of being picked up by a friend. Asking to be picked up is a huge favor and should not be invoked unless I am desperate. Friends might be more willing to pay for my Uber than driving me themselves. I was expected to take care of parking when I borrowed a friend’s car without additional support, even though I had never parallel-parked before.

In both cases, it does make sense for me to take care of myself. What feels bad is that air of indifference. The feeling of being welcomed to a place and the moral support for a nerve wracking experience are missed. Love happens when we are there for each other. In a society where we are all so independent to the point that we don’t need each other, where is the room for love? We can most likely survive on our own, with a cold heart.

Yet sometimes, we simply cannot survive on our own. When I was depressed last year, I desperately needed help but only ended up locking myself in my room. I didn’t want to hang out because I had no positive energy to bring to a conversation, and for those hangouts I did have, I pretended I was mostly fine. After many months of darkness when I finally recovered, most of my friends were shocked to learn what had happened, especially those whom I had hanged out once or twice. I thought I was not to burden anyone with my problems. Needing help shows weakness and I did not want anyone to pity me. I struggled alone, so are the countless others struggling alone in this exact moment.

I am not yet blessed with solutions, but I want to try to offer myself to my friends more, especially when I know they are struggling with something. I might simply call them up sometimes and just tell them how much I love and appreciate them. I also want to find a balance between independence and interdependence and give more opportunities for friends to be there for me when I need them. At the end of it, it’s the love we receive and offer that makes life meaningful. Knowing this, I want to live with love as much as I can and hope that others can feel it.

Follow me to get my quarter life reflections. Cheers to Vincent for editing.



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Mojia Shen

Mojia Shen

Serving mother earth and her children