Learning About Friendship – Part 2

So I learned what a friend isn’t. At the end of the day, that’s not so important. I also learned (or at least was reminded of) what a friend is. That’s more important. Again, Facebook, for all its inherent faults, helped me along.

Last week, I saw someone I knew from 15 years ago had finally given in and join Facebook. Now I wouldn’t say I’d been best buds with this particular person, but we were well acquainted. We were in the same church, so not surprisingly at one time we saw each other on at least a weekly basis. Though not a lawyer, he had, in his professional capacity and as a friend, referred clients to me in past. I saw that he was FB friends with at least five other friends of mine, so I threw my usual caution and lack of self-confidence to the wind and sent along a friend request. Over the next few days I saw that he added lots of friends.

That’s when it was clear that even though I hadn’t been officially ignored, I wasn’t going to be one of them. Then there’s that little twinge of embarrassment, a bit like when you greet somebody in the street and they look at you and blank you. That has happened to you, right? And then the twinge becomes a cringe, while you remind yourself that it isn’t the the same as putting out your hand to shake someone else’s just to have them keep theirs firmly in their pocket. I withdrew my friend request, as if that gave it some modicum of dignity.

Now this was one those things where you don’t see it coming, but on the other hand it isn’t a total surprise. It happened some time back with another friend. I’d known them a bit longer. Closer to 20 years. Even used to go over to their house every week for food, fellowship and Bible study. We use to hang out with a lot of the same people from church. Though they did end the once-a-week thing rather abruptly, as far as I knew we were still friends. So there they were on Facebook and already FB friends with the same bunch of people, so I thought this was a no-brainer. I had bet they’d be glad to know how I was doing and I really wanted to catch up with them. This time I didn’t have the chance to withdraw. They deleted my request without a lot of pause. It’s times like these when I wish Facebook had the programmed savvy to keep from continually popping up an alert telling me that I should add them because we have so many friends in common.

So what does this have to do with real friendship? Even if you love me, you are probably ready for me to get to the point.

The point is that unlike with these and a few other individuals,  I have taken the opportunity to offend a lot of people. Usually not intentionally, but nonetheless I am often an idiot. I have made some really bad decisions that have affected the lives of some of my friends.  (I’m glad I have some friends upon whom I haven’t placed any baggage. I’m glad I have some Facebook friends that I didn’t know real well and have gotten to know a bit better. But back to the point of my story…)

There are people who would have good reasons to walk away and not have anything to do with me. They are my friends on Facebook and that’s good, because it is a convenient way to communicate and share thoughts and ideas, keep up with what is happening in their lives, whether big events or daily miscellany. And it’s just one way they remind me that I still matter to them. They are also people that I can pick up the phone and call. They probably know that I would be happy to take their call any time, day or night. Well, probably worried to take it at some times of the night, but more than willing. They can disagree with me on political or theological positions (and I provide lots of opportunity to do that). They can put up with my lack of social skills due to being a bit Asperger or that other kind of person that starts with the same first syllable.

So I suppose who I don’t have as friends just helps me to appreciate who I do have as friends. And that’s a good thing.

A man who has friends must himself be friendly,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

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Learning About Friendship – Part 1

As I was about to start this, I looked back through my blog archives and discovered that it’s been almost exactly two years since I last mentioned this topic.  So two more years of Facebook and I’m still puzzled about what a friend is. The experiences of this week have caused me to evaluate this further.

I’m glad to have met some new friends on Facebook, whether through playing poker or commenting in the same group or forum. However, I’m not so concerned with Facebook friends, per se, but rather what it tells us about the friends we already had and how we deal with the past. It opens a window on relationships so that we might see them in a way we haven’t before.

There was an interesting interaction this week with someone I’ve known for well over 30 years – and one of those rare individuals who had sent me a friendship request on Facebook. We hadn’t seen each other in over 20 years and I knew that our lifestyle choices had diverged significantly since that time. She posted something on her Wall derisive and mocking toward people she had seen protesting at an abortion clinic.

Having mellowed in my old age, I normally let these sorts of thing pass. It’s her Wall, after all. Instead I very mildly challenged it. (And those who know me know the mildness took some effort.) The result was like being a sheep in the midst of hungry wolves, including my old friend. I was essentially told that I was in the midst of a closed society of real friends and I needed to shut up and and go away. The language wasn’t quite as polite as that statement may imply, but then it wasn’t the sort of language I would repeat. And there was plenty of it and from plenty of people.

But then I saw something else. In a different status update, this same friend offered some sort of offhand remark about a food or a film or something rather inconsequential, saying she f***ing loved it. A mutual friend who has known her as long as I have, replied that she agreed, though she didn’t care for the choice of language. Now I’ve seen flame wars in forums and all sorts of bad cyber-behaviour, but what followed was just repulsive. The mutual friend didn’t see much of it, because she took up the first friend’s subsequent generally broadcast invitation for anyone and everyone to f*** off if they didn’t like the way she behaved. After the mutual friend obliged, the first friend posted about her, mocking and belittling her for “defriending” and deriding Christians generally. The hate fest with her real friends that followed, where this mutual friend – who otherwise had never posted anything on her wall – was called the most revolting of names and as a curative for her Christianity was encouraged, in absentia, to engage in certain sexual  practices that are not even physically possible.

But here’s the telling thing. When I wrote privately and gently (yes, some of you would be again amazed at the self-restraint) to this sorry excuse for a friend, wondering why she would treat someone she’s known for so long so badly, she replied that this person “is not one of the people in my past that treated me with respect or was a great friend to me personally.” I thought to myself, why did you bother to be this person’s friend on Facebook? Why would you ask this person to be your Facebook friend and then when they say anything with which you disagree, not just defriend them on Facebook, but attack them and belittle them?

I could understand – just barely – if we were talking about junior high kids, but these are women on the verge of 40 years old who grew up in the same church and went to the same Christian school. This is clearly an example of how online communication allows people to get away with behaviours they would never contemplate in person. I didn’t get a chance to reply, because after writing back and saying she appreciated my point of view she defriended me.  Oh well.

Even at my age I’ve learned a little more about what a friend isn’t. But I’ve also learned more about what a friend is. It’s been a very instructive week.   But I’ll save that for next time.