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.


8 thoughts on “Friendship

  1. I quite agree. I deleted my Facebook account over 6 months ago, and recently had lunch with a friend I don’t see often and mentioned something about the defunct facebook account, to which she said “I never noticed.” I think technology really messes up the natural ways that people interact with each other. I also feel quite friend-less and have tried to reach out, calling people, sending old friends long rambling letters, inviting people to meet for lunch, etc. It has not been very well received though.

  2. from Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman: “…when we meet again for tea at her house, it’s clear that we observe vastly different female bonding rituals. I’m prepared to follow the American model of confession and mirroring, with lots of comforting ‘me-toos.’ She pokes daintily at her pastry and discusses theories of art.” (pg 15)

    …except that I don’t identify with the author, but with this person she is meeting up with. I don’t get the American female bonding rituals, and I suppose for that reason and a few others, I’m extremely hesitant to describe few as very very close friends, and of those very very close friends, only one is a woman. I’ve found some people (not you) have expectations that I sit around and help them pick up pieces of their lives. That I listen to them sob on about bad relationships (constantly, constantly).

    I lack the girl gene.
    It’s the only explanation I have.

    Sure, if someone is remarkably shaken by something, of course I want to listen, but I don’t want the “confession and mirroring” conversation as the norm. I want to talk about things that matter, or if not talk, at least do something. I’d rather talk politics and risk alienating myself that way than listening to someone whine about a guy. Seriously. Listened to enough of that is a teen. I’d sooner gouge out my eyeballs.

    So, I like invitations to hockey games or to go check out a film. I like meeting for coffee and raging about the nerve of local political types to hire unqualified individuals. And sadly, I miss these opportunities because I have surrounded myself with so much work, which, as you know, is necessary for independent women who have no one to fall back on for paying her bills. And I miss these things because Twitter and Facebook are crowded with messages, most of which I only skim because I am generally just using these for work (writing) and not so much for the social element. Of the 400+ people I am “friends” with on Facebook, only a handful are people I would consider myself to actually be friends with…I consider it networking, and half of them are former students and people from high school. Of the Twitter accounts I follow, I’d say I can count on one hand the number of people I have ever actively tried to make plans with.

    (I am aware of my rambling)

    I’ve been absent from actual real life gatherings for weeks at a time and have had nobody directly ask how I was or why I was away or if I was okay. I’ve always assumed this for two reasons (1) they are disinterested (2) they figure that I am a big girl and can handle things. . . that I don’t need to be coddled. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they aren’t. I can set my online existence to autopilot but actually have very little non-work-related face-to-face interaction for a long time. And then when I do, it gets so discouraging when that person I’m meeting with instantly pulls out his phone and begins to check texts, as if the person right there does not matter. To me, that’s a lot more damaging than being ignored. That’s actively being ignored.

    Anyway, all of this is to say that I use social media because of Real Hartford, and not because of me, Kerri. Friends who want to make plans should email or call me. Those messages don’t get lost in the shuffle of businesses mass-tweeting and photos of cute kittens.

    1. Thanks, Kerri. People certainly do use social media in all sorts of ways. As Tim just wrote, it is figuring out which are my real friends and which are my imaginary that is the problem. I think I was hoping that more would be real than seem to be, and I’m having a tough time coming to terms with that. It’s good to know, though, that you like invitations. If I ever have a pair of hockey tickets again, I’ll be in touch. And don’t worry, I won’t make you listen to boy troubles throughout the game. 😉

  3. Someone once tweeted: “How does Twitter make you feel?” I answered: “Like a six-year-old with multiple imaginary friends.” I guess that’s the trick, to be able to differentiate your real friends from your imaginary ones.

    “Social media” has made the OED’s definition of “friend” almost quaint. I’m not entirely convinced that most people wouldn’t rather have 100’s of Facebook/Twitter friends than a handful of *actual* friends. The *idea* of Twitter having so much more potential than the *reality* of it. (The reality of it being that most people are just waiting for their turn to tweet, rather than actually interacting with everyone else.) (Just like in real life!)

    I think this (and Kerry touched on this as well) is part and parcel with what someone referred to as “the privatization of public space”. There was once a time when, even if we did not actually engage with those around us, we were at least aware of their presence. We looked out for each other (to the extent that we were not so wrapped up in our individual technologies that we would be able to notice if something happened to someone in our vicinity). Today everyone (either online or out in the real world) seems to be in their own private bubble, oblivious to everyone and everything around them.

    We keep using these words: “social media”. I do not think it means what we think it means.

  4. For additional thoughts… My FB and Twitter are different media for me, even though my messages from Twitter feed to my FB. My FB are the people I consider “friends” in real life – having met them in person or only online through various forums. For both, I have limited people I follow. I’m not a “meet and greeter” but it doesn’t mean I’m disinterested. I’m just not an in-person person. I’m awkward socially. I always second guess my interactions. Half the time, I just like to see how people are doing. If I’m in a “not really interactive mode” I don’t post. Or, if I’m too busy, I don’t post.

    Because I feel that people would tell me about themselves if they wanted me to know what was going on, I figure that if a person isn’t talking publicly, s/he wants to be left alone. That’s how I feel when I don’t say anything. I don’t want to burden someone already unhappy with saying something, be it privately or not, because I figure if that person wanted to talk to me, s/he would. That’s my personality. It’s not a function of ignoring things.

    The flipside of that is – even when I see something, I sometimes see it too late because I don’t check as regularly some days as others. My ability to interact online is limited to my free time schedule. If I don’t have a lot of that to begin with, then mostly I’m just skimming to see what’s going on in the world. If I miss an invitation by a lot of hours, I’d end up not responding because at that point, to me, it’s irrelevant whether I tell someone after the fact, that I’m not going to be there because the person would have figured it out.

    I’m the “silent friend” a lot of times. If you need something, emailing me or IMing me will get you whatever you need. I’m just not great on the phone or at in person stuff. Sometimes, it’s a personal thing, not a social media thing. Social media is made up of people and each person has a different approach to social interaction.

    1. Thanks, Karen. I’ve really been overwhelmed by the response I’ve had to this post. I, too, have different audiences on FB and Twitter. Even on Twitter, I have different expectations from my Hartford friend/followers and my archivist friend/followers.
      I also fall into the socially awkward category. There is no doubt that I relate much more with the silent friends than those who are having a drink at a different bar each night of the week. I have no desire for everyone on Twitter to be one of my confidants. I also have no desire to repeat yesterday for the rest of my life – the only person I actually spoke with was a Whole Foods cashier. I’m trying to use social media as a springboard, to land somewhere in between the two extremes. It’s just not easy.

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