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Hello, friend?

At some point last year, I stopped differentiating between my friends and my colleagues. What I mean to say is that what once had taken place on Facebook pages was beginning to manifest in my real life. Remember when we scrolled through our Facebook feeds and stumbled upon a status update requesting people to respond if they had wished to remain on the person’s "friend" list? These posts often requested "friends" to respond to one or more of the following questions:

  1. What was our first encounter and where or under what circumstance did we first meet?

  2. What was your first impression of me?

  3. What do you love most about me?

Now, since we are all in quarantine together and people seem to be visibly more honest and raw, allow me please to put this out without having to resort to sugar coating: The responses to all these questions would most probably yield to an extravagant and elaborate public presentation of a person’s fabulousness, despite being written by people who are either Facebook junkies or have nothing else to do. Those who do contribute to it could also include people who are as alone, lonely, or in need of recognition, as the person writing them was while typing them questions down. But truly speaking, I am not certain if the person would find any friend amongst them.

It was when I began remembering these Facebook threads that I felt the urgency to trace who my friends were and where they were during these times. I stopped missing people and that too was a sign of urgency.

At some point last year, whenever my friends and I gathered, I would have also just had a work phone call with one of them or have just had resolved a work related dispute with another earlier that day. This meant that when we did come together as friends, we didn't approach one another in a manner that expressed longing - like friends do if they hadn’t seen each other for a while - because we would have technically just seen each other, only in a different context and under a different name: colleagues. Perhaps the reason why I stopped missing people was because my friends and colleagues were gradually becoming the same people.

Aside from that, one must also mention that we live in times that contribute to “less missing”. The high level of accessibility to people’s lives we experience today often makes us feel as if we had just seen someone, when we had only seen them enjoying their holidays or lecturing at a summit somewhere on social media. These continuous and ongoing updates naturally remove a slice of our longing for one another too.

At some point last year, I told a colleague/friend about a heartache I was experiencing and she shared hers. It happened during rehearsals. I told another colleague/friend about a challenge I was undergoing and she shared hers. It happened during a work event. I told a colleague/friend about a mistake I was learning from and she shared hers. It happened on a ride we shared to the airport. I noticed that I was leaving fractions of my fractured self with others, and that I was carrying fractions of my fractured colleagues/friends within myself. I also noticed that we continuously just moved on and switched between modes of being as we did. Friend. Colleague. Friend. Colleague. Friend. Colleague.. We were also constantly on the wait for a next thing; a project that would bring us in as colleagues or a gathering that would bring us in as friends.

At some point last year, I experienced less eye-contact and less silent moments. Alternatively, I experienced way more hugs by, oh my God, way more people than I have ever imagined being hugged by. Those hugs felt something like the times we were living; hasty and probably bohemian or free-spirited, as they would say. We became experts in general talk, in stories that revolved around everything but our personal lives, and in jumping in to save moments from awkward silences. Some of us excelled in this part more than others. I must confess that I too had reached the level of expert in some domains.

I hated it when my friends invited so many new faces when we rarely had time for each other. Especially because I no longer enjoyed small talk with strangers that assumed a sort of friendship or nearness just because we were both invited by the same person or that we had "followed" each on Instagram when in essence I had no clue who they really were or if I would ever be seeing them again. I felt a heaviness when I discovered that I had ended up in a gathering with a lot of fans and so little friends. Interestingly, I did not mind small talk before this year and I was pretty much good at getting to know the strangers in the room and making them part of the larger group. But that was back then. Now, and especially amidst all the craziness, the speed, and the over-productivity, I was missing connection, quality, longing, and yearning for simple moments of joy. I have to say that if you know me, you would understand to what extent I have invested my time and energy to this and how I have devoted my work to human connection. Exactly so, I have been creating artworks and embodying and writing characters for films so that people would connect, look each other in the eye more often, and harness their bonds, but the question remained, where are my bonds and how strong were they?

At some point last year, I understood that in order to trace back my friendships and track down my bonds, I had to journey through myself first before anywhere else. I excused myself from all social-oriented Whatsapp groups I was part of and remained an active participant in only a handful of them. Unlike the previous groups that dealt with everyone like needles in a haystack, the one common thing between the five remaining ones I kept myself part of was that they only hosted a handful of people that continued to be present. Anyone’s absence was also felt.

I also tried to talk myself through accepting the new types of friendships that manifested themselves in the following:​​

(There are certainly more types, but I will stick to these that most serve the purpose of this piece)

  1. The activity-based friendship is somewhat situational and often ends with the ending of a shared activity. These include friendships that flourish during a time in one’s life, such as raising a newborn for the first time, sharing a special diet, playing the same sport, or being part of a gig or a scheduled gathering such as a book club or a theatre group.

  2. The benefit-based friendship is business oriented and often means that most of your time together would be spent speaking about collaborations and potential growth for your separate businesses. These friendships tend to flourish with social media tags, shares, and buys, and could die out with the opposite.

A common characteristic about both types is that they have a possibility of renewal with time, and one could possibly get closer to another when a new activity or shared benefit rises again. I am not against these types, but at some point last year, I have simply made myself aware of the fact that the companionship part in them might not come as priority. Having understood that these relationships could begin, end, and renew under different circumstance, I became less sensitive and emotional when they were beginning to wither away. (Edit: I must say that some of the friends who's friendships begin under the formally explained types actually develop into the original form of friendships and grow with you).

At the same time, I went back looking for those who’s withering away had saddened me. I found myself going back to my childhood friends. And in the darkest of days, I dialed up an old friend I had assumed we no longer had anything in common, only to find that we had sustained the simplest things that we had apparently been missing most. We laughed, cried, and spoke from the heart for hours. She was married and a mother of three, and I was single and running life mostly on my own. She spent her time between cooking books and attending traditional religious lessons while I spent mine writing or on set of a new cinematic project, but all this didn’t matter. Going back to basics was the best thing we had both done for a while.

I went once again to basics when I noticed that not all of my friends knew of their meaning to me and their place in my heart, so I dialed up another friend of mine whose absence had also left me sad. He thanked me for expressing my yearning for our friendship and we have since rekindled a special part and invited it back into our lives.

This morning I spoke to my grandmother. She had just carried her delicately wooden carved chair and placed it in her balcony where she sat. As she sipped her Turkish coffee, she declared to me that although she had made connections with everyone in town over the years, she knew for a fact and out of experience that she had very few friends. She knew it by heart that those will be there in good and in bad, in health and in sickness, and if they weren’t there physically, they would be there by heart.

To longer hugs, heartfelt eye contact, and attentive listening.

To reaching out, going to basics, and reviving simple moments of joy.

To dialing up a friend and telling them, “I miss you.”

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