How do you define “friend” and “friendship”? I have to say, this is one of few times even the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t really help me.
1a. ‘One joined to another in mutual benevolence and intimacy’ (Johnson). Not ordinarily applied to lovers or relatives (but cf. senses A. 3, A. 4).
Ok, I can work with that, but let’s see what else they have.
2. Used loosely in various ways: e.g. applied to a mere acquaintance, or to a stranger, as a mark of goodwill or kindly condescension on the part of the speaker; by members of the ‘Society of Friends’ adopted as the ordinary mode of address (cf. A. 7). Also often ironically.
Great. Even the OED has succumbed to the Facebook definition. A friend is now a stranger. I also particularly like the part about how it’s used ironically. I don’t dare look any further (the definitions for ‘friendship’ require knowing the definition of ‘friend’).
The second definition, though, is pretty much why I’ve been thinking about this. In my mind, a friend is a person you want to spend time with, as opposed to those you have to spend time with (co-workers, people on mass transit, etc.). Over the past few years, the majority of the people I have encountered who I would like to spend time with, I’ve ‘met’ via social media, particularly Twitter. The problem is, in 140 characters or less, my friends leave me feeling more like I’m 13 than 35.
I was having a bad day last summer and in reply to something said by Friend ‘A’, I commented sarcastically, “Well, I don’t have any friends, so I don’t have to worry about that.” ‘A’ didn’t pick up on the sarcasm and asked, “Who do you think you’re here with?” An interesting question, considering I don’t think ‘A’ has ever directly invited me to do anything, which is one of the characteristics I associate with friendship. I have met, and spent some time with ‘A’ in person, in addition to conversing online. Does ‘A’ actually care if I exist, though? I can never tell.
I have grown far too uncomfortable to directly ask one person if they want to do something/go somewhere with me. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time someone actually said yes. That never leaves me feeling good, and I’d rather avoid it. I have tried putting out blanket invitations on Twitter, to no greater success. What hurts more in those instances is not that people can’t/don’t want to do whatever/go wherever, they simply don’t respond. For me, communication a key part of friendship. I am grateful to Friend ‘B’ for at least telling me after the fact that, in their case, it was just bad timing. It still leaves me wondering if these people are truly my friends.
I know I am not alone. Friend ‘C’ occasionally takes a break from social media. I always notice when ‘C’ doesn’t tweet or update a Facebook status, but do others? Often, upon returning from hiatus, ‘C’ expresses disappointment that no one has remarked upon their absence. As in my situation, ‘C’ actually knows these people in real life. If they are truly friends with ‘C’, wouldn’t they check-in during a prolonged silence?
I guess I’m scared of what it means if the person who never invites me to an event, the people who rarely communicate, and the person who doesn’t check in on the silent tweeter, actually are my friends. Does this mean I’m doomed to live in this Junior High atmosphere for the foreseeable future? Is there a way out? I didn’t like it then and am disappointed that those who told me it would go away when I grew up, were evidently wrong.
No one can just declare that another person is their friend, but how do you find out who your friends really are? I’m not sure there are answers to any of these questions. It’s also possible I don’t want to know the answers. The other day I approached Friend ‘D’, who gave me a hug and commented, “I haven’t seen you forever.” A hug, to me, indicates the mutual benevolence in the OED’s first definition of friend. Yet many of the aforementioned thoughts were going through my head, and I found myself (whether justifiably or not) wondering if it was friendship or simply politeness.
To avoid spending my time in a padded room, I’m going to assume ‘D’ was being friendly. I’m going to assume ‘A’ does enjoy spending time with me, that ‘B’ isn’t a mind reader and had no idea an online reply would have made me feel better, and that we are all so busy and have extra long Twitter feeds, that we honestly don’t notice when it is short a few updates from one person. I am also going to continue making the attempts I have been making, because it is so much more than I’ve done in the past. In the meantime, I will hope someone reads this and randomly calls me up some time soon with an invitation.