Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “friend” as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” It’s an interesting definition because really, how do you truly define a friend? Is a friend someone who will be there to support you when you’re falling? Tell you an honest opinion even if you might not like it? Listen to you when you’re droning on and on about nonsense? Help you bury a body at 3am? Where does it end?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I was wondering just how many true friends I actually have. It’s a humbling experience, to say the least. How much will it hurt to find out that I might not have as many as I thought, or not have as many as I did when I was a child? That’s hard to say. As someone who rationalizes almost everything in his life, I have come to the conclusion that most of the people in my life should be considered more as an “acquaintance” than an actual “friend.” This is not to say that the relationship is any less valued by me, just categorically different. My mother once told me that you should be able to count your “true friends” on one hand, and that they should be considered based on quality, not quantity. She told me that you find out who those people are when you’re at your darkest, most depressed moments, because they’re the ones who never leave your side until they know that you’re OK; they change their own schedules to make sure you’re taken care of.
With the creation of social networking websites like Facebook, the word “friend” has taken on a whole new persona. No longer can we count our friends on one hand. I’m always amazed when I think that there are people out there who stockpile friends as though they belong on “Hoarders” – they have THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of “friends” and many more on hold with friend requests. Think of that for a second, you actually send someone a request to be their friend. I don’t think I’ve verbally asked someone to be my friend since kindergarten – if ever! Friendship just sort of happens. You notice similarities in personality, sense of humor, common interests, and you feel drawn to spend additional time with that person. In that aspect, the above definition makes perfect sense. You have an affection or esteem towards another individual and want to spend more time with them because their presence makes you happier.
Sometimes, we separate our friends into different groups. You have your “work friends”, “bar buddies”, “neighbors”, “childhood friends”, “sports teammates”, etc. You develop circles of people that you associate with based on common interests. If you’re a parent, you have an entire group of people with whom you may spend an inordinate amount of time with, yet not particularly like: the parents of other kids at your kid’s school or kids on your kid’s sports team. And yet, as decent people, we try to become “friends” with them, even if the only thing we have in common is that we both decided to have a child in the same year and then live in the same area. Why do we do this? Why do we feel this inherent need to be liked and involved?
Not to get too technical, but personality types can be divided into four main types. One of these expresses an intense desire to be liked by as many people as possible, and that person can actually display symptoms of sickness if they feel they are not liked by someone. Almost everyone possesses this characteristic, but it is far more dominant in some than others. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I mean, who really wants to be disliked by anyone. I know there are reality TV stars and celebrities who give the impression that they enjoy being despised by the public, but I would venture to guess that deep inside, they feel bad about being hated. I know I try to stay strong and show that it doesn’t bother me if someone doesn’t like me, but if I’m being honest, of course it hurts. You never want someone to say hurtful things about you or spread false information regarding your personality.
Getting back to Facebook, we have also added a new word to the lexicon of our lives: “defriend.” Never before did our society have a word to describe the action of no longer being friends with someone. And this action can cause so many more rifts in social circles than simply choosing not to spend time or hang out with someone. Before Facebook, if you didn’t choose to be friends with someone, you just avoided making plans to hang out with them. Now, you announce to the world (or at least the hundreds of “friends” you have) that you’ve become friends with this person, but then they can see if you’re no longer friends when you decide to end the relationship.
That brings me to the main point of this post. What type of behavior necessitates “defriending” someone you were friends with? And should the decision take into account how well you know the person outside the internet? I think it should.
For example, an ex-girlfriend from my college years recently de-friended me because of something I said to her in a text message the other day while we were making plans to hang out. We’ve been friends for 8 years and remained friends after college ended for both of us. We don’t live near one another, nor do we speak every day, but we were always friendly with one another. Anyway, I made a comment in JEST about her math skills and grammar and evidently, she took enough offense that she deleted me from her friends list. Several things about this irk me – 1) she didn’t tell me that she was offended, she deleted me and I found out WEEKS later (as I said, we didn’t really talk all the time), 2) she wrote me a letter when I called her on it and said that she was extremely upset, but I feel that if she was as upset as she claims, she should have said something, and 3) she deleted me after one comment that she admitted she knew I felt was a joke, despite an 8-year friendship.
I’m not posting to complain. She made her decision and I respect it. Will I still be her friend? Of course. To me, a friendship can withstand one person joking around. Besides, texting contains virtually no tone, which means it’s very difficult to determine whether something is serious or sarcastic, whether it is meant to hurt or just taken out of context.
My point is this. That act showed me that she was not a “true” friend. True friends let things slide, or call to find out connotation, or understand that sometimes things aren’t what they seem. I have very few friends that I consider to be true. They know who they are. They are people that I don’t have to see every day, but know that they’re there when I need them. I haven’t seen one of them in 8 years, but it doesn’t matter.
Friends are there for a number of reasons. I think that their primary purpose can be summed up with one definition: “one attached to another by affection or esteem and dedicated to making sure you’re never truly alone in life”. I am very grateful for the select few people whom I consider to be MY friends, which is a group much smaller than I thought it’d be, but it doesn’t matter.