Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Absence (and presence)

Le Rochefoucauld once said that absence diminishes minor passions like wind to a candle, and increases big ones like air to a fire. (I paraphrase, clearly, his phrase was much more eloquent). This is my second year 'away' from home, in the sense of 'far away'. The second year in which I've, effectively, left behind an old life and created a new one. Actually it's the third if you count moving towns, the fourth if you also count university as a new life.
The first was in 2001-2002, when I left behind everything and everyone I knew apart from family, and built a new life in Cambridge (the difference with this one, is that I wasn't going back to the previous life afterwards). The second was 2003-2004 during which I escaped to Italy, and here I am in France doing something similar. And what these years all have in common (apart from the usual–learning, new experiences, new places, new people) is that they allow you not only to discover who you are, and what and who matters most to you, but also to discover a lot about the people you already know, most of whom are people you would generally call "friends".
Now this is going to make a lot of you laugh because "friends" is something I have lots of, in part precisely because of all these 'building a new life' moments, and I sometimes joke about how I should try to get rid of some as I have too many.
But anyway, recently I've been noticing something I noticed on my gap year, but that is perhaps even more pronounced this year owing to the fact that most of my uni friends are not themselves making new starts this year, and that is that even in the world of instant messaging and emails and so on, the people who keep in touch –by which I mean at all, even intermittently, whether by phone, email, msn or snail mail, are not those you most expected. Of course, some people you hear from you knew you would. And some people you don't hear from, you knew you wouldn't. But often, there are surprises: people you thought you'd hear from occasionally by email who write long letters regularly, and people you thought would stay in good touch who you never hear from.
In my gap year it was the first situation that struck me most–who it was who sent letters, or emailed often, or replied to yours. Surprises about who did, more than who didn't.
This year, it's the other way. The surprises are most about who I don't hear from. I suppose I had an illusion of university, whereby it is there that you make your 'friends for life', there that you meet people who you really click with, "like-minded" people, people who, being adults, are mature and developed individuals with whom you can build lasting relationships. An illusion of college whereby the close-knit community would help you to make close friendship groups and share all sorts of fun experiences. Apart from a few people who've been out to visit Lucy, I've not seen any Selwynites for over 6 months. I keep up to date with their lives by reading their facebook photo albums, and some of them at least keep up to date with mine by reading this! On the other hand, I can count the people (from college) who've actually been in touch either to talk to me, or by writing letter/email/facebook message here and there, on my ten fingers. A lot of them I fully understand why–and know it's not been deliberate. But it's still surprising, to me, that the people who take the time either to reply to me, however briefly, or even to write to me when I've not had time to write to them, are mostly people who I saw less often, and a lot of the people I spent nearly every day with for the past two so called 'formative' years seem to have turned out to be those 'minor passions' of Rochefoucauld.
At least the people who think I have too many friends will be happy!
And no, this isn't a rant against my friends–and I'm sure I've not kept in as good touch as I should have either– just an observation on how being away from home affects your views of friendship. For those of you reading this, I am really looking forward to being back next week and seeing you all EVEN if I've not heard from you all year!!


Matthew said...

I've had similar thoughts myself recently, for reasons you may well be able to fathom!

I'm useless at keeping in touch with people, as you've probably noticed. At least the livejournallers I know get to read something of what goes on, but that's a bit lame. I've been back to college a couple of times since I left, and it's odd having people tell me how the place feels different without me.

There are relatively few people I met as an undergraduate who I still really know now. Those I got to know later on seem to have stuck around a bit longer. I still don't really know anyone here, though.

Sorry, that turned into a ramble, so I'll stop.

Annie said...

You're not that bad at keeping in touch–you leave fun comments on my blog and my facebook…more than can be said of a lot of people! Speaking of which, how are things?

Matthew said...

Not bad, really. Since submitting my thesis (before water in chapel!) I've been rather more motivated about work, which is good. My computer has been hard at work, at least!

We're still getting the house sorted, but it's beginning to look presentable, and we actually have a guest bedroom you can fit two people in :-)

I've still not found much to do in Coventry beyond campanology, but that'll improve with time, I suspect.