Edge of Everywhere

Proximity vs. Work: Two Relationship Models

Posted on: October 29, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways relationships form and what keeps them going. Most relationships are initiated due to proximity–two people being in the same place at the same time, generally over an extended period of time. The internet has mixed things up a bit, so that we can meet people with similar interests whom we never would have encountered in real life, but we’re still more likely to become friends with our classmates, co-workers, and neighbors than with most people we don’t regularly spend time around.

What I’ve come to realize recently is that most relationships also require proximity in order to keep going; in other words, most of the friendships I’ve made through school, work, and other activities have been abandoned once I stopped going to school or working or doing whatever with those people. This has often happened despite the fact that we had a lot in common and really enjoyed each other’s company when we were involved in the same things.

Therefore, the necessary element when there isn’t proximity to keep the relationship going is work–both people have to have an active desire to work at maintaining the relationship. This means taking the time to keep in touch and get together. It amazes me how many friendships just fade away because people get busy and just don’t prioritize keeping in touch with their friends. Sometimes, both people are equally responsible; sometimes, one is willing to do the work and the other isn’t. There have been many times when I kept contacting and chasing down and trying to hang out with a formerly good friend, only to give up on the friendship after I finally realized that I was the only one trying. It was depressing to know that I would probably never hear from them again once I made the decision to stop trying.

In my next post, I’ll look at the different motivations behind working to maintain a relationship.

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4 Responses to "Proximity vs. Work: Two Relationship Models"

Proximity is definitely the lazy friend’s…er…friend! It doesn’t take effort to be friendly to someone who works across the room, but when they live across town it sometimes becomes a different story. It’s hard to let go of drifting friends, isn’t it, but sometimes it’s inevitable.

I recall from a philosophy class that Aristotle made some similar points in his Nicomachean ethics. I never actually read it though as he is generally unreadable.

I’ve been chatting with some people about this and about how it’s reflected in community structures. I would disagree with your premise: in relationships “work” doesn’t work, fulfillment works. If your friend moves across town and you live mostly separate lives, no amount of work will make things run smoothly. What matters are the decisions that people make about how they’ll direct their lives. Where will you go to grad school? What will you do this weekend? Where are you going for vacation this winter? Relationships stay integrated in our lives to the extent that they can be integrated into those decisions.

David, I don’t think we actually disagree. What you describe here is the same thing I mean by work, although I realize that word has a negative connotation. In a good relationship, it won’t actually feel like work–I just chose that word to highlight the effort involved in maintaining relationships that don’t just keep going due to proximity.

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