Are All Friends Alike?

March 20, 2010
By

ENB Dallas 2009

My father always said that if, at the end of our lives we could honestly say that we had one friend, we would die rich.  That the word friend was not one to be used lightly. When I came home from school, and said my new friend this or my new friend that, he’d correct me, telling me that until our relationship had grown into something significant, we were simply acquaintances.  Like the bumper sticker reads, “A friends will help you move, a real friend will help you move a body”, we were never to take friendship for granted.

In this age of short tenure employment, neighborhood turnover, and Social Media, does friendship really mean the same thing today as it did in my father’s day? Let’s face it, the days of the gold watch and living next door to the same family for 30 years are the exception in 2010. Families are geographically dispersed, dependent more and more upon the Internet to communicate. Friendships from our youth are being rekindled through Social Media. Some of these so-called friendships fit more closely into the category my father referred to as acquaintance, and would have been better served remaining in the past. But, that’s another story.  Facebook has become the new calling card; Skype brings you right into people’s living rooms – and bedrooms; and Twitter has made everyone a cross between Tom Brokaw and Dr. Phil, with a little Joan Rivers thrown in.

At one point, I would have written that Social Media friends are the same as real life ones. The people who have come into my life as a result of social media are fascinating, enriching, and from a wide range of socio-economic levels and geographic regions. I have laughed, learned and commiserated with men and women whose faces I have no way of knowing are really accurately portrayed in their avatars. We’ve debated health care, marriage equality, global warming, you name it. I’ve learned of their illnesses, and felt real emotional distress as I worried waiting for test results. Waited for that tweet with news. Social media has made the world very small.

On more than one occasion people have disappeared. As suddenly as they appeared in my life, they were gone.  Once, the Twitter account was suspended without explanation, and since I really had no solid way of knowing if the person I was friends with was who she said she was, there was no way to track her down. When someone’s avatar is a an ethereal image or a cartoon, or even a face, how do we REALLY know it is them?  In the case of another friend, the updates just stopped. Nothing.  After months of nightly discussions on the most challenging of topics, sharing our love of Pearl Jam, music trivia, all I heard was crickets.

Today, I went to contact a friend, and noticed that she had unfriended me. That I was no longer her ‘friend’ on Facebook. This saddened me a bit because I never wish to be on the outs with anyone. However, at this stage of life I’m not really concerned about popularity either. The big difference here is if we were really friends, by my father’s definition, I would have picked up the phone and called her. In fact, if we were real life friends, she would have called me if there were a problem. That’s what friends do.

Because I travel full time, I’ve had the opportunity to meet dozens of people in real life (IRL) who I had first encountered through social media. There is no question that the ante is raised once we meet, shake hands, hug each other, share a meal, really laugh out loud (LOL) together. The same way I met my husband through Social Media, in this case, Match.com, the guy he was in his profile was great, but the warm, loving man he was (is) in person was so much more.

Yes, social media is a great door opener for meeting people, learning, sharing, rallying causes. But, just as Internet sex doesn’t replace lovemaking, and Zhuzhu’s don’t replace man’s best friend, Internet friends won’t be the ones you call when your car breaks down, they’ll be the ones you tweet about it.  And, the picture? This was taken in November 2009 in Dallas, TX when a group of us who had met on Twitter got together for the premier of Men Who Stare at Goats. I had met Mark Hundley @MarkHundley, Jamie Inman @ibeatcancrtwice, Jessica Moore @inspiremedaisy, Scott Whitelaw @lifecruise,  and Karen Brown @Toadjumps on Twitter, and the friendship Stewart and I have with these people after meeting in person is much richer than before. There’s just no getting around what happens when two dimensions become three.

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11 Responses to Are All Friends Alike?

  1. Helga on March 20, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    I’ve found it quite unsettling when real life friends have “defriended” me for no discernible reason. For over 20 years I kept in touch with a friend from grade school, then she was “too busy” and no longer responds to my email. This, after telling my daughter how much she valued my friendship. Honestly, I’m baffled. People are complex and I think we often don’t know them as well as we think we do. Often our real life friends come to us through circumstances and may not really mesh with our values. I’ve met fabulous, interesting people on line and (so far, anyway) Facebook friends have not sent me offensive jokes or chain letters. I remember reading an article describing how sexual attraction was all physical, mediated by hormones. Yet, many people have found great partners through on-line dating. I think the most important parts of any relationship are intellectual and emotional compatibility and physical proximity greatly enhances that. I think every friendship, like every person, is unique whether on-line, in person or both. Some people interact genuinely and honestly and some just pretend. The beauty of social media is that we have so many people to choose from that we can interact with and learn from.

