Sarah Geraghty on . . . the pressure when friends go global
We know that it’s better to pick up the phone or – slightly more awkwardly – Skype, Viber or FaceTime
A midnight Whatsapp pings. “Any craic?”
It’s your emigrant friend. Maybe she heard Beyoncé’s 2006 hit single Irreplaceable – “oh college break-up dramas in the Palace” – or was bored waiting for the bus, saw you were online, felt a pang of guilt and covered herself with the all-purpose one-liner.
– “No craic at all. You?”
– “Nah, nothing.”
– “Family all well?”
– “Yep, all good. Yours?”
– “Grand. Send everyone my love.”
– “Will do. Night.”
– “Night. X”
The problem with “Any news?”/“Tell me everything” is the pressure it loads on the recipient.
It can be one of two things. It could be her way of saying “Just thought of you. Hope you’re well. Talk soon.”
Or it may be something that demands a longer, more thoughtful reply. But which is it? And suppose you have nothing to say – or nothing you want to say over Whatsapp?
Tell you “everything”? Where do I start? Working hard. No drama. Not much craic, either. As you well know.
“Gwendolyn’s moving in with her boyfriend and I’m now on Daft trying to find a stranger to move in with me. DEVO [crying-face emoji]. How’s everything? [blowing-kiss emoji]”
“Tried a new granola for breakfast. Not sure about it. Have you ever had coconut milk?”
“Topped up my Leap Card on the way home from work. Don’t know what to have for dinner. Can you get Coronation Street over there?”
Those chats are useful fillers with the friend you fall back into familiar ways with at Christmas, weddings, or when you meet for the coffee you’ve been Whatsapping about for six months.
They don’t cut it if one of you is feeling neglected. Or just a bit sad.
We know that it’s better to pick up the phone or – slightly more awkwardly – Skype, Viber or FaceTime.
We know, at a practical level, it’s the only way to prevent the horrible miscommunications that can occur when pursuing the business of grown-up friendship via direct messaging services. But we don’t do it. Instead we say we’re wrecked – isn’t everyone? – and have nothing substantive to report but will ring or email soon. Which means never.
Whether your friends are in New York or Newcastlewest, unless you share the same house or office, it’s impossible to follow the threads of their everyday lives.
You might be up with the big things – the family wedding in Croatia that everyone’s stressed about – but the hard time someone is having at work, or that odd sadness he’s feeling, hovers below the banter.
The million ways of staying in touch facilitates a feeling of connectedness, a feeling that we should be in touch all the time just because we can.
But do these ways nurture the bonds – or do they just enable us to make excuses and take each other for granted ?
Take the friend who irks you ever so slightly with the, “Hey, just ringing to see how you are.”
Or, “I’m going to FaceTime you in 10 minutes for 5 minutes” – and actually does it.
“That’s me – stop screening and answer.”
They are the friend-nurturers, the hard workers. The ones who make the effort and leave you feeling better for having talked to them.
Friendships that have endured this long are more precious because everyone has gone global.
It means working twice as hard because at our stage, we’re past thinking that anything worthwhile is easy, past classing ourselves as “good at staying in touch” because we can zap a Facebook message asking, “how was your weekend?”, or, “I’m terrible, I haven’t actually talked to her but she looked in great form in the Ibiza photos.”
Grown-up things have caught up on us and Whatsapp doesn’t seem up to the job.
Scratch a bantering veneer and everyone is doing battle of some kind. Parents are ageing. Someone is ill. A career is soul-less. A relationship is dwindling, or breaking down painfully or there is no relationship at all. Others have leaped into the unknown, left a safe job and started out on their own, or moved abroad, or taken off on a long-awaited adventure.
And they’re scared.
Ring ring. “Hey, just thought of you. Any craic?”
Róisín Ingle is on leave