A Time and Place for Everything

This past weekend I headed back to a hotbed of friendship: High School.  The ten-year reunion was a great success. Good friends, good drinks, maybe even good food—I wouldn’t know since the salmon skewers were gone by the time I figured out where they were hiding. I got to spend quality time with BFFs and play catch up with those I-like-you-when-I-see-you-but-let’s-not-pretend-we’ll-keep-in-touch-the-rest-of-the-year pals.

When the evening was over, I didn’t find myself reminiscing about lifelong friendships. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking about a very specific type of relationship. That which, for these purposes, shall hereby be deemed the Vacuum Friendship.

You know the kind I’m talking about. Those friendships that work perfectly in a very specific setting (say, high school) but out in the free world would never survive.

Vacuum friends emerge on vacations, in the office, at support groups, anywhere. In high school I had a wonderful VF on my basketball team. We were good buddies during the winter sports season, and though we were friendly enough the rest of the year, there wasn’t much to talk about when we couldn’t complain about our coach or talk strategy for an upcoming game.

It’s like that episode of Seinfeld when George and Elaine have nothing to say to each other when Jerry’s not around. Their relationship thrived only in the Jerry vacuum.

Going back to high school really brings these relationships to light. Sheltered by the same walls that nurtured friendships in their infancy, conversation flows as if no time has passed. But as soon as you step off school property, there’s nothing more to say.

And then there are those vacuum friendships that you really want to work outside their little Petri dishes, but they just don’t. So what do you do? Adjust? Mature? Move on? Nah. You bring the vacuum with you. I have a buddy from high school I feel incredibly close to, though over the years I’ve realized that ours is a high school friendship. When we see each other even now, ten years later, no matter where we are, we revert back to the teenagers we were. It’s a very specific  relationship, consisting mostly of teasing and acting juvenile. But when the big things happen—weddings, funerals—we’re there for each other. And I don’t mind it so much, until I find myself, an entire decade older, wondering if he’s going to throw my backpack in the garbage can because, you know, that’s what we do.

There’s nothing wrong with a vacuum friendship, as long as you recognize it as such. Sure it’s circumstantial, but that doesn’t make the relationship any less comforting. How fun it was, as a child, to anticipate the reunion with a summer vacation friend. Or, today, to know those 10 miles along the lake will at least afford ample time with the running group pal. Or even to travel back in time a bit, because old friendships sometimes turn you back into the girl you were then, as opposed to the adult you are now.

Do you have any vacuum friendships? Do you find yourself reverting to specific version of yourself when you see old friends? Do you embrace these situational relationships or feel like real friendships should survive in any setting?


Filed under The Old Days

18 responses to “A Time and Place for Everything

  1. I definitely have vacuum friendships. People from my previous part-time job. People who live in my building. Even some bloggers, whom I’m not sure I’d really be great friends with outside our mutual respect for each other’s blogs. They’re everywhere.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these kinds of friendships, either, so long as both parties recognize the time and place for the friendship. I think issues arise when one person expects more of the friendship and is constantly disappointed it can’t/won’t grow into something greater.

  2. I love vacuum friendships (and that term!). They are a critical part of life. They make that one work conference each year so much fun or contribute to the good memories you have from those years you were a camp counselor. Not every relationship is a BFF/life partnership type and thank god! Who has time for that? =)

  3. Lisa Z

    I don’t approve of the term, maybe I am not grasping the concept though. I think that situational friends are life friends, just friends that you don’t keep in touch with or that you don’t grow with. I certainly regress when I am with my sisters, we fall back into the same familiar patterns. I think that I am pretty much the same person with all of my friends, though.

  4. Megan

    I have to say, I don’t really thrive on situational relationships. Maybe it’s because I don’t like change, or am a die-hard idealist, but I think “real” friendships are the ones that survive under any circumstances. Not to say that there’s not a point to those circumstantial relationships, though – everyone loves an excuse to revert back to a teenager! 🙂

  5. I have some pals from High School that I see so rarely these days and were my absolute BFFs at that time. It is weird to see them now–I have changed a decent amount but they have stayed relatively the same. And that is fine, really. They were great to begin with and are still great people. However, when I hang with them now, they sort of try to put me in the small box of who I was and how I acted back in High School (I was the dirty- minded one. And still am. But not like I was, obviously) and it drives me a little batty at times. An example would be when everyone is sitting around enjoying our time, and the opportunity for a dirty joke or comment comes up. Someone else says it, but then goes on and on about how that was soooo something I would say. Or something along those lines. Quite annoying, because I did not say it, they did. And we can all have a dirty mind from time to time. So why is that such a “me” thing? I am not being too eloquent here, but hopefully you catch my drift. Sometimes your old self has evolved into a new version of that old someone you were, but others can’t see that and so you are stuck in their image of you from High School. And suddenly even your greatest friends from HS are morphing into vacuum friends as well. It’s a trip.
    It is too bad that old friends sometimes have trouble allowing you to come to them fresh, as the person you are now. We all go off of memory to feel close to someone again, without realizing maybe we end up alienating them from us in the process…
    Dang. I might have to explore that thought some more on my own…thanks for this topic!

