Several years ago, Toyota aired an advertisement about real life friends vs. internet friends via social media. (You can watch it here.) In it, the daughter sites an article that states “older people becoming more and more anti-social” yet the video shows the parents with “actual” friends out biking. Then the daughter goes on to say that she got her parents onto social media, but they only have 19 friends in contrast to her 687 friends. “This is living,” she says.
Really? I’m not slamming the idea of connecting and having friends on social media; I have several friends there. Maybe you are one of them. BUT, what I am doing is questioning people that hold social media friendships in higher regard than actual “for-real” friends.
We can meet “for real” friends face to face, and that human interaction is important to our mental and emotional health.
“For real” friends can be our escape, our support system, and our inspiration and motivation. It seems this seems to have been forgotten by some people.
Two such cases come to mind.
A couple of years ago, I sat at a writing group and listened to a person read a memoir piece about a gentleman who felt he had a horrible birthday because he had gotten birthday wishes from only a small fraction of the “friends” on his social media accounts. It didn’t matter that he had gotten numerous birthday cards from “for real” friends in his snail mail; he hadn’t heard from the large number of social media friends he supposedly had.
This morning, while eating breakfast, I caught up with friends and groups on social media. The following post in a local group I belong to struck me as sad: “Anyone bored and friendless like me…let’s form a friendship, hang out and cure the boredom.”
To me these two cases are sad.
The first gentleman judged how well his birthday went by the number of social media friends that extended birthday wishes. He ignored the “for-real” friends that snail mailed him cards, called him, or just stopped by.
The second begged the development of a for-real group of real people meeting in real time, face to face. It cried that the person was alone and didn’t feel comfortable doing something without the companionship of at least one friend rather than championing herself as her own best friend.
BEING YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND
Growing up an only child, I learned to be my own best friend. Yes, neighborhood friends existed, across the street as well as down the block. BUT, if there was no one to ride bikes with, I went by myself. If there was no one to go to the park with, I went by myself. Many times, however, I just decided what I wanted to do and didn’t bother asking others. Walking to school alone found me talking to various “imaginary” friends who walked with me. (Hmmm! The beginnings of a fiction writer?)
When Mom asked me one day how school had been, I told her I missed one of my new friends because she hadn’t been at school that day. Mom asked if my friend was sick. I didn’t know. So in junior high school, my mother literally taught me some of the finer aspects of being a friend: call the girl and let her know I missed her. I hadn’t realized that it was that simple. During junior high school, either my best friends called me or I called them to go to the park district pool, to just hang out, to play cards or board games (no video games in those years), or whatever else we thought of doing.
When my ex-husband and I separated, I lost most of the people I called friends. They were friends to both of us and didn’t want to take sides. I don’t blame them since we had forged the friendships as a couple.
I needed to forge friendships for myself, but it was difficult with a full-time job and two young children. When they went to bed, I found myself trying to connect with people through AOL chat rooms. People would appear and disappear and not appear again for several days or even weeks. It was impossible to forge friendships.
Instead of putting myself out there, I became my own best friend again and, in 1999, married for the second time.
In 2010, my husband took a truck driving job, my two children had set off on their own, and I was still teaching high school. At the end of a long day, I came home to an empty house. Since I taught with most of the people I considered friends, I again had to be my own company and best friend, but I also needed to find places to be with people face to face and develop friendships.
I joined a couple of groups for writers. I joined the college and community orchestra. I joined a happiness club. I reached out to people I could have dinner with on the weekends. I made sure I struck up conversations with the librarian or the clerk or cashier at the store, and I found myself camping out for entire evenings on social media. However, when an evening on social media came to a close, I found myself craving that face to face human interaction.
Now, I am working to develop new face-to-face friendships.
IMPORTANCE OF “FOR REAL”
Friends have an important place in our lives.
- Friends function as a support system.
- Friends are able to advise us.
- Friends keep us active and involved.
- Friends act as a sounding board, listening when we need it most.
- Friends introduce us to new experiences and activities.
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN FRIENDSHIPS
(especially when you don’t live near each other anymore)
We are a mobile society and whether it is for a job or family or desire, we sometimes move away from the people with whom we have forged strong friendships. Or, we first met someone that we considered a friend on social media; then, we get the chance to meet face to face and find we have a great connection with them. Either way, maintaining that friendship takes work.
- Send them a card or something special on their birthday.
- Send them a card or letter or something, just because you thought of them.
- Call your friend. If you have to, leave a message. If they haven’t returned it in a week, try again.
- Plan an outing with your friend or with several of your friends.
- Plan a weekend away with some of your closest friends.
What do you do to maintain the friendships you have forged with people?
Hi, I’m Becky. (Ok, Rebecca, but I am rarely addressed that way.) I am a writer and a musician with a tendency to enjoy a variety of crafting opportunities, but I retired from teaching in 2014. I taught in the high school English department: various levels of English, creative writing, public speaking, and theater (acting, directing, and technical theater). As a teacher, I held the philosophy that I wouldn’t give any writing assignment that I personally wouldn’t or couldn’t do. That philosophy strengthened and broadened my own writing.
Thanks for reading.
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This article was first published on Medium.com on May 27, 2019. “Friendship: “For Real” Friends OR Social Media Friends.“