Search “friendship” and Google explodes with images and quotes on the topic. And for good reason, it is a biggie. Friendship. We all need it.
But has it become just another commodity?
In a world where so much of our lives are online, has ‘friending’ become just another trend. A simple action committed by the click of a tab. Sure, it’s still a two-way process. One has to be “accepted” into the circle of trust, but when that circle is 500 people deep with faces that one may or may not have met more than once – is that “friend”ship that’s being traded actually real?
What is this virtual-reality friendship worth? This commodity that we so desperately seem to want to chase and collect and expand upon.
I initially felt the urge to write this article after I realized I had been made to feel invisible earlier in the day. The feeling stayed with me for the rest of that day. I couldn’t shake it. It was as if a blanket had been thrown atop of me and no amount of running around was shaking it loose. This feeling, any writer will tell you, is when you know you have found your next topic.
Invisibility is not an uncommon feeling for me. I am more comfortable on the sidelines than in the spotlight. I don’t mind being called a wallflower, I actually like it.
But here’s the thing – I like it when I choose it. That day, I did not choose it.
It was thrust upon me in a social setting so many mommies know well. A play group. A room where moms go to hang out and drink coffee and shoot the shit while their kids run wild and work on their own social skills. The room contained some of my friends – some I knew well and others that I knew mostly by their Facebook updates.
It started off as usual, with the regular “hello, how are you”s and that nice fuzzy feeling you get when surrounded by people you are happy to see and who seem happy to see you as well. The friendship fuzzies. But something happened within that 2 hours to make me realize, that while I was a friend, I really wast just a virtual friend.
No need to spill all the details, this is not a diary. But the friendship fuzzies were deflated. And of course, once you’re already down the universe will always reach out and punch you in the guts.
So, time to run an errand. Oh there is Suzie O.! I’m so happy to see her! I can ask her about her new cat and about her daughter’s party… except, wait, what is Suzie O. doing? Suzie O. made eye contact and then crossed the street as to quickly duck out of my way. Huh. Okay. I guess while we can leave copious amounts of comments on each other’s social walls, in real life, there is a real wall, and there is no posting to it. At least not with Suzie O.
Invisibility. Friendship. Can they, should they, co-exist?
When I was 12, there is no way this would even be a question. My life as a 12-year-old was lived in the real. But at 35-years-old, much of my life is lived in the unreal.
I miss my life as that kid. While dealing with shit was tough, since everything was so real, it forced me to be real as well. If a friend made me feel invisible, we’d have it out! Shit would be said and feelings would be shared and we would either walk away forever or get closer forever.
But these days with social platform friendships and ‘networking’ – a term that more deeply refers to the using of people or ‘friending for benefits’ – how do we do that?
How do we measure these friendships’ worth? And can I just delete a friendship? Without ever saying anything. Without ever making any of it real? Just chop it up to the virtual vortex. How will unfriending one from that social media form affect all the other social media friendships? Is it really just the equivalent of making eye contact and then jumping the street to the other side? Or in the way we function today, is it more?
If a best friend, the real friend who protects your back against a thousand daggers, is priceless… what is Suzie O. worth who you just “accepted” after meeting at the playgroud? How many daggers will she stop for you – or – worse – will she be the one throwing them one day? Or is her social wall and her presence on yours worth all of that risk as a commodity? And, if you are unsure about it,how long do you retain it, before deciding to make that “sell”, the dreaded “unfriend” decision?
Here is my mommyconfessional. I have no freaking idea how to deal with today’s version of friendship.
I want to have the friendships I had when I was 12. I want real. I want to accept friendship when extended to me online, but then have those turn into ones I can trust. Ones I can love. Ones I can invite for drinks and know they’ll show up even if they feel like shit but they do it anyway because they know that if I’m asking to go for drinks I need to get out of the house, so they need to show up so they pull their hair together and slap on some lip chap and they show up. It is real.
Real friends show up. Real friends have your back against all rumours or attacks. Real friends are priceless. Real friends don’t cross the street to avoid you only to leave comments on your social page photos an hour later.
Real friends mess up, but they also make up. They don’t cover-up. They are who we show ourselves with in the most honest ways, and even if that honesty is ugly, they help us sort it out and move on through it all. Because we are worth it. We are priceless.
Real friends probably don’t come by the 100s if placed on a score count.
They may not even come by the 10s.
And that’s okay.
I’ll take it.
I’ll take 10.
I’ll take 5.
I’ll take 1.
Over 500 virtual friendships.
Over 500 commodity, networking, relationships.
I’ll take 1.
Invisibility. It’s not a bad thing. Quite often it can be very powerful. I love it when I choose it. But if I ever made someone else feel invisible at a time that they were trying to let me see them, I apologize. I am sorry for being a shit. I make mistakes. Next time, please call me out on it! I am not just an online status update. I am not just a profile picture. I am real. I can handle it. Call me out. Tell me I’m not being a good friend, because by doing so, YOU are being a good friend. YOU are making it real. YOU are showing me that this online thing is worth a real thing. And if I ever “accepted” anything from you, I am here, I am available to you for the real. I am open to seeing what kind of friendship we can foster… but it’s a two-way deal. Are YOU in it for the real?
Figuring out this landscape of virtual realities and networks, virtual friendships and enemies, virtual support and kindness is a heck of a thing for someone like me. But I am sure I am not the only one. I am sure there are many of us running around every day scanning our phones for updates and wondering who of these awesome folks are in it for the real, versus just the quick scan.
How do we know who will be there for us when our babysitter gets sick and we need someone in less than 5 minutes notice? Or who will put in the effort to come to our house to hug us close as they realize a big family tragedy might have occurred? Who will offer to watch our pets as we leave for holidays? These are such simple examples of real friendships, but they happen in real life, so until someone is pushed to it, we just don’t get to know who those are.
So, good luck to you, the other 30-something-or-older reading this, the one who also grew up before social networking and learnt about friendships before all of this virtual stuff. Good luck to you. May we all find ways to figure out the virtual landscape of friendship, without losing what it means to have ones in the real one.
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