Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Are We Really Friends?


In the age of social media, the word "friend" is thrown around easily. Yet, we should question this -- are all the people who call themselves our friends on Facebook, etc., actually true confidants? Would they pick us up at the train station late at night? Do they listen to our woes with attention and compassion?

Turns out, they aren't. Which shouldn't really be a surprise: the amount of effort required to interact with someone on social media is minimal -- far less than necessary in the real world.

Recent research reported this week in The New York Times finds "that only about half of perceived friendships are mutual," meaning that "someone you think is your friend might not be so keen on you. Or vice versa, as when someone you feel you hardly know claims you as a bestie."

The article sensibly concludes that "it's worth identifying who among the many people you encounter in your life are truly friends. Who makes time for you? Whose company enlivens, enriches and maybe even humbles you? Whom would you miss? Who would miss you?"

This subject matters to me. I take friendship seriously. I will ride a motorcycle halfway across North America to visit a friend. I will listen patiently to someone share her deepest anxieties. I will confide my personal secrets with an expectation of trust.

During my life, I've learned to distinguish between acquaintances -- who are simply people in our orbit -- and friends. We're all surrounded by others at school, work and the gym; mere presence doesn't mean people are our friends. Rather, friends are the ones we choose; they are people we're drawn to, people we hope will understand us.

What do you think about this?

36 comments:

  1. I only have a handful of good friends and that truly is enough. I could call all these people at 3am in the morning, knowing they would want to help me. That is so good and makes me feel secure!

    -Kati

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    1. I agree. We don't need many good friends, just a few real ones.

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  2. "This subject matters to me. I take friendship seriously. I will ride a motorcycle halfway across North America to visit a friend."

    You're like me. It's in my nature to trust those people I call friends, and I have a natural tendency to go out of my way for them, whether it be travel out of my way to see them, listen to their issues even though it may be inconvenient for me, and so on. I'm the type of person to buy someone a dumb gift and go out of my way to mail it to them, just because it reminds me of them and I thought they might like it. To me, that kind of stuff is just what friends do. Unfortunately, I've realized that not everyone shares this tendency and that level of friendship is very rarely reciprocated, perhaps this year more than ever. Now, I force myself to make a conscious effort to NOT do these things for "friends" (unless, of course, the friendship is truly reciprocated...which is very rarely!).

    On the plus side, I've learned to be 100% self-sufficient. Need a ride from the airport late at night? I call an Uber. Flat tire? I call AAA. That shelf mounted on the wall? Got myself a screwdriver and used a little elbow grease.

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    1. I understand your disappointment in getting people to reciprocate to the same degree you're willing to help them. I face that too. But it hasn't stopped me from searching for good friends. They're out there, just not numerous or easily found. On the other hand, becoming self-sufficient is smart; we always encounter situations where it helps us.

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  3. An interesting topic. Maybe we also sometimes expect too much from 'friends', or people we think of as friends.
    I've been thinking about this quite a bit, too, as I expect mutual respect and loyalty from people I consider friends. Yet, I've been stabbed in the back more times I can count, by people (friends and family) who should know me and the (very few) issues I really care about.

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    1. I weigh this frequently. I want, hope and expect a lot from people, then have to deal with disappointment when they don't give it. Not sure if expecting less is the answer.

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  4. I feel beyond honored to call you one of my best friends. To know that you are always rooting for me and always there when I need to talk is a priceless gift. I often feel like I don't give as much back to you as you give to me, but you already know that and would probably say it's not true and tell me not to feel guilty. Even when we go a stretch without regular communication (pretty much always due to something huge going on in my life), when we do talk it's always just as much of a familiar, safe, and comforting place to be. That, to me, is a big mark of true friendship...even when time passes, you pick right back up where you left off because your friendship is just such a natural fit. You are such a special person with a depth a lot of people don't possess, and I'm so glad the magic of the internet brought us into each other's lives.

    Can't wait for when you drive across the country to visit me - and, yes, I would absolutely pick you up at the train station if that's how you decided to travel!!! :D <3

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    1. With some special people, like you darling Jen, it's unnecessary to measure what we give each other because it's incalculable. You have improved my life in profound ways -- helped me see myself differently, given me courage to do unimaginable things. Those contributions are so incredible they can't be measured and compared.

