The Facebook ‘Friends’ You Wish Were Your Real Friends

IMG_1091“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck, and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” –Steve Maraboli

Hello friend,

I don’t do a very good job of making friends. I am introverted, so I don’t seek out social situations. I am also a bit shy, so I am not very chatty and outgoing when I do meet new people. I would say I am courteous but not engaging. Some—or all—of that may be due to the fact that I have an inherent disgust for small-talk. It tends to make my skin crawl. It is, by its very nature, superficial. I don’t do superficial well at all. I prefer to either dive right into a meaningful interaction or be ignored altogether.

With all that, it should come as no surprise that I didn’t do high school very well when it came to reputation. I had my group of close friends, no doubt, but most people thought I was “stuck-up,” our word for arrogant and just generally thinking you are better than everyone else. I don’t deny that there was some of that in the mix, but, at this distance of almost 25 years, it is clear to me that most of my reputation stemmed from my innate repulsion to all things petty and superficial, most notably small-talk. Unfortunately, that encompasses the bulk of the high school experience outside of your closest friend group. I just didn’t have it in me to pretend to be everyone’s best friend. A small but true handful was all my nature could handle. It still is.

Sadly, in addition to not being a good maker of friends, I am also a very poor keeper of friends. Well, at least in the usual sense. I am terrible at staying in touch: making the call, sending the birthday card, getting to the class reunion, or setting up the boys weekend. As a result, I have basically lost touch with almost all of my best friends. That doesn’t feel so good. On the other side of it, I still consider all of my best high school buddies to be my best friends, contact or not. I still value them like I did when we were together every day and would still do anything for them. They are my boys, and that is that. In my head! Maybe they are like the ghosts I wrote to you about last time, their relationship with me existing perfectly in my head only. Maybe they have either forgotten about me or allowed the passage of time to lessen their love for me in a way that my heart simply doesn’t operate.

My heart and my head seem to be like vaults. What was once placed there is secure forever. Perhaps that is something of a curse, though, lulling me into thinking I do not have to work to maintain those relationships just because I feel the same way about my loved ones that I always have. It is probably the case that while I am silently moving on with these timeless feelings, the other side is moving on to new relationships that more clearly and consistently reveal themselves. I hold onto ghosts of friendships past and don’t seek out new ones, figuring I am all set in the best friend department. Like I said, for better or worse, it is my nature to have only a few of the best kind and almost none of the superficial.

With all that said, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I was one of the last, stubborn holdouts of the Facebook era. I heard people sing its praises for years and years and still had no interest in trying it. For one, it just sounded so time-consuming. I pictured everyone sitting around writing little notes about themselves all day and couldn’t imagine myself having the time or interest to do that. Granted, I had never actually seen a Facebook page, but this is how I imagined it. And second—and most important to our discussion today—was my complete distaste for the idea that people were writing and sharing these notes with people they weren’t really friends with. Why in the world would you become “friends” with someone who was never your true friend, who you just knew in the superficial high school way? This concept was absolutely beyond my comprehension and seemingly totally contrary to my nature. Facebook and I, it seemed, would never become friends.

So it went for years and years, until I finally created “Journal of You” and needed a way to tell people about my posts every week. My sister suggested I join Facebook and connect with some old friends and relatives to at least share it with them. So, I reluctantly signed up for an account. BOOM! Blast after blast came flooding from the past! Suddenly I was seeing the faces of my high school—even elementary school–classmates who had completely disappeared from my life more than 20 years before. Some were friends then, some barely acquaintances.

Initially, I told myself that I would just connect with them for the purpose of the blog, as the entire exercise seemed extremely awkward to me. Much to my surprise, however, instead of being repulsed by the idea of becoming “friends” with these characters from my past, I became quite tickled by discovering all about their new lives. As a voracious learner, I delighted in studying their posts to meet their families and friends, and also to learn about their pastimes and passions. My wife had many occasions to roll her eyes as I sounded like a great-grandpa musing, “This Facebook thing is REALLY COOL!”

