With the advent of Facebook and other forms of online “community” building, has the role of “friend” become less important? Or more? And what does “friend” mean to each of us in a world where we can seek advice from an anonymous blogger, a stranger on Twitter, a Yelp reviewer, etc.?
Arguably, we’re likely not going to be inquiring for those deeply personal questions where knowing part of our own history and context is required (or are we?)
Why am I rambling about friendship? A couple of days ago, I was asked via Google chat if I was friends with a particular individual.
I didn’t know how to answer the question.
It has caused me to stop and reflect on how I define friendship. Where do I draw the line in the sand between companions and acquaintances? Former colleagues or extensions of a broader network?
I don’t mean to sound callous in my approach of friendship. The idea of a friend has always been so important to me. Part of it likely extends from growing up an only child. I needed friends (outside of the stuffed animal kingdom) and I wanted friends.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t always a nice friend.
Let’s not get carried away – I certainly was not part of any popular crowd. Like most though, I wanted to be. And I played along with the cattiness, the teasing, the cold execution of cruelty that girls from privileged backgrounds espouse.
This is where it all began. Just look at that sneer! (3rd from left)
There reached a point in my life where I didn’t know how to make friends. Have you experienced that? For me, it was after my two years with Teach For America. I moved to the Triangle, was in a relationship that would soon end, and was floundering for girlfriend time. I worked. I spent time with my partner. Separated from the university and ‘young people’ organizations, I didn’t know how this transition to adult friendships worked. My current job brought me in contact with a couple of wonderful people that I proudly call friends today. Still, I desired that group of girlfriends who would be there, no matter what.
Thanks to greater cosmic forces at work, I was able to find this group. And, it all started on the Internet.
First, it came through a meetup.com group. While now (I believe) defunct, the 20s/30s/40s Gal Pals not only brought many amazing women into my life but also solidified the role that the online world has in broadening my offline community.
Brunches, beers, and book clubs brought us together
And then came Twitter. I joined in October 2010 after some cajoling from the person I was dating. The username (similar to the URL of this blog) took me awhile I conjure up. It has always grated my nerves when people spell my name incorrectly. I know, I know – honest mistakes. But seriously – “it’s no y in Katie”. #justsaying
So my Twitter usage spun into the world of craft beer, opening doors that have allowed me to meet and befriend dozens more incredibly smart, compassionate, and giving people.
It seemed that once I had my self-prescribed safety net, it was easier to develop relationships that didn’t stem from online interactions. From the YMCA community to YNPN Triangle NC to simply living, friendships were born. I would much rather err on the side of over-labeling people as friends than under.
To me, identifying someone as a friend isn’t a one-way expectation. If I consider you a friend, it is my duty to be there for you in whatever capacity you need from me. It’s a commitment to supporting your journey through this world – whether through listening, laughing, breaking bread together, or simply offering a word of encouragement.
I want my friends to know that I don’t take their kindness for granted. As our lives change and our attentions shift to children, to careers, to marriages, or to new places to call home, those bonds of friendship are tugged, sometimes stretching further than is comfortable. But, if there is commitment, those types of bonds don’t break.
Recently, my mother had coffee with one of my childhood best friends. She was able to connect with her in ways that I can’t (yet): what it means to be a mother and the responsibilities of working full-time, remaining a dedicated partner, etc.
At this point in my life, I can’t understand that world. I don’t live it. But, that doesn’t close the door on my relationship with Dani simply because our day-to-day realities are vastly different. We built a rock of memories together, and keeping those memories alive is a core tenet of friendship.
To summarize, the term friendship (like many other words in our current society) can be vastly overused. It also can be underused in action. We need to keep in mind how the people we choose to define as our friends want support. And then we step up to the plate and give, give, give.
As Winston Churchill said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
I close with a smattering of some of the incredible people in this world and, lucky for me, in my life.