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  5. The fact that you can choose your friends, is what makes it so honest in my opinion. For me its a connection. I'm really picky. Most of my friends are from childhood and very few I have made on the way to where I stand today. Friendship for me is rooting for the other, being just a phone call away knowing that person is there for your regardless of how long its been. Its being happy because your friend is doing well and is also happy. Its not talking negatively about that person behind their back. At this point I have seen so many fake friendships that I am cautious.
    Believe it or not, I consider you a friend and think that if I ever needed
    someone to talk to, you'd be there.

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    1. Absolutely! In my time on the planet, you are among the small handful of people I truly like.

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  6. Love reading your thoughts on this! It takes more than liking a post on Facebook to be friends.

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    1. That's an important point. Before the Internet, if you wanted to be someone's friend you had to actually do stuff. Work at it. Social media created the appearance of friendship but without effort. And that lets lazy people pretend to be friends when they aren't really.

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  7. You might not be there at the train station to pick me up, but your blog is here in the blogosphere inspiring women like me, that makes you a friend to me.
    xx Bing.

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  8. But on the other hand, you're right about social media friends, the last time I went through something, I had to stop and think, which of my facebook friends should I call? who will listen to me while I was crying, and I couldn't think of anybody. xx Bing.

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    1. A true story I heard about a year ago. A young man has 600 "friends" on Facebook. He wondered how many of them would come to a party, so he invited them all. Only two people showed up and, when they saw nobody else was there, they quickly left. As I explain above, I don't think we should be deluded into believing FB friends are real friends.

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    2. I must chime in with a different sort of FB story. Six years ago, when diagnosed with breast cancer, I used social media to get the word out. Through that, a FB (and LA pop music scene) acquaintance helped get me the optimal chemo protocol for my type of cancer. I wouldn't have known to call her, she instead found me. I wouldn't say that she is now a best friend, but she sure is one of my angels and I'm forever grateful!

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  9. I treasure friends, esp as my family has gotten smaller. Being vulnerable with someone is a powerful experience, as is listening to their own fears and dreams. And age, gender, finances - they're no barrier to friendship. Wonderful post, Ally, xo

    -Patti
    http://notdeadyetstyle.com

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    1. Thanks, Patti. What you say is very true. For me, that's the real benefit of friendship.

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  10. Another awesome, thought provoking post Ally!!!

    I find that, although I really treasure my friends (biological and heart sisters), with the "ease" of technology I have gotten lazy ... it's easier to sit in front of the TV and send a What'sApp or a quick message on Facebook ... than to pick up the phone and have a chat. However when I get together with my girlfriends they know that I care deeply for them and that I would definitely be the one that is at the train station at 3am; you can call me when you want to chat and cry and rant and rave about something and they are the people with whom I can do the same.

    I wish we lived a little bit closer so that we could meet in person ... one day we will be sitting across the table from each other and the place had better close late because there will be so much to tell and share and laugh about. I think we may invite Wendy with ... but then maybe not!!!!

    Thanks for always giving us food for thought!!!

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    1. I agree -- and look forward to our meeting!

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  11. It confuses me when people throw friend easily however I got used to normal 'friend' in social media - it's just different. Last weekend I took a long train ride just to see a friend of mine for about 5 hours incl time we had to share him with his parents. That's what friendship really means in the time of need

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  12. Excellent points, Ally. It is almost as though we need a new 21st century term to use for people who exist in our online sphere, but who are not (yet) offline "friends", too. I'm surprised, in a way, that such hasn't been coined yet.

    Of course, as you know first hand yourself, many online friendships can be deep, meaningful and as powerful as any offline, but not all are and while there's nothing wrong with that, it does fascinate me that (in my personal experience) online friendships sometimes organically peter out much more quickly than offline ones might.

    That just makes me cherish my long term online friends (yourself included) all the more.

    ♥ Jessica

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  13. Great topic. Until 10 years ago, I had very few friends - then I met my Winesday women and now I'm blessed with 7-8 very close friends, people I would trust with my life, people I can count on always. I'm not a good friend, though. I don't reach out (I always feel as though I'm intruding), and I will rarely initiate contact. However, if you suggest something to me, I will make it happen. I don't talk to my friends via technology (only by email and only when planning, sending an invitation or a reminder). I much prefer in person contact, and many people in my life have drifted away because of this. There are few people that I've ever mistaken for friends, but many people think I am their friend because of my extroverted mode. I think of friendship like a tiered cake. At the top are my 2-3 besties (including L), then the next tier are my go-to "safe" friends (who I can be myself with), and then people I would invite to a party (you're in that group!). The rest are "other" until I get to know them. I wonder if that sounds cold...? I'm just much more introverted than I project myself as, even in real life.

