Most of our friends are not our friends; they are acquaintances, contacts, colleagues and associates. However, in social media, we lump the people on our mobilization phone trees together with those for whom we would give up a kidney. The act of reading each others timelines foster that sense of shared intimacy that is the hallmark of real friendship. The boundaries blur and sometimes we invest more emotionally in those who are merely ships passing by, mistaking acquaintanceship for friendship. More than one person has been devastated recently by opinions of “friends” they have mistaken for friends.
However true friendship requires more than knowing the name of my cat or my political persuasion. Friendship is an investment in trust and intimacy. We share our best selves with our “friends” and share our flaws with our friends. You know someone is your friend when you know you can safely confess some petty, spiteful thoughts and feeling, secure that your friendship will not falter. That is why the opinions of “friends” should be taken lightly. They know of us. They know about us. They do not know us.
It is important for us to remember that most of our “friends” only know the part of us we selectively share and, in turn, that is all we know of them. We may share some of our troubles but seldom share our inner turmoil and self-doubt. We save that kind of conversation for our friends of the heart.
That kind of emotional intimacy is seldom found in public timelines. Of course, we share struggles and problems – the ones that come at us from outer influences and other people. Evil coworkers, disreputable relatives, recalcitrant appliances and all the other things that seem to conspire to make our lives difficult are shared. This kind of sharing contributes to a shallow intimacy that seems like friendship. However, with true friendship, we can also share the procrastination, indecision and apathy that contribute to our struggles. We know these conversations are not with friends of the heart because everyone takes our side, offering hugs and curses for the malefactors. Our real friends tell us how we contributed to the problem and offer to help.
That is not to say real friendship does not develop in social media or in Second Life®, but it does not grow in the harsh light of public timelines. It grows in private conversations, in shared confessions and confidences. It requires an investment of time, trust and intimacy. That is how we know who are friends are, they are the ones we invest our time with, the ones we trust. We make a special point of checking on each other and never mark each other “all read.”
Of course, we can neglect our friends,. We all have friends from childhood, from university, from our past to whom we know we can reach out and reclaim instantly. That is because the foundation of trust and intimacy was established and cultivated long ago. While it may have grown weedy and neglected, the ground is rich and fertile for that friendship to blossom again.
This is an awful lot of words to get around to suggesting that when the words or actions of a friend upset or hurt us, we need to ask whether they are a “friend” or a friend. If they are really a colleague, an associate, or an acquaintance we need remember they do not know us. They only know a small part of us. They only see our surface, not our depths. They have nothing to judge us by but our edges, not our dimensions. Judgment without knowledge is not worth grief and emotional disarray. We are all worthy and opinions of driveby “friends” should not damage our sense of worth.
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