Alone in desert

Short-Term Connections: Redefining Friendship in a Globalized World

5 min read
Early last year, a former classmate introduced me to her sister, Flora. Soon we became closer friends than I ever had been with my classmate. We shared moments from employment struggles to needing relationship advice to a strange love for avocados. Sadly, just as I was about to gain security in the friendship, Flora moved to Dubai. I was happy for her. It’s not like it was the first time, truthfully it had become quite common to find yourself having to move on and leave good friends behind or having to be left behind when a close friend begins a new chapter.


The Social Narrative

The narrative in my town often begins with the cliché request between old friends: “We should meet up some time” followed by an always optimistic “Yeah sure, we definitely need to do that” in which ultimately the meeting never materializes. I live in a woke African society integrated with a Western sense of technology, where friendship is valued by the number of years that individuals have kept in touch. I do believe that this cuts across all of humanity. Our bonds as friends are defined by “how long we have known each other”.


However, we have to come to terms with the new reality of a fast-paced world that seemingly makes it impossible to have deeper connections based on the pretext of always being busy. Education, social media, work, travel, etc. leaves us empty and isolated with vague connections and yearning for familiarity.


When you are born, your basic human instinct is to yearn for connection, and your siblings are often the first to help you form a basis for your future friendships, and those relationships often last longer. Soon after you go to school and are exposed to a wider circle, the basic human instinct remains, so you make more friends. Soon you move to another class or school, move to a different town, start university, then a new job, and you realize that you’ve basically spent your entire life making new friends and acquaintances. Yet as the years go by, you feel a laborious burden of accountability for not having kept in touch with most of them.


For some reason, we get so exhausted from this cycle that we bury ourselves in superficial relationships to avoid forming deeper ones, simply because we know we we won't be able to maintain them. We cannot go through the “get to know you” chat over and over and then have it lead nowhere. We end up becoming impenetrable from all the minor heartbreaks caused by leaving friends behind every time we have to begin a new chapter.


According to professor of management and psychology from the Wharton Business School in Penn State Philadelphia Adam Grant, in Friends at Work? Not So Much, transient individuals are more reluctant to create friendships when they know they will only spend a fixed period of time at a particular institution . The same ideology has been projected onto every other area of our lives. The constant shifts do not allow us to set root and form friendships.



I believe it is imperative to shift focus on how we make friends and why. We must acknowledge the fact that all our previous connections didn’t last long, not because we are horrible people, but because of unavoidable circumstances. By understanding this, you realize that not embracing new friendships because of previous inconveniences is actually quite depressing. We have to open ourselves up to the possibility of having really close friends that we know will only last for a short while. By understanding this, we can then begin to redefine the friendship checklists and templates we have coded into our brains from early on. We do not need to value friendship by the number of years it has lasted, but rather by the impact it has made on our lives.


Old friends
To get here as friends, we have to start somewhere! Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger.
Flora and I still keep in touch, though not as often as I would like. In fact, she is about to relocate to a new country and I know that she will have to face the same challenge of leaving old friends behind once again. But that’s okay because it has become an inescapable new reality that all of us have to face and embrace.


From my experience with Flora, I have come to realize that to create and maintain newer and deeper connections, I need to redefine the standards I have set for my own friendships and accept the possibility of having short-term meaningful connections without expectations of them spanning out into decades. We do not have to feel guilty when we have to leave and we do not need to feel lonely when a new chapter begins. We must live in the moment and enjoy every friendship for the value it brings. And who knows, some of these short-term friendships might one day evolve into long-term, family-like bonds, at the right time and in the right place in our lives.

Trusila, SocialBot

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