You Can’t Take It With You: My Obsession With Moments Is Ruining Moments

I once spent three hours mapping out a fictional theme park with a woman I met on a plane. We first bonded over the People magazine cover plastered with Usher’s abs, and before I knew it she was treating us to overpriced plane wine and detailing her return from active military duty. The theme park we imagined was for adults only and revolved around cult movies — a boozier yet more relaxing answer to Disney Land. After we got off the plane we exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses. We were both landing in Seattle to see family and made multiple empty promises that we’d grab lunch. I was on a Facebook break, but promised I’d friend her once I returned. Of course, it never happened.

This isn’t a unique instance.  Most people have memories like this: strangers they met on planes; conversations started on buses; acquaintances they drunk-cried with; exchanges at coffee shops that weave themselves into the larger design of our wistfulness.

While these exchanges can feel as cliche as they do serendipitous, there’s often temptation in the heat of the moment to cultivate false hope that you’ll maintain relationships with every person you have a “moment” with, aggressively collecting phone numbers, and emails and Facebook profiles and explaining to your close friends that you met Frankie on the bus once four years ago, but now you chat on Twitter and you’re still trying to get coffee with them when the time is right, because isn’t that so cool?!

It’s not always hyperbole. Some of my most fruitful friendships grew out of unlikely meetings. I met my friend Marc in a laundromat. I met Lily on an Amtrak and expanded the friendship beyond the tracks. Danny and I met in the group interview for a job neither of us landed. I got locked out of my apartment and was eating at the nearby McDonalds when Alex and I hit it off.

But there’s a distinct difference between embracing spontaneity and feeding an obsession with connectivity, a need to keep in contact with friends and acquaintances that borders on human consumption. Because time and energy and the ability to befriend every cool people is impossible, I find myself obsessively grabbing the moments I can and then perpetuating exchanges that suggest we have time for more, despite the fact that time is a precious resource and people are fresh out.

The idea of aggressive friendship or over-sentimentalizing can sound sweet or endearing in theory, but in reality there’s a thin line between sentimentality and obsession. I find myself constructing a large portion of my online socializing toeing that line, investing in people I may never see again IRL, while my physical life becomes more hurried and cluttered.

It’s unsurprising that the internalized obsessive demand of “staying connected” to everyone I’ve ever enjoyed creates a quick toll on my ability to be there for people in the moment. I’ve slowly transformed into someone who is no longer able to listen to the friend sitting across from me, because I’m fielding texts from an acquaintance I met six years ago at a Thai place, who might come to my comedy show. It’s not a matter of valuing my in-flesh friendships less, but rather a guilt and FOMO-fueled impulse that says I’m shattering some Cosmic Human Connection if I’m not on-call to respond to sad Facebook messages from a guy I met wandering the Botanical gardens in 2009.

It’s not FOMO but a similarly intentioned opposite: the continual grasping of an experience that already passed in an attempt to clutch scattered people and slices of time and distill them into the present. You collect people and numbers and keepsakes and promises until you’re no longer able to live your current life without disbanding yourself between all these moments.

A friend recently hit the root of the obsession on the nose when she told me the inability to let go and disconnect is a form of control in itself. I immediately realized the truth. It feels helpless to shrug and say, “Well, it’s been fun. Maybe I’ll run into you in some vague future.” Whereas false promises and reliving all of the outlandish stories through  micro-friendships feels like a way of garnering serendipitous control, as if you can domesticate time and stretch one second into several years through an Instagram friendship or scattered texts.

There’s a marked difference between valuing fluid friendships and a refusal to Let Go. Although social media and the connectivity of technology are crucial and valuable in many ways, they can quickly become a crutch for those of us addicted to sentimentality and relational nostalgia. What started as a story, a moment, or a fun intoxicated night soon stretches itself into an internet friendship, a series of half-baked plans and promises and faves. Whether it’s light or actually genuine, an obsession with keeping every decent person at arm’s length soon grows into clouded layers of obligation and distraction from the actual people in your life.

I no longer want to cut myself into tiny bite-sized pieces and dispense them to every stranger with kind eyes, nor do I want to attempt to absorb the goodness of every fascinating person I interact with through multiple mediums. I’ve spent years chasing that impossibility and only found myself exhausted and less present,  so now it’s time to let it be.