January 2023

Where Have All Our Friendships Gone?

I feel their eyes on me before the door even closes. I know no one. Looking straight ahead as I walk down the hall, I try to act cool like I know where I’m going, relieved my racing heart is not actually visible. My eyes scan the lockers.

368. 368. Where the hell is 368?!

The conversations I overhear are friends reliving their summer adventures together. My summer consisted of LEAVING all my friends from the town I grew up in outside of Chicago, then moving to this tiny-ass town in Wisconsin where everybody knows everybody’s business. A town so small they don’t even have a fast-food restaurant — not one.

“Welcome to sophomore year,” our teacher greets us, “I’m Mr. Mulligan, your history teacher. I’m new to Clinton High School, but I’m not the only one. Please welcome Kathy Achenbach.”

Oh, good God.

I sink a little in my chair as the girl behind me shouts, “Achenbach?! Is that the popcorn dude?”

How clever.

As I roll my eyes, Mr. Mulligan, clearly a literal thinker and no-sense-of-humor type of guy, says, “Denise, I believe you are referring to Redenbacher. Orville Redenbacher.” Everybody starts laughing, and I sink into my chair, even more, praying for this day to be over.

“Hey, Orville,” I hear from behind me as I head to my next class. It’s Denise, walking past me with a big-ass grin.

That was 43 years ago.

We’ve been best friends ever since.

Why am I sharing our story with you? Because the response to a recent post of mine on TikTok made me realize something. First, for some context, let me tell you about what I posted. I’m not sure my storytelling skills can paint an accurate picture but here goes…

The video opens with my view from the living room to get a view of the doorway into the kitchen, where my best friend Denise would be walking through any second. It’s the house of my sister and her roommate in the Chicago area. Denise used to drive from her home in Wisconsin to visit me, but after I moved from Chicago to Montana (devastating for both of us), she started visiting them. I’m here because I decided to fly from Montana to surprise her, scheming with my sister to get Denise to stay with her for the weekend.
The big day arrives, and I’m on edge because there’s a snowstorm in Wisconsin, and Denise HATES driving in snow. But thankfully, she decides to come still, and my sister’s roommate, Nancy, has just gotten a text from Denise that she is in the driveway unloading her car.

It’s been a rough year for both of us, but when she texted me this; “I wish you were here to make me some soup and let me lay my head in your lap and tell me everything will be okay,” I knew I had to hop on a plane. We haven’t seen each other in over a year, and we both need a fix — one that we only get from each other.

I take my position on the ottoman.

I take a deep breath.

My heart is racing from the pure excitement of knowing we will finally be in each other’s physical presence.

The squeak of the front door opening alerts the dogs that someone is home, and they run to the door. I hear her giving them attention. I take another deep breath. I’m about to explode with anticipation. Nancy walks into the kitchen first, looking at me with a big smile. Denise walks in behind her, sets her things on the kitchen counter — mere feet from me — and says to Nancy, “My hands hurt from gripping the fricking steering wheel.”

How does she not see me?!?!

“I found a new purse,” she continues, clearly lacking in survival skills as she’s oblivious that another human being is in the room. “But it’s so heavy. Feel it,” and she hands her purse to Nancy.

Words erupt from my mouth like a volcano as I spew out, “How the f*ck do you not see me?!”

She turns her head.

We lock eyes.

Her jaw drops, and after another few seconds, she smiles a big smile and says, “You’re here!!” then lovingly adds, “You stupid b*tch!” as she heads toward me, explaining her ‘blind eye.’

We hug.


We sigh, and our shoulders drop as we are filled with that comfort we only get from each other. We don’t let go. We start swaying, soaking it in.

“You’re here,” she says again, squeezing me tight.

“I’m here,” I cry as I move my hand to the back of her head, hugging her tighter. Then, we pull apart to look at each other as if to make sure we’re real, let out a laugh/cry, and go back to hugging, neither of us wanting this feeling to end.

Pure joy.

Two souls together again.

The next morning, I posted the video on TikTok with the heading, “Flew from Montana to Chicago to surprise my best friend of 40 years* My heart was racing… the suspense!! *Explicit language.”

In less than 24 hours, it had over 1 million views. Then 2 million, then 3 million.

How is this happening?!

Sure, it’s sweet, funny, and suspenseful — I mean, who doesn’t love being in on a good surprise? But as of this writing, two weeks later, it is approaching 9 million views. 9 million!! For people to watch a three-minute video, especially in the grab-my-attention-now, scroll-happy sphere of TikTok, there must be more to it than that, right?

Maybe it’s touching hearts in a way they’ve longed to be touched. (Hearts that have been numbed over the last couple of years.)

Maybe it’s stirring some souls and giving hope that their ‘mate’ doesn’t always have to be found in a romantic partner.

Maybe people are rediscovering the value of friendships. In such a disposable world where we move on to something new once we get bored or, if something breaks, we instantaneously replace it, friendships, too, have lost their value, being crumpled up and thrown away as easily as a receipt from Starbucks. Friendship is an investment, and this video shows how beautiful its payoff can be.

This video is love in action. When the camera is swaying as we hug, they FEEL that. And in a post-pandemic world, who doesn’t crave that same feeling? There were many comments on the TikTok post that were similar to this one:

“Wish I had a friend, let alone a longtime one.”

Sadly, we’re seeing this more and more with each new generation. Because social lives are in direct competition with social media. And we all know what’s winning. Selfies and scrolling have replaced sleepovers and spin-the-bottle.

“We are in a friendship recession.”

But it’s not just with our kids. Jerry Del Colliano, a professor at NYU, nailed it when he recognized in his “Day Starters” column that we are in a friendship recession.

A friendship recession. Damn.

That’s scarier to me than any economic recession. How do we climb out of a friendship recession? It’s easy to say, “Put the damn phones down,” but if we’re being honest, how realistic is that? We have all felt that sheer panic at simply the thought of losing our phone, and we all know they’re designed to be addictive. Another hard truth: Our phone IS our friend. Dare I say, best friend?? Del Colliano suggests the antidote for loneliness is to be the first to break the ice — reach out, start communication. I agree that’s a great start, but will that get us out of this recession? I don’t have the answer to that. My purpose in writing this is to get people thinking, talking, investing.

What can we do to invest? The first step may be recognizing where our piggy bank is a little short. We may be spending it all on ourselves, stuck in a state of defensiveness, pity, or pain, unable to give to others. One thing that makes my relationship with Denise work is that we are each other’s ‘safe zone.’ For example, when I’m having a pity party, Denise will don her party hat, let me have my moment with no judgment, no advice, and if the party is going on a tad too long, she’ll gently blow out the candles and congratulate me on a great party.

Or, if Denise is in pain, I’ve learned not to try to fix it or compare my pain to hers but to simply empathize and say, “I’m here for you.”

When we get defensive, whether disagreeing over vaccines, politics, or parenting, we know when to bow out of the conversation, acknowledging it’s okay, even healthy, to have different opinions. This came into play years ago when Denise said something that I felt was way below the belt and hurtful, but she thought she was being funny. At that time, I was at the height of a personal storm, took it way too personally, and the second it came out of her mouth, without thinking, I slapped her. We were both stunned. We looked at each other, shocked and wide-eyed, then burst into laughter.

I pray we all make friendship our #1 investment in 2023, that we find our safe zone, that any places of brokenness in our friendships are healed, that we are clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, and patience, and that we forgive freely like we have been forgiven. And I pray that we all find our ‘Denise.’

Click here to view the video.