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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

One of the more ignored side effects of a recession is the toll it takes on friendships.

It seems kind of silly to worry about this when, in times of economic hardship, physical worries dramatically outweigh emotional ones. After all, it's easy and probably not wrong to take an attitude of first figuring out if you can make rent this month, then speculating if your BFF charm bracelet is shiny enough.

But it's worth noting, because, at least anecdotally, financial difficulty is one case where friendships can be more likely to accentuate how tough things really are than to provide an escape.

An underwhelming job market means people can't be picky about where they get a job. "Proximity to loved ones," once a reasonable criterion when deciding where to work, is now, at best, sentimentally naïve. At worst, it's irresponsible.

And even if you're willing to stand boldly and declare that being close to the ones you love is important enough to stake your career on it, it can be devastating when you realize your loved ones are simply unable to make the same gesture.

Geography is a bitch, and no matter how many promises are made to keep in touch with friends back home, there's always an expectation to start living lives away from each other. It's draining to be someone's perpetual lifeline, and it's unfair to place somebody in that position. The result is a game of emotional chicken that frequently boils down to, "I need you, but not so much that I freak you out."

Intuitively, this should be a boon to new friendships, but that's not always the case. People in the market for new friends are often people who just had to face the harsh realization that not all relationships are permanent and may decide that transient relationships are more trouble than they're worth.

Really, that's the most poisoning thing a recession can do to friendships - the deprioritization of friends can all too easily lead to an attitude of indifference toward current relationships and an attitude of skepticism toward future ones.

This is all a lot direr than it really is of course. Strong relationships can survive most anything, and even if they don't, the ephemerality of a friendship shouldn't diminish its meaning. But the recession acts as a stress test for relationships and as a stark reminder that the strength of a relationship isn't measured by how well things go when times are good, but how strongly two people work to protect it when times are bad.

Last week, I visited a friend in Virginia whom I hadn't seen in years. We kept in touch in the interim - phone calls, letters, Christmas gifts, Facebook - but it wasn't until I saw her again did it fully sink in how different we had become.

She drove me back to the airport on my last day in Virginia. We did the goodbye stuff outside the terminal - hugs, I love you's and a kiss - and I told her that it's clear we've become different people, but if she's in, I want to protect our friendship because she's still important to me.

She grinned in a warm, you-totally-rehearsed-that-in-your-head sort of way and said with a smile, "I'm in."

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With a major particularly sensitive to economic downturns, I'm faced with a gloomy job outlook - an internship is no guarantee of a job, and a job is no guarantee of a career. Thus, any talk of wisdom gleaned from the recession is usually met with cynicism from me.

I do feel, though, I've learned one thing from the recession: There are so many reasons why friendships fail, and it's our responsibility not to let the stupid shit be among them.

Joe Dellosa is president of UF's Human Decency Now and an advertising senior.

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