Some people just have one or two buddies with whom they are truly intimate. I don’t think it’s possible to really be close to 40 or 50 people, but I have a long list of guests I’d let crash on my couch for a couple days.
I’ve retained a core group of friends from elementary and high school with whom I will probably always share a bond, but I don’t get to see any of them on a daily basis.
When I moved to college I made new friends living in the dorms, at improv practice, and at other universities (where we would sometimes do improv).
I moved to Dallas a little over a year ago. Again, through the improv theater mostly, I’ve made a group of friends with whom I enjoy spending time. Now that we’ve all moved around, these pockets of friends exist throughout the country — Kansas City, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Jersey.
When I’m home in Kansas I enjoy spending even a couple hours catching up with people I once saw on a daily basis. Sitting down for dinner with a friend I haven’t seen in six months, the familiarity sinks in quickly. It feels like I just talked to this person yesterday.
TV shows offer comfort in small doses
Seasons of prestige dramas on HBO, for example, usually run about 10 hours total. You spend only small chunks of time with these groups of characters, but you remember them. You care about them. A new season finally comes out and you get to catch up with one another.
Reuniting feels good, and it’s painful when you eventually have to say goodbye again. The characters and settings are like that friend you haven’t seen in six months — (usually thanks to a little narrative structure) you sit down with them and everything comes rushing back. Barring a cancellation, you know you’ll get to watch more House of Cards in less than a year, but when that world is fresh in your mind, it can feel like an eternity.
Media are imaginary friends for adults
TV shows and podcasts offer us intimate experiences that we can substitute for human interactions. That almost sounds like a dark joke, but when you live in a city where you have to drive 30 minutes each way to get to your friend’s house, sometimes it’s easier to just watch an episode of Mr. Robot.
In college, I could walk 15 minutes and spend $5 to get drunk with my friends at a stripmall of bars. I spend that on parking now.
Weeknight forays simply don’t make economic sense anymore. That conclusion bummed me out initially, but I’ve come around. I don’t consider it healthy to replace all human friendships with Netflix shows, but I also don’t think anyone should be ashamed about the comfort they experience while watching Stranger Things or listening to This American Life.
My favorite podcast is Harmontown. When I listen to an episode, it’s like I’m hanging out with a familiar group of friends. I’ve consumed hundreds of hours of this show. I know the cast and their temperaments. I laugh because someone refers to an incident from twenty episodes ago — twenty weeks ago.
We have a history with the media we consume. I’ve known Tyrion Lannister way longer than any of these people in Dallas. I don’t confide in fictional characters, and I value the friendships I have with fellow improvisors here. But as with my friends from elementary school, the length of a relationship matters.
I mean to humanize media, not dehumanize humans. People and TV shows come in and out of your life. It’s okay that they mean something. Enjoy each one while you have it.