It wasn’t long before I developed a minor addiction, making it a habit to catch up on my Newsfeed each night. It was during this time that I confirmed my long-held concern that Facebook could take up a lot of time. To counter that, though, were the warm feelings that stemmed from making the kind of modern-day connections that come from “likes” and comments on posts. It was so cool to get a like on a blog post from someone in my Advanced Algebra class or a happy comment from one of my pals from fifth grade. In the midst of my otherwise-unsocial existence, where I hardly speak to anyone outside of my house, here I was being touched with a little sense of community. I was simultaneously surprised and thrilled by it. Hence, “This Facebook thing is REALLY COOL!” 

Other than the simple delight of these little moments of cyber-connection, my big “A-HA!” from my year or so on Facebook is that, in following all of these “friends,” I have come to wish that some of them actually would be my friends. Real friends. Human ones, not electronic ones. In following people’s posts in my daily check of the Newsfeed, I feel like I have gotten a real sense of how some people are (or at least how I imagine them to be). Some of it is the articles, videos, or memes that they share. Some of it is what they write about their experience of the world. Some of it is their family photos and captions. Those things are very intriguing to me. The rest comes from what they like or comment on from my posts, as I am very sensitive to that.

The end result is that I have this handful of people that I feel a real affinity to, who I would very much like to be put in the same room with for a few days to see if we would save the world somehow, or at least become true friends. I am not talking about people that were my best friends before but we somehow lost touch along the way. No, I am talking about people who I either hardly knew at all, knew only when we were young kids, or were only somewhat friendly with but hardly thought of making the effort to keep tabs on. Now, however, through the magic of Facebook, I wish these “friends” were my friends. They are:

  • Stephanie—I honestly have no recollection of any level of friendship with her in high school–no specific memories at all—but now I find her an inspiration and a delight. I love all of the stuff she posts about, and she says nice things about my kids’ pictures (the easy way to get on this list!). She is thoroughly positive, which is endlessly appealing to me.
  • John—I think I last heard from him in seventh grade and were on okay terms before that, but I love the specific comments he has made on my posts, and I like the energy of his.
  • Susan—We were decent friends in high school, but I haven’t seen her since. She posts a lot about parenting her brood of kids, one who has special needs. I love the honesty with which she shares, and no matter how funny or self-deprecating the story is, I can feel the gratitude oozing from my screen. I can just tell that she is an awesome parent and role model.
  • Jillian—She is actually not a school friend but a second cousin and much younger than I, who I mostly knew when she was a little kid. She fits in here because I now love following her posts as a mother of a little one. It is so clear how much she appreciates her life and the gift of parenthood.
  • Kassie—This one is not a childhood acquaintance but rather someone who I crossed paths with a few times through work many years ago. Now, I absolutely LOVE following her story, which includes overcoming the deepest grief, battling to be healthy, and finding love and peace wherever you are. She is an amazing inspiration to me from afar. Then, once in a while, she sneaks me a little comment that never fails to lift me up.

There are others, of course, that make me very grateful that I finally joined the modern world and Facebook. The common themes that hook me and make me wish we could all get together in one room seem to be gratitude and positivity. These people are a wonderful reminder of what I need to be better at delivering to the people in my own world, both on Facebook and to the flesh-and-blood humans I meet and know. I want it to be clear from everything I say, write, and do. In the end, I just want to be the kind of guy that someone would want to be friends with.

How about you? Are there people in your world—real or cyber—that you would like to be real friends with? Open up your journal and make a list of them. From what part of your life do they come? High school? Work acquaintances? Relatives? What is it about each of them that you are drawn to? Is there a common theme—like my gratitude and positivity—or does each appeal to you for different reasons? How good of a job have you done at staying in touch with your friends from the different stages of your life? Have the relationships that have faded over the years done so for good reason? Are you like me and maintain the same feelings and faithfulness to people no matter how much time passes, or do your relationships fade in your heart with the passage of time? What role has Facebook played in rekindling your old relationships? Do you use it mostly as a voyeur, or do you post and comment often as well to share your story? Have you discovered people whose posts and comments you are very much drawn to, who you would like to become true friends with even though you never were before? How odd does that seem to you? How great? I love to discover something new and wonderful, especially in a person. How about you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who are the Facebook “friends” you would like to become real friends with, and why?

Be unabashedly YOU,

William

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