Are We Friends?

Facebook tells me so.  On Twitter or Instagram, we just follow each other.  Look at and like pictures we take of the food we eat or the moon we see or of our friends that are near, or have a quickie relevant to our latest brain fart. 

But Facebook says we’re friends.  Some of us are even close friends, notified instantly of our every update and link and share. 

Facebook used to be about people we knew.  Aunt Whoever or Cousin Whichone Colleague Overthere or any of the number of people we rub physical shoulders with on a semi-regular basis.  It was our way to keep up, stay abreast, and invite people over for dinner.  Or at least share what we had for dinner to make others jealous.  Like when I get to have so-and-so’s famous noodles and you get to sit wherever you are and drool, bringing to mind the smells of the kitchen or the saltiness of the broth. 

We had real-world interactions, spats, times of sorrow, that weren’t always public but instead close and sometimes messy.

But now it’s all out there, where the contact isn’t flesh on flesh or mind to mind.  And the scary thing to me is how this is becoming the new way to be friends.  And we are becoming good at it.  In some ways, we are perhaps more real online.  Or at least we are getting better at being real online.  We think before we post and let fly with what truly drives us (crazy).  What we are thinking and feeling means more when we share it with the world. 

Right?

More revealing to me is the way we make friends these days.  We don’t meet at the local gaming store or park or nightclub anymore.  We don’t see one another face to face first.  Not me, anyway.  I see an interesting comment on an update, check out your profile, send you a friend request, and you respond according to your whims.  I read your blog, you maybe read mine, we comment back and forth, and one day we realize that, just like Facebook says, we’re friends. 

The things that bother me?  Tomorrow, we might not be friends.  Either of us could decide at a moment’s notice that the other is just not that friendly anymore.  No longer friend material.  We try hard to be likeable.  Share the sort of stuff that keeps people interested or gets them thinking.  But that might not be enough eventually. 

Or, we could go to our grave and never shake hands.  Or hug, if you’re the hugging type.  I won’t ever get to make for you my killer pancakes or lend you my favorite novel or look at you with with eyes that aren’t fixed but shifty and telling.  We will probably never getting the chance to share a drink or a smoke or a cup of Joe and have an argument that is heated and spontaneous and makes us feel so awkward that we either take that chance to really look into each others eyes and sense the immediate passion and then find some of that precious, holy common ground that exists between two people – that which binds us and keeps us at the table or on the porch, in communion, within arm’s reach – or accept the opportunity to wash our hands and walk away, knowing we tried, still respecting each other, but parting ways nonetheless.  Or not.  Maybe we just agree to disagree and still call one another friend.  After all, the coffee is still warm and there are other things that make hanging out worth it. 

Friends I’ve Never Met vs. Friends In Real Life. 

Or is the new norm a strange combination of the two?  If so, I guess I’m admitting that I don’t like it all that much.  I’d rather know you than just catch your updates online.  But this, of course, is not possible in many cases.  More than I realized, until recently.  And I think that makes me sad. 

There’s a lyric that comes to mind often: I want to know you, not just about you.  This is where I’m at.  And I’m not so sure there’s a thing I can do about it . . .

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19 thoughts on “Are We Friends?

  1. The big question is: Given that you can only incompletely know your online friends, would it be better or worse never to have known them at all?

  2. I look at it like this… The people I meet and friend ‘in real life’ would have always been there and are no less/more important. The wonderful people I meet and friend online probably would never have been part of my life before social media. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to know even the small parts of them I do. If we meet in person at some point, even better, but I’m going to enjoy the small interactions now.

  3. I don’t see that dramatic a difference between online friends and real life friends and aquaintances. I don’t think the online people know me better; they just know me differently. I don’t think the times I share with real life friends are somehow more intimate and authentic. I think MANY real life interactions are exactly the same as status updates–sometimes witty, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes simply descriptive of what we’re doing, sometimes a little sad.

    I think the up side of online relationships is that you can check in with people during the chinks in your day. The truth is I have very few opportunities to socialize with my real life friends–all busy with jobs and families and chores.

  4. I know exactly what you mean. It’s unfortunate that this may be the only connection we will ever have with people. It has its benefits and its detriments. I guess I can only say that I do feel richer for having the ability to connect with and communicate with people I otherwise may have never met. I have run into people in person (in Fort Wayne of course) that I am friends with on Facebook – and we have an instant “jump-start” on our conversation – it’s never been uncomfortable. In addition, there are people who live all the way across the world that I’m fairly certain I will never meet in person. But what an addition they have made to my life!

