We’ve all had conversations after spending time with friends that go like this:
“I had lunch with [mutual friend] today”
“Oh really? ?”
Inevitably, half the time when I encounter one of these questions, I’m not able to answer their question: it just hadn’t occurred to me to ask that particular question. For years I was haunted by the thought that I wasn’t catching up with people properly. Later, I would think through a mental list of the kinds of questions that I was likely to be asked, and try and make sure I asked them.
How are you going? How’s work been? Where are you living now?
Some of the questions were quite useful, and probably made me a better listener, and quite possibly a better friend. Other questions might be best avoided at some times: maybe you don’t have the energy to cope with someone else’s problems.
With some people, you might never hear about a single problem they’re having. At the other extreme, the only thing that you ever talk about is the problems that one or both of you are having. While these friendships can be helpful for a while, it’s good to have some time where you’re just enjoying each other’s company: friendships that are based exclusively on mutual problem-solving are seldom healthy.
That’s been a tough lesson to learn: I feel much more useful as a person if problems have been shared and solved, but in the long run, it’s better (I think, anyway) to have some balance.