    • Leanne, I know this feeling so well. The concept that, wait, you’ve grown and changed and no matter how much you try to “prove” it, the people from your past know you to be one thing and will always think of you as such. There are times when people say “oh that’s so you” and I scream “No! Do you even know me??” Which, of course, makes me wonder if I do the same thing to my own old friends…

  6. I do have situational friendships/vacuum friendships. Some of the girls from book club are vacuum friends. Some of my grad school classmates were vacuum friends. I think most of the people I am meeting through my running group will be vacuum friends. None of these friendships are all that ‘deep’ and I don’t think either party of the friendship is willing to commit more time, so the relationship only exists w/in a very small, well-defined arena.

    I have to say, when you first mentioned vacuum friendships, I thought you were going to talk about friendships that sort of suck the life out of you!! 😉

  7. katieleigh

    I have some vacuum friendships – work friends, book-club friends, high school friends – and I think there’s a place for those relationships. Obviously, the non-vacuum friendships matter more; but these people and the experiences we shared are still meaningful to me.

  8. I do have them…and I guess I understand why they exist. But they always still feel like acquaintances to me because they’re so situational. The connection is always a little strained on my end because I’m not so good at the acquaintance thing.


  9. Eva

    Yes, what an interesting phenomenon – I love your terminology!

    What this post made me think of? The nuclear family. It’s sort of a vacuum too. Our relationships – with our mother, father, siblings – are so set in stone, so hard to break free from. Every time Husband and I visit my parents, he comments on my personality shift. I’ve stepped back into the parent/child relationship, as I haven’t quite figured out the adult parent/adult child one. And likewise, my brother and sister are quite younger than me. I think it will always be hard for us to relate to one another as peers.

  10. Ana

    I thought the same thing as Lisa, that vacuum friends sucked you dry in some way. I’m not sure I get the terminology, why “vacuum”? but I do have my share of situational friends. The thing is, all friendships start out that way, and you don’t know which ones will end up lasting & evolving after you leave the situation, right? So, these some-where/some-time friendships are essential for finding & building anywhere anytime friendships. Sometimes its disappointing that the relationship doesn’t transcend the situation, but it can still be fun & life-enriching. The majority of my bestest friends are from high school. Oddly my college friends are mainly “vacuum” from a time in my life when drinking & partying & talking about guys was the priority, and now that its not, there isn’t much left!

    • I call them Vacuum Friendships because they exist only in a vacuum, and can’t thrive in the rest of society. That said, I’m open to other suggestions! And yes, I certainly agree that all friendships start out circumstantial. It’s interesting to see which become something bigger, and which seem to only work in that particular time and space.

      • I was wondering of the vacuum terms also 🙂 Well, my ex-office mates are definitely vacuum. When I was working with them, I definitely don’t want to see them after work also. It’s time for my other friends. Then, after I quit, we didn’t seem to keep in touch since there’s nothing to talk about unless for office gossip.

        I love the high school friendship because even though you met once in a while, you can always got good conversation out of it. But, even in vacuum relationship, a few survive and become BFF. Sometimes it started as vacuum friendship (friend from highschool that you lose contact), then become BFF when you meet again a few years later and found out you are in the same place (situation) and bonded.

        So, just enjoy vacuum relationship as long as it last, develop the one that survives and it might change to something else.

  11. J

    I have certain friends who I can only talk to in terms of “remember when…?”

    It’s fine. I think we all need that…espescially when those “remember when’s” tend to precede stories of debauchery our more mature selves like to revisit…

  12. Caz

    My elementary and high school circle is very much a vacuum friendships. But only on my end, which makes it weirder.

    We shared the same class from Gr 4 – 8 and then high school solidified our clique. We’re all fairly different people, so had we not spend years on end with each other in middle school I don’t think we ever would have been friends.

    Anyway come 1st year of college, I moved across the country (and now across the world). 3 others headed to the same University about 2 hours from our home. The last 3 stayed local. So these 6 then spent the next 4 years together, and barring a year apart, 3 of them have all moved to the same city in another province. I’d join in at Christmas and a summer holiday or two, but for the last 7 years I’ve spent maybe a few weeks total with them. When we get together, the majority of things we have in common are from high school but since the rest of them get together more frequently, I guess they’re not vacuum friends with each other?

    Is it just me?

  13. Cindy

    Absolutely love this post. I have a lot of vacuum friendships. I never want to love touch with friends (pathologically so) and consequently, I have friends that represent who I was at many different parts of my life. I’ve always felt odd about the dissonance between who I am (or rather who I revert to be) when I get together with them but I’m beginning to think it’s a normal and good thing.

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