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    1. I understand, Sheila. I'm also secretly an introvert.

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  14. Lovely post. I so appreciate your wisdom and articulate thought regarding friend Vs. acquaintance. I still like the old motto, make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold.
    I find that is important to always appreciate who you are with, and really listen: being connected in such a way feels wonderful.
    Most of my friendships back many decades, and that is sweet indeed.
    I am happy for you reading this.
    xx, Elle
    http://www.theellediaries.com/

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  15. Very thought provoking post AND comments!
    What's interesting to me (being a very shy person, believe it or not) is the way social media has created a new way to make friends. It seems to foster an accelerated process and if you really connect with someone online, meeting in person is a continuation of the relationship, not a new start. Of course there are lots of superficial "friends" online (at least in my Facebook roster), just as there are in the workplace (or wherever). But I must say, some of my newest blogging friends "get" me so much more than people from my past. Maybe I'm a different person now!

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  16. I agree. I can count the number of my real FRIENDS on my fingers. Partially out of choice, partially thanks to my mental illness. Sometimes I get overextended, and it's simply easier to stick with those people I can talk about the deep, dark things with. I guess that's why my friends are my friends and I have nearly no 'acquaintances'. My friends are the ones who have stuck with me, even though days, weeks, or a few months can go by and pick up with me when my energy and good days have returned.

    I guess it's also been a blessing in disguise that the people who aren't really my friends haven't stuck with me. Those that have are more important than they even know.

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  17. Oh my goodness, I totally worry about this! I find it hard to make friendships nowadays as an adult. I always worry that what I perceive to be a friendship is only from my side!x

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  18. You are so loyal as a friend- I am quite sure it is always reciprocated!

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  19. Spot on and so profound a Post... which is why I enjoy so many of your Posts. I hear so many younger people lamenting about how a lack of Socialization in person is occurring due to the Social Media replacing face to face contacts. I see it daily when you go to a restaurant and see a group of people dining together and completely ignoring each other as everyone at the table is preoccupied with their electronic devices!! So sad, to be Present in the Moment and give an individual your full Attention and the respect of the time they are investing by their presence is not something to be taken for granted IMO. If a relationship isn't mutually Invested in and valued by the other person or becomes too high maintenance and lopsided, I let it go and move on, Time is our most valuable resource, not worth wasting on what isn't working or no longer matters. Dawn... The Bohemian

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  20. Thought I would add that I am that person that gets called at 3am to go pick someone in crisis up... and I've never regret helping anyone, whether they be considered a 'Friend' or not... guess I'm just the proverbial Good Samaritan that way, but I find too many wonderful people have no network to turn to in a crisis, so if they have to humbly ask for Help, I just could never refuse... Dawn... The Bohemian

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    1. You're a good person, Dawn. Really. Be proud.

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  21. I love this so much. I've been giving a lot of thought to the word "friendship" lately, as someone I cut ties with years ago reached out to me to wish my mom well. The pain was so deep with this particular friend, but the minute I heard from her, that was all water under the bridge. I've missed her, and I know she has missed our friendship, too.

    That aid, I've always really valued the friends in my life, too, and would do just about anything for them. I feel really lucky in that way :)

    XOXO

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  22. This is very difficult. Sometimes you meet somebody and you have a deep understanding, appreciation of one another. You might even call it platonic love. I might not know that person or be in real life with him or her for more than a day, but I would still pick him or her up from the station in the middle of the night.
    Having said that, I do acknowledge that most viral (blog) friends are not the same as my friends in real life with whom I am friends with for 46 years (OMG!). Which is why I want to spend less time on blogs, facebook, commenting (sorry) because I think real life is so much more important. And then I think of my first sentences again....
    Very difficult.
    Greetje

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    1. This is something all of us wrestle with; it's a facet of modern life. Back when I was growing up, nobody had "online" friends.

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