The New Nature of Friendship

all_friends-512I’m Friends with 736 people. Most of whom I haven’t seen in something like 25 years. A few I’ve never met. But we’re still friends. How is that possible?

First Friends

Our first friends are chosen for us. We don’t have a say in it. Our siblings are our first friends, or maybe the children of our parents friends. But we didn’t choose them. Your first friends were the kids your parents inadvertently decided on for you. That’s how it works when you are a baby. You can’t make those decisions for yourself. You are too busy learning to walk and talk and clap. Babies love clapping.

The older we get the more say we have in who is or isn’t our friend. We see personality traits we like and attempt to become friends with people who share those traits. When I was six I was friends with girls who enjoyed purple as much as I did. As I grew a little older and more mature, it was stickers. If you had a lot of stickers, I wanted to be your friend. In grade school my best friend was the girl who came before me in alphabetical order. We sat next to one another for five years and her family lived a short walk from mine. A friendship was born.

But how long is a friendship based on last names or love of stickers supposed to last? Your grade school friends either became your Jr. High friends, or you were put into different classes and developed new friendships. When it became clear that my Alphabetically Based Friend and I had little left in common, our friendship just passed into memory. It wasn’t a sad thing. It wasn’t a thing at all. We just outgrew each other. Nobody expected you to stay BFF’s with the kid you sat next to in Ms. Partridge’s Fifth Grade home room, or that girl who wore horse shirts every day.

But there they are in your News Feed. Every day. You get to see the children, dogs, cats, hamburgers, family holidays, work complaints and Halloween costumes of every person you ever met in your entire life who happens to remember your name.

Facebook Friends

It was a simpler time. A time before Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. A time when you met people at school or church or work or your local D&D game or the market and if you liked one another – you became friends. If one of you moved away, sadly the friendship would loosen its grip. Long distance friendships lasted only if both parties were good communicators. And remember, it was only the telephone and letter writing. Like with a pen on paper. If you couldn’t manage to keep up with your letter writing or phone calls, the friendship would die out.

These days I see the daily minutia of 736 people. For example, I know that some of my friends in Austin floated the river today. I know that another friend of mine from high school adopted an adorable kitten named Winston. I know which of my exes have gotten fat and which have gotten remarried. I also happen to know that one friend is “Trying the meatloaf”, while another is “Just over it.” Facebook isn’t really about friendships, it’s about self promotion. It’s a one-way street – MY Street. I’ll talk about what I want, and if you are my friend you are obligated to look at it. But is that really a friendship?I’m not casting stones from my fancy glass castle, so settle down. I am well aware that I am guilty of posting pointless pictures of cats to Facebook. And I don’t even own a cat.

someecards-enemies-real-life-block-youI guess I’m saying that since we (as a society) have decided that we want to know people forever, we need to start being a little more discerning about what we put out there. I mean, I would never bring someone over to my house and make them look at photo after photo after photo of my cat or my child. Or my lunch. So perhaps I shouldn’t be doing it online either. Perhaps less is more.

Friends used to be people you saw often and hung out with, people you shared secrets with. In person. Now a friend is just a click away. You don’t really have to put time or effort into a Facebook Friend. Once you agree, that’s it. You are friends.


Until you get deleted. And that is pretty easy also. You can edit actual people from your life with just a click of a button. You don’t have to write a long letter explaining why you can’t be friends anymore. Heck you don’t even have to look the person in the eye or be in the same time zone. All you have to do is click. They might not even notice. It’s that easy. Facebook prolongs the period it takes to get over someone, because you have an open window into their life, whether you want to or not. You see their updates, their pictures and their relationship status. You see how happy they are. Or at least how happy they seem. Either way it isn’t healthy. It’s a mecca for passive aggressive behavior.

We call people we know on Facebook our friends whether or not we know them in any real sense, or even like them. Most of your FB friends are just people you used to know. Sure you know what they ate for dinner last night, but it’s a one-sided deal. True friendship is built upon trust and interaction. Real friendship is deeper than words on a computer screen or photos of desserts. A Friend is someone you socialize with in person, someone you have an emotional investment in and feel a connection with. It seems crazy to expect the same experience from a computer screen.

So for good or bad, Facebook makes it easy to form and maintain friendships. We can post a quick happy birthday on a wall and we don’t have to worry about sending a card. If a friend is bugging you with her political postings or boring stories of his workplace, just log off. Personally I don’t give a rat’s posterior if you are “Having a hurried Friday” or if little Johnny “took forty minutes to tie his shoes”. And I certainly don’t care to know which GoT character a classmate from third grade is.

So how do we continue? What is the solution to the problem of online friends? It’s so easy to just hide or block those that don’t fit into the little online kingdoms we have created for ourselves. But that isn’t really doing anything to improve friendships or our online experiences with other people. We need to start conducting ourselves better online. Don’t post every thought that comes into your head no matter how hilarious you think it is. Use good judgement. Ask yourself if all 736 people you know online need to see the ice cream cone you are eating.

Ignore all of the bullshit. Don’t comment on everything. Use restraint. Don’t friend everyone that asks. Treat people online (or off) with respect. Having lots of friends and dozens of “likes” on a status can feel-good. I get it. But when things get tough, “likes” and comments won’t replace a real shoulder to lean on. Being a real friend takes time. I guess ol’ Will Shakespeare said it best, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”