  5. I understand your lament, Brian. I have been online for so long now, since the beginning when it was dial up and chat rooms and then AOL message boards to now.

    I’ve had various groups of online friends, but there is one that I’ve had that still survives after about 15 years. We all posted on an AOL message board called “Dating in the 90s”. We had crazy pitched battles on that board, stalkers that took the meanness to the “real world”, and then the core group of us who still, to this day, are friends. I have a quilt that these friends made for my youngest when he was born, they sent it around the country until it was finished. I’ve met a handful of them in person. One of them had surgery yesterday, a long and grueling surgery that it will take her months, possibly a year or two, to recover from. I met her just a few months ago; after all the years of talking online and on the phone, it was like meeting a sister. She’s a child therapist and she spent the night before her surgery talking to my 7 year old about problems he’s having in school. We are family, and it all started on a silly little message board many years ago.

    So Brian…I think we’re friends. Hopefully friends who one day meet in the flesh, but friends nevertheless. I totally get what you’re saying about the value of in person connections, too. We just went through a messy summer on our block where we all know each other and a situation had to be addressed and it really just tore me apart and created all kinds of up-close and personal awkwardness…it’s all settled down now, though some of the awkwardness remains. Wrote about it on my blog if you want to read it.

  6. Hi Brian,
    I know — how odd that I should greet you before responding to something deep and personal you have shared. Even more odd that I feel I can “walk up to a total stranger” and comment on something he is struggling with…
    Yes, I feel much of what you have described. And I awlays felt awkward with the real life friends who couldn’t or wouldn’t share important thoughts and feelings. I could not relate well with the surface level chit chat “friends” i so often encountered. Oddly, it seems cyber friends are more willing to share something deep and real and important to them than those I meet in life.
    And I am sorry that I cannot give you my tattered copy of a favorite novel in return for yours, so that we could meet for coffee and talk all about them… because I think we would be friends.

    • Welcome, Kat. And thank you for taking the time to comment. I believe blogs live or die based on the quality of the comments received, and yours keeps my hopes alive for another day. So glad you’ve chosen to take part . . .

      • Thanks, Brian! I am really enjoying your blog and your writing style. You choice of subject is both intriguing, but sometimes I find it hitting a bit close to home. So rather than devouring every article on a newly discovered – and subscribed to – blog, I will visit regularly – like with a good friend.

  7. I can’t tell you how sad it made me to turn down a weekend with the Cheek family, so I think that we must be friends. There are invitations that I pray to be relieved from; yours just made me pout and tantrum.

  8. The wonderful about the internet, and so many other things, is the intense leveling it does to us. Kids that grow up with the internet, with Facebook and whatever, kids that go to school together become closer friends when they realize they share likes and interests with a person they might not have spoken to if they went to school in the 80’s.

    At least, that’s the impression that I get from lots of the kids I see. Do you think it’s true with yours?

  9. Hi Brian – good expression of what might or might not work on social media. Me, I’m an old Luddite – don’t even own a cell phone (but have computer, oddly) Meh! facebook. Can take it or leave it, mostly leave it tho. It simply gives the illusion of ‘fitting in” communication with the rest of our busy lives. Collecting friends is not like collecting marbles, either. Sending you and yours a big hug. G

  10. i think there’s a spectrum effect in play — from the virtual friends who only reside inside my laptop, to the daily connections that i see in real life, and also floating through the FB feed.

    what has been most surprising? through the blog, i’ve been able to meet people around the world. who knew that so many south africans were brilliant, snarky writers? opened my mind to so many things…

    and on those glorious occasions when i’ve been able to meet a blogmate in real life? most times, we already knew each other – and getting through the “wow! it’s weird to hear your voice!” phase, we realize pretty quickly that we know each other well, and can hit the ground running.

    conversely, i’ve let a few of you blogmates flip into FB-land — and most fascinating there? y’all know me better than the vast majority of my FB acquaintances.

    enjoy the spectrum. that’s all i got… good to see you writing again!

  11. It can cross over. I went to the States, met with, lived with, blogging buddies, and they’re now lifelong friends….it’s possible, and something I don’t necessarily want to do “more” of….it’s challenging, risky. What if they sucked in real life?! But they didn’t…and of course, if you want to just meet anyone, you’ll find that some suck. But if you’re digging deep, excavating, scuba diving, looking for the gold, you find it, and you know it before you meet….

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