Missed Connections

Confession: I sometimes read the “missed connections” section of Craigslist, just for kicks. I find the way other human beings interact with one another, and the way they attempt to manipulate their social existence through cryptic (and anonymous) postings on a site frequented by untold millions, frankly fascinating. Besides, I think I’m waiting for the day when someone posts something charming and non-sexual, like, “To the elderly gentleman in the gray sport coat who sat reading the Washington Times over his bagel and coffee this morning in the Au Bon Pain on H Street and North Capitol: I hope you had a terrific day.” Or maybe, “You stepped back and let me get on the metro ahead of you during rush hour this evening at Gallery Place. We were both taking the yellow line toward Huntington. I was touched by your thoughtfulness. Too many people push their way to the front. Thank you.” And not, “Saw u getting on th metro at Foggy Bott. U had on a pink sweater. U r so hott!!! Post back and tell me what I was wearing so we can see if this goes someplace.”

In all seriousness, I think reading those Craigslist ads reminds me of how good I’ve got it when it comes to friends. I fall too easily into the trap of thinking that other people have these rip-roaring active social lives, that no one else ever struggles with feeling lonely or a little bit abandoned. But it’s not true at all, is it? We all struggle with that. And in the case of so many people, it’s not just a feeling–it’s the reality.

This state in life for us singles is a period of constant flux, and nothing changes faster than our social lives. I think it’s important to set that aspect of your life in a separate category altogether from “friends” and “community.” Social life can involve friends–and it should–but if you think of the two as synonymous, you’re in for trouble. It takes little effort to throw on a cute outfit and get together with a bunch of people to hang out. It certainly doesn’t require that you know the people you’re with on any personal level. You laugh, you talk, you flirt a little, you have a great time, you go home. After two or three outings with the same crowd you switch it up to keep things interesting. You get phone numbers, you become friends on Facebook, you text and message people for a little while, then you move on. Every now and then, though, someone “sticks.” Thus friendships begin. As a process, it works out okay. But there are days when it just rings a little bit hollow.

It hit me earlier this week, as I made up my half of the guest list for our upcoming housewarming party, how quickly our social circles change. This time one year ago, I didn’t even know most of the people I spend the bulk of my time with now. Currently I am out of touch with more than half the people I hung out with on any regular basis last year. And I can’t remember the last time I contacted anyone I spent time with two summers ago. C’est le vie: it is the nature of the “social life.” But that doesn’t mean one can’t regret the way things pass.

Of course the closest friends have remained the same, and in one or two cases we’ve even grown closer during these two years. But there’s still a little tug of regret (and yes, a little bit of guilt) over all those others. All further reminders that nothing lasts forever.

I got to thinking about how those relationships ended. Some had to be cut off; they were painful choices, but I still believe the decision was right. Personalities, expectations, desires were in conflict. Others fizzled out naturally; maybe we both got busy, or moved a bit farther away, or got caught up in other relationships. And others aren’t really “over,” they’re just non-priorities. We send occasional emails and talk in a hazy way about getting together “sometime” to catch up. It’ll probably never happen, and we both know it, but we still sigh after the possibility, true to form.

Things come and go. Places, events, periods in our lives, and yes–people. I catch myself thinking, “If only I had someone, I wouldn’t have to worry about this anymore.” (“This” being, I suppose, the temporariness of all my human interactions.) But that’s not really the case at all; the loss would just be that much more poignant when it finally came. And I don’t say all this to be morose. In fact, I have to laugh…to laugh at the way the answer is always the same. We thirst for eternity, and we’re immersed in the temporal. It’s always God, at bottom. God at the end of it all, sitting back with his arms crossed and not saying a word, just waiting for you to stumble upon him and figure it out for yourself.

But maybe it’s that sense of regret that draws me to Craigslist’s “missed connections” every now and again. We all have our regrets–some, granted, far more absurd than others. (I’m not pining after the “cute guy in the blue polo shirt at Starbucks in Largo this morning. He had beautiful eyes. We shared a look, but I was too shy to say hi. Wish I had.”) Beyond regret, we have that urge to make things permanent that are only meant to be passing. It’s okay to let things go. It’s okay to keep moving. The end is not here. And it truly is all good.

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