My family moved a lot when I was growing up. Between 6th and 10th grade I lived in seven different houses in 3 different states and went to six different schools. Aside from leaving me a nervous wreck and very restless at times, this transience taught me one valuable lesson—how to make friends. I became quite adept at meeting new people and making them like me, laughing at the right time, acting cool. I learned the subtleties of not seeming too desperate but being available enough so when I got the call to go out, I was ready to go. Because of this constant mobility, I also became quite proficient at leaving people behind. It became clear that friends come into our lives and often leave for good. I got very good at “moving on”…which, in certain situations, is quite necessary.
Most of our adult friends can be categorized; they serve different functions in our lives and apart for your very best friend who lives far away or your local best friend and the few go-to-pals who you can always call for drinks or tea or a good cry, most friends come and go throughout our lives as our interests change.
I have running friends—the people I do my races with. We talk about race times and training and when our next race is. I also have separate biking and swimming friends. I have the friends I met through my kids over the years—the parents of their friends, or through their sports activities. These are the friends I can chat with at hockey games or school functions so I don’t look like a complete loser standing off by myself. I have my concert buddies—those with the same taste in music as I have that will always go to a show when I ask. I have my writing friends, my gym friends, and my work friends. All of these friends are based on a mutual interest and sometimes when that interest fades or changes, so too does the relationship. It’s a natural progression, the ebb and flow of friends in our lives.
While I was going through my diagnosis, surgeries, and chemo, I noticed that I had lots of friends. There was always someone at the door, ringing the phone, checking on my well–being, sending a thoughtful card, or delivering food. Now that I am “better” those friends have receded back into the shadows of my life. I understand that this is exactly how it should be and is the nature of life after any turmoil—eventually everything must go back to normal, but sometimes, I miss that part of being sick. I miss the company, the human contact that is painfully lacking in our new Facebook generation. Ironically, I am in touch with many more people than I used to, but I spend far more time alone.
Facebook tells me I have 113 friends (which is quite low compared to others) and suddenly all these old friendships, which were essentially dead in the water, naturally purged, are bobbing to the surface. It’s difficult enough most days trying to swim through this life but now here is Jane from grammar school popping up on your left, and look-out up ahead, its your old boyfriend from High School, and everywhere you kick its Bob from your first radio job and there’s that girl, oh what’s-her-name? –The one you used to get high with all the time? Facebook lingo dictates that these are my “friends”, when really many are old acquaintances or just plain old people that knew me when I was skinnier and didn’t have to color my hair.
But we left all of these people behind for a reason. Some of these friends were only that because they went to the same parties you did, or were on the same soccer team. Some are simply friends of old boy-friends or kids you’d see in the halls whose basis of friendship at age 15 was pure and simple—no strings attached—“you like the Clash? Me too. Let’s hang out. Maybe it’s someone who worked at the first job you had or a friend of a friend from College.
So now we are forced to get to know these people all over again. These grown-up versions of the people we used to know. Which has turned us all in voyeurs. Don’t deny it. If you have a Facebook page—you are a voyeur. This is how it goes: We friend someone or accept their friendship invitation, send them a brief note to catch them up on the last 30 years and then we watch. We watch their status reports to see if they are funny, or serious, smart or quirky–to make sure they are political, but not TOO political. We browse photos of their families and sometimes of their friends’ families. Have they gained weight? Do they look happy? We discover that they have had some amazing careers, or lived through terrible tragedy. If we like what we see then we send them comments, or just hit the “like” button if we don’t feel witty enough to reply. Then eventually a new friendship emerges, very different from the original relationship, but a new one—quick, easy, convenient. Very little effort needs to be exerted. I can learn about your life without actually talking to you.
But what about those ‘real’ friends we have –you know, the ones you actually go out with in person? These relationships actually take some work. Both parties are responsible for keeping communication open, making sure there is enough contact and learning when to talk and when to listen. These are the real friendships and the ones we need to work on cultivating so they won’t slip through our hands. I fear for my children because they are growing up in an age when quantity takes precedence over quality—they are judged by the number of ‘friends’ on their page, quick hits are easier to make then a phone call, and texting is faceless and easier than listening to the disappointment in someone’s voice. My kids will not learn the art of cultivating friendships like I did, because like everything else it’s been pre-packaged for them.
I don’t imagine that Facebook will go away—it seems as if it is here to stay. And there is some good in it. I have discovered a few unpolished gems among these old acquaintances. These are people I never would have had the opportunity to meet again. What I find most fascinating is that there seems to be a genuine caring that emanates from these old friends, who knew me way back “when” before we had grown up, when the world was at our feet, and opportunity abounded. We had dreams of where we would end up and ,whether we hit the mark or not, I find that their opinion holds a lot of weight with me. Also, Facebook helps keep me in contact with family members who live far away—where a phone call would be impossible and expensive.
But as great as Facebook can be, I must remember that it’s the real friendships in my life that hold the most importance. I need to make sure that the bulk of my time is spent with my real-live friends—to be careful that I don’t become lazy and remember that friendships –real friendships—take a lot of work, and are well worth it.