Almost on a daily basis I get a friend request prompted by the omniscient website known as Facebook. Yet, most people who want a toehold in my life know me not at all.
Wait, wait, let me correct that. Some are friends of friends of friends, a degree of separation that appears, at best, tenuous. Others are my wonderful and always-appreciated readers. For the most part, though, I have no clue who these "requests" are. Should I know them? Have I forgotten a name? A face? Is this somebody from my past — or, better yet, my future?
As a woman who still remembers being the gangly outsider in those awkward years of adolescence, I find this pseudo-popularity amusing and amazing. Amazing because the self-deprecating girl in me wonders why these people want to befriend me. Really? And amusing because the chasm between virtual friendships and real-life relationships is so vast, so different.
Let’s be honest here: clicking on the "Like" button is not nearly as fun as sharing a belly laugh with someone who remembers that you used toothpaste on your pimples. Or that your life has turned out to be nothing like you had expected.
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Even in a world of texting, Snapchatting, Instagramming, LinkedIning, Skyping, FaceTiming, Google Hangouting and whatever other platform I have yet to encounter, old-time friendships seem hard to maintain. Sure, technology has made it easier to stay connected — I keep tabs on childhood friends as far away as Seattle and La Paz, Bolivia — but life keeps throwing obstacles and obligations in the way of precious, flesh-and-blood relationships. I often fret that I’m losing touch with those women who genuinely (and defiantly) know the stirrings of my soul.
I recently read an article about how friendships have become disposable in an ever-increasing mobile world. Just as we get rid of objects when we move, emotional attachments apparently can be discarded, too. What’s more, the ability to de-friend someone in that town square of social media has underscored the feeling that alliances are shallow and rapport fleeting.
Which makes certain bonds more worthy of nurturing. Study after study has shown that a social network is vital as we age, as important as push-ups, as healthy as broccoli. So why is it so challenging to truly connect in a hyper-connected world?
In the past year or so, two friends have moved away from Miami permanently, one to Atlanta (after a stop elsewhere) and the other to New Jersey. Those women and I raised our children together, endured their shenanigans, and struggled to make sense of our messy lives over sometimes comical, always heartfelt conversations. No wonder I’ve mourned their leaving, mourned it not because we don’t talk — we still do — but because I can’t pull up a chair in their kitchens or commiserate over a quick breakfast.
The ties to friends still in town are also fraying. Overwhelmed with babysitting duties, or job demands, or the unexpected serious illness, we find it increasingly difficult to get together face to face. Our connections then go on life-support, until the intervention of time and touch revives them.
I want to change that. I need to change that. Holding fast to these relationships has proven, over the years, to be sustenance and solace. Everyone, regardless of age or circumstances, needs a cheerleader/therapist/comic/sage, someone who’ll stand firmly in your corner when the chips are down or when you’re acting difficult, when you’re happy or forlorn, confused or determined. No app I know truly does that. Not a one.