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Musings on friendship

I‘ve never been a person who’s maintained a large social circle, and for most of my life have been content to have only two or three good friends at any given time. “Quality over quantity,” I told myself, in no way meaning to malign those who chose to have many friends, but rather to reassure myself that my lot in life was ok too. And, for the most part, I really was ok with it.

Then along came the internet.

Meeting friends online and en masse started for me “way back when” with IRC (circa 1996 or thereabouts) and carried on to the present via BookCrossing, LiveJournal, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The internet changed everything I knew and was familiar with about friendship. I suddenly found my horizons broadened to include a whole spectrum of people from around the world, and including some of them in my life was intoxicating and addictive!

Now, though, after a great many years of online life, I seem to have painted myself into a bit of a corner. I’ve recently come to the realization that cultivating and depending on virtual, long-distance relationships has been to the detriment of building face-to-face, local friendships.

It wasn’t difficult to get here, or surprising even… I mean, think about it! Think of the convenience of chatting with friends online… no worries about what time of day (or night) it might be, no need to get dressed up or spend any money, no need even to leave the house if you don’t wish to! Think about the sheer volume of people one can be exposed to in internet circles as opposed to the amount one is able to connect with in day-to-day life. Meeting friends with whom one has much in common, interest-wise, is far easier in an online setting than in “real life” circles. No, I’m not surprised at all at the place to which I’ve arrived.

Given the choice, I don’t know whether I’d trade what I have. Really, I think it depends on which day you ask me. When I’m having a spirited political back-and-forth on Twitter, you couldn’t drag me away from my computer! But when I wish I could hang out with a friend and talk for hours over a cup of coffee, I regret the exclusive little world I’ve built.

Maybe it isn’t about making a choice between online vs. face-to-face friendships. Maybe in this, as in so much else in life, a call for balance is in order.

Food for thought.

Laurel Storey, CZT – Certified Zentangle Teacher. Writer, reader, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • whizbangwoman November 11, 2009

    Are you familiar with Myers-Briggs or the Jungian test that breaks down personality types? If so, would you consider yourself an introvert? Most introverts are like what you described. They'd much rather have a small group of really close friends. My husband is a pretty extreme introvert, and it wears him out just being in a room full of people. I don't mind that. Extroverts are almost energized when they are around a lot of people.

    On the other hand, you may be like me, and even though you have some close friends, as you became older friends started getting married, starting families, etc. and you didn't have the same proximity to them as you used to. Thus, you don't get together with them like you used to.

    At age (almost) 46, I am just getting to a place where I feel like I'm broadening my friendships to the way they used to be. Friendships were much easier before I turned about 30. We all lived in the same area, and didn't have the distractions that come with marriage/family.

    I've only met a few people on line that I thought of as good friends, and they are local. I've actually gotten together with a few of them, which is nice.

    Anyhow, you are right about balance. It is very edifying, though, to have a friend you can sit with and talk for hours and hours with in person. I think there's a 15 or so year window created by society/life situations that makes it difficult.

    Julie (juliawb)

  • Mozette November 11, 2009

    During my whole life, I haven't had that many good friends. A lot of them treated me badly and so I kind of just put up with them because I went to school with them; and a lot of people I worked with didn't want a social life with me. So, I was alone.

    When the internet came long, I found so many other people out there who were in the same situation like me. It was kind of reassuring that I wasn't all that alone after all. However, I now have so many friends across the miles it's amazing. And the 'friends' I had in school? Well, a very mean and abusive bf got rid of them with a simple phone call (I mean, how gullible can they be to believe an idiot like him?). They now don't pass the time of day with me and return my Christmas cards within days of receiving them (talk about rude! I don't try anymore).

    Now, I blog, bookcross and do many other thing on the net that I would never have done had it not come along.

  • Laurel Regan November 11, 2009

    @Julie – I'm familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, but always struggle (in any personality test) to figure out whether I'm an introvert or extrovert! It's definitely a topic for another post, but in a nutshell I often refer to myself as a "shy extrovert" (if such a thing exists!).

    You've made some very wise observations, and I definitely agree that different and changing life situations (marriage, kids, etc.) alters the dynamic of friendships. Hopefully soon (I'm almost 43) I'll arrive at a place in life where it's easier to develop local friendships.

    @Mozette – I'm sorry you've had some bad experiences with friendships. In so many ways the internet changes everything, doesn't it?

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