You know how on TV, people tend to have a close knit group of friends who are like family, and/or a close knit family?
Friends, New Girl, How I Met Your Mother all revolve around friendships and romantic relationships. Brothers & Sisters and Parenthood are based on big families that love and like each other. We can see this trend back to the beginning of television, with the Ricardos and Mertzes on I Love Lucy and the Honeymooners’ Kramers and Nortons enjoying deep and abiding friendships.
If only life were like tv. It is not, at least not for me. My hair has never been bouncy and shiny. My kids are adorable but do not come with a laugh track. And my family and friends have always been more complicated than I thought they would be.
I grew up as the youngest of 9. My mother came from a family with 6 kids and my father from a family of 11 kids. I should be the most connected person in the world!! But instead, we moved to a small town when I was a baby. The town was at least an hour away from any family, and this made us special occasion visits instead of drop-ins. My grandparents were all dead by the time I was 1. My father worked an hour away and my mom never drove, so we were pretty stationary. We lived in a small town, but as I said we moved there when I was a baby, so we were never fully integrated. We went to church, but it never felt like community, at least not to me. I remember playing outside, and my neighbors’ would all stand outside gabbing for a long time. I felt jealous that my own mother wasn’t participating. She was plenty social, but never made strong inroads with the ladies in the neighborhood. I never had the experience of running in and out of neighbors’ houses, each mother or father accepting us as their own, and families vacationing together.
When I was growing up, I felt quite close to several of my siblings, but one by one, they left, most of them moving across the country or across the world.
I attended a variety of schools growing up, thanks to some moves back and forth between public and private school. I was pretty awkward in school, and never had a big group of friends. I would have a friend or two, but never a clan. In high school, we moved to the southwest, another jolt. It was a city, so easier to break in, but getting there for sophomore year did not leave a long time to get comfortable.
Right after high school I moved far away from my parents. I had a brief stint with one of my sisters, but for the most part was on my own. I did not do college right after high school and I think that is one way that I really missed out. I think that college is a time to learn to navigate roommates and friendships, and also a time to build a tribe. I went into the workforce instead, and it was a workforce with heavy turnover. I remember once being invited to a friend’s house for dinner. I thought it was going to be some event, but it was literally just dinner, and a chance to hang out. That was so foreign to me. Unfortunately, she was a good friend but a terrible employee who pilfered just about one of every item from the store where we worked.
Putting on my sociologist’s hat and looking at this from a societal point of view: I think there are two major contributors to the lack of community, besides our increased mobility. The first is television.
TV brought us into our homes and entertained us. There are many positive social aspects that come from TV. We are alerted to news quickly, and we have a subject of conversation among strangers and across generations. We have been watching Mad Men as a family. This has spurred so many conversations about history, advertising, sexism, alcoholism, and filmmaking. However, TV is also a device that allows us to feel a part of a community without having to reach out. I think that without TVs, the suburbs would have been a lot more social.
The Internet is another contributor, I believe. Internet connections are odd things. On the one hand, message boards and social media has given us the opportunity to meet people we would never meet, and connect with old friends and family in ways never before possible. We can keep a running Words with Friends game going, just like yesteryear’s bridge nights. We know about babies as soon as they are born, and can see their videos almost instantly. People who have social anxiety or different opinions/interests than is the norm in their community can reach out to likeminded people, and feel a little less alone. These are positives of the Internet.