Making “Close” Friends: Why Proximity Matters

Making 'Close' Friends: Why Proximity Matters

Growing up, I watched the older folks in my family make and maintain friendships. While some friendships dissipated over the years as people picked up new interests, others grew into family-like bonds.What I learned from watching my grandfather and mother make friends was that maintaining a long-term relationship that can last decades requires proximity.

When I say proximity I do not mean living with few yards of each other, certainly that might help, but more distance that is manageable for both parties to engage in frequent face-to-face interactions. My grandfather and his best friend met at least three times per week over shared drinks and sometimes seemingly meaningless banter over who did what and where. My mother on the other hand met with her close friends at least twice a month and would catch up where they left off, as if no time were lost at all.

Over the past few weeks, I have had trouble comprehending why none of my neighbors wanted to be friends. According to what I’ve learned from my family, these would be the easiest friendships to maintain. However, sometimes we become so wrapped up in our own worlds, we don’t even notice the friendship opportunities that lay in front of us. As I continue to ponder this, I find myself confused about the difference between social responsibility and friendship. Just because we live close to each other, and should support each other in certain neighborly matters, doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be friends with each other. Though it would be nice! 

Drawing from what I learned from my mother and grandfather and looking at my own experience with friendships in today’s world, I realize that proximity does not necessarily mean every day physical accessibility to someone, as it would be difficult for anyone living in modern society to maintain any sort of friendship at all. As we barely have time to meet in person these days, we maintain feelings of connectedness through simply staying in touch through our digital channels.. My struggle to turn my neighbors into friends made me realize my own need for emotional proximity with my current and future friends.


Emotional Proximity

So with this in mind, I took some time off to experiment with emotional proximity. For a week I cut down on the number of times I talked to the friends I regularly talk to every day. This wasn’t easy, not only we refrain from meeting, but all phone conversations were kept under five minutes. After a few days of practice, the other parties stopped trying as hard to stay in touch and I could sense the emotional distance seeping in.


Friendship Means Being Close, Photo by Cheryl Holt
Friendship means being close, Photo by Cheryl Holt

It takes a combination of physical and emotional proximity to make our friendships flourish. This is why it was so easy to make friends when we were children — we were spontaneous and always available to meet in person. At the same school, it was inevitable we would see our friends almost daily, but as we grew older the distance and lack of free time would make it more and more difficult to create and maintain friendships that would last.

From my past week’s experiment, I realized that while we don’t have the luxury of spending face-to-face time together on a regular basis, we have other tools that my grandfather didn’t have that can provide a similar experience. And no, I don’t mean Insta stories or Facebook! We have video chatting.

Think about it, with video chatting we can somehow create the illusion that we are actually quite close in proximity, in a sense tricking this , proximity barrier that felt so important to my mother and grandfather. So despite being thousands of kilometers away from someone, you can create emotional and perceived physical proximity and maintain relationships that might have otherwise dwindled in the past..

That said, I haven’t given up on trying to become friends with my neighbors! However, I am not limiting myself to the idea that good, close friends can only be formed when we see each other every day. While that may feel important, it’s not the only way.

The bottomline is that true friendships require proximity, both physical (or perceived physical) and emotional proximity,and we all need friends despite how self sufficient we think we are! Friendships make our days seem brighter, the situations we are going through more manageable, life more secure and experiences more memorable. It’s important to break through the barriers of who we think we should be friends with (like neighbors) and explore the people around us. Through close friends we can find true companionship.

Trusila, Lonely Neighbor

Trusila Muroka
Administrative Assistant at Panion, Anthropologist, writer
Live, Learn, Love, Laugh.