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.

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