    • MaraBG on March 20, 2010 at 4:40 PM

      I agree with you, Helga. It would be so much easier if there were an exit interview required for friendships as there is in many businesses. This is what I posted in reply to the stream on Facebook, which is mixed in it’s reviews:

      I love my social media friends. The deepening that occurs when we meet in person, plus the quality of friendships over time and experiences is key to this essay. I’ve shared more about myself on Twitter an Facebook than with some people I’ve known 40 years. 

      There’s a story here. My very best friend (yes, she fit the definition) was always the one who I measured all friendships by. From age nine until my family moved away when I was 13, she and I were inseparable. Because we lived on different ends of town, most Fridays one of us would take the bus home with the other, only returning to our own after school Monday.

      We kept in touch through the years, but drifted apart 20+ years ago. Off and on, I’d look for her, but didn’t know her married name. Her parents were gone, so that was no option. I finally found her using the Internet and working backwards through Classmates.com. A little more digging, and we had our phone call reunion. 

      I was happy beyond anything you could imagine. The friend of my youth, and my heart. After that initial phone call, she never returned another one of my calls. No explanation.

      A few months later, I received an invitation to join Facebook from her. I was thrilled. Quickly, I signed up and was waiting for the back and forth, the status updates, the pictures of us as kids. She’s never responded to one message I’ve written on her wall, never commented on anything of mine. Nothing. Was my friendship meter broken?   

      I may write something one day that will make you angry at me, and all you’ll have to do is hit ‘unfollow’ or ‘unfriend’, and I am no more. 

      • Meryl Steinberg on March 20, 2010 at 8:13 PM

        Don’t feel like writing a big comment, though wish to let you know how beautifully you expressed yourself on this topic. Not much to add. Here’s to 3D :)

  2. Elizabeth Williams Bushey on March 20, 2010 at 7:32 PM

    GREAT post. Totally captured the spirit of what I was trying to say here: http://www.elizabethbushey.com/fb.

    There are different “categories” of “friends.” It’s just our language that needs to evolve, I think.

    What a wonderful writer you are, Mara darling.

  3. Lynn Dorman on March 21, 2010 at 8:19 PM

    I’ve had some similar friend themes running in my head since my birthday.

    I was awed to wake up on my birthday and see so many online friends say nice things about me on my birthday. I said this to a person whom I have never met IRL but with whom I am connected thru another friend. She and I have had been chatting and emailing for a while.

    She called to wish me a happy birthday and I said the above to her. She replied “but those aren’t real friends as you never met them.” I reminded her that she and I never met either and she said but that was different.

    I’m more puzzled by all this friend stuff since then.

    What is a friend? I’m no longer sure. I’ve had what I thought were good friends during most parts my life, yet we drifted apart – usually due to a lot moving around – and in the days before computers.

    I’ve re-connected with some childhood friends and we’ve discovered that we now have more in common than we did when we drifted and we have stayed in contact. Others and I have had the same old issues re-emerge and we re-drifted.

    I have online friends who are most supportive, there for me, encouraging and all other good things – they are more than what you call acquaintances but I’ve never met them IRL.

    Like you – you and I had some fairly interesting conversations on twitter and meeting you was just a continuation of those conversations and I think it would be the same with many, but not all, of the others from online…

    So – what is a friend? I know you are! And that matters to me however we met is just part of it.

  4. Danica on March 22, 2010 at 10:13 PM

    Lovely…..Very well written…. My parents use to tell me the very same thing. Only it took me till I was an adult to realize they were right (also some hard life lessons).

  5. Nada on March 29, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    Mara I only wish I could speak as eloquently and insightfully as you do. I really enjoyed reading this.

    • MaraBG on March 29, 2010 at 3:24 PM

      Thank you so much, Nada. You are too kind.

  6. Bruce on May 20, 2010 at 8:53 PM

    Don’t feel like writing a big comment, though wish to let you know how beautifully you expressed yourself on this topic. Not much to add. Here’s to 3D :)

  7. Ovel Inad on June 1, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    Great discussion. And I REALLY like that you practice what you preach. That’s when you can tell a post has come together.
    And I’m also fascinated by how fresh you made the routine [admit it: what you just shared has been regurgitated millions of time. ;-)].
    Ben Johnson said people don’t need taught as much as they need reminding.
    Good work.

  8. Joshua Milkowski on July 6, 2010 at 7:16 PM

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