Time for social media discussion. I promised. And if I promise, I try to follow through. I’m not always TIMELY, but I do try to follow through.
(Also, this became a total mega-post. More so than normal. Sorry to usurp your lives today. Maybe spread it out over three days or something, I don’t know.)
I was going to talk about social media friendships. And I am. That’ll be in here. But in order to talk about social media friendships, I need to also talk about friendship in general. You can’t just separate the two. Social media friendships are friendships, no matter what the naysayers say.
So let’s start with friendship, shall we? Sure we shall. Look at my shall usage, it’s all classy and shit.
I’m bad at friendship. I’m getting better, but I’m the first to admit, I’m bad at it.
You know how you learn things when you’re a kid? Like, you see how your parents interact with one another (if you are raised by parents, I don’t mean to be exclusionary, you might have been raised by wolves or frogs or something) and, on some level, learn how to (or how NOT to) behave in a relationship. Or, you watch older children play, and learn how to act when you get to be their age. Things like that. Well, I didn’t learn how to do friendship when I was a kid, because I was too busy spending my time duck and covering from the bullying, honestly. I didn’t trust anyone. (Still mostly don’t.) So that part of me got all socially stunted, like a bean plant that’s covered by a Styrofoam cup and its leaves get all yellow and twisty? That’s my friendship-muscle. All atrophied. So I have to work REALLY HARD at friendships. And it feels like acting. It doesn’t come easily. And I often forget to put in the work that’s necessary, and it’s not on purpose, and then I’m befuddled when it falls apart. Or drama happens and I don’t get it.
It’s a work in progress. I put in time. It’s not something that falls all easily into place like it does for most people. Thanks, childhood trauma!
Anyway, I did a little research into friendships for you, because to understand the relatively new phenomena of social media friendship, you have to understand friendship itself, and the psychology behind it.
Things that draw us together as friends – oh, I know, you’re all “blah blah, WHO DOESN’T ALREADY KNOW THIS” – stick with me, lollipops – are:
- we have grown up with the person, usually in the same neighborhood.
- we have similar occupations.
- we have children the same age.
- we have similar interests.
- we are the same general age and the same gender.
OK. Nice list. Vague, but nice. And it makes sense, sure. We like things that are easy. We are lazy as shit. And this list shows you that we choose our friendships based on the lame gazelle theory: we pick the ones that are easiest to catch. The most similar to us. That cross our path the most. (This site calls these people our “social equals.” That’s not classist at all.) And yes! Sure. We do that. I mean, who’s going to be friends with someone who you never see, who you never make contact with, and, when you DO, you have NOTHING in common with? That’d be tough.
But in the defense of the chasing-down-the-faster-gazelle theory: sometimes, the faster gazelles can be worth it, too. Because the differences can make for a more interesting friendship. If everything’s the same, it gets boring pretty quickly. If there are a lot of differences, you have a LOT of things to discuss. Your discussions are exciting. You rejoice in the similarities and you delight in the differences. So go for the mid-range gazelles. They’re the best gazelles.
Also, do you know what’s missing from that list? And I know you’re going to laugh, so get your laugher ready.
No, not Harry-Potter-magic-wand-magic, Sarcastic Sam. There’s a magic to friendships. Something you can’t put your finger on. You’ve all felt that, right? That click when you meet someone and it’s like they were always meant to be in your life? That you don’t even have to rearrange a space in your life or your heart to make room for them – it’s always been there, just waiting for them to fill it? I know, I know, you’re all throwing up in your mouths or whatever, SO SAPPY AMY. I’m not saying it happens with EVERYONE you befriend, sheesh. Just some people. The special ones. The ones that are part of you. The ones that it seems like were MEANT to be part of you.
And what keeps us together as friends?
- Enjoyment and spontaneity–Spending time doing things together and sharing life experiences.
- Trust–Believing that our friends act on our behalf.
- Respect and understanding–Believing that our friends have the right to their own opinions.
- Mutual assistance–Helping and supporting our friends and letting them help us.
- Confiding–Sharing confidential matters with our friends.
Again, pretty basic. But the bare bones are all there.
Amy! You’re asking. YOU are backward in friendship, but WE are not. We KNOW how to be friends. Why are you talking to us like we don’t?
Well, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person out there who’s having some social awkwardness issues? But we’ll go more into that later, ok? Wait for it, oh-my-impatient-ones. I promised this would be infotainment, didn’t I? I don’t know how entertaining it is, but I’m going to try like hell for the informativeness.
Look at that list up there. No, I’m serious. I want you to look at it. Because it’s important you internalize those things. Not just read them and gloss over them. The first list, the lame gazelle list, that was more of a list of guidelines. This second list, as basic and silly and free-to-be-you-and-me as it is, it’s right. So even if you think you KNOW these things, look them over. We’re going to be discussing it further later.
Now, let’s go a little further into this. We know what attracts us to our friends, and we know what makes a friendship STAY a friendship. But how do friendships start? What brings two people together from two people who, say, work together, to friends who email, text, hang out?
The answer seems to be reciprocity.
It’s the most important thing in any friendship. It’s what takes acquaintances to the next level and it’s what helps people maintain a friendship. You can have the other things – proximity, things in common, all the things we learned about above. But if it’s one-sided? Not going anywhere, bub.
Let’s say you volunteer at an organization. You have a group of friends there. A new person starts working there. You like the new person just fine; the new person may or may not, given time, become a friend, as well. But the new person PUSHES. The new person inserts themselves into every conversation and usurps them; the new person invites themselves along to everything, even when if, had they waited, they probably would have been invited anyway; the new person assumes a familiarity that they have not earned and do not have.
Are you going to be friends with this person? Or are you going to avoid this person?
I mean, maybe they have the best intentions. Maybe they’re just lonely, or feeling out of place, or clueless. But the quickest way to stop a new friendship dead in the water is to assume it is going both ways when it’s not.
Most people can sense when someone’s not interested in being their friend, and they back off. (Me? I assume ALL people are off-limits and wait for them to approach ME so I KNOW they’re interested. Yes. I take the fatalist approach when it comes to friendship. The risk-nothing approach. I do not recommend this approach; however, it does shield you from a majority of the rejection. On the other hand, it shields you from a majority of the FRIENDS, so choose wisely, grasshopper pies.) However, there are those people who think that when someone doesn’t respond to their constant attention (which can also be read as “annoyance”) they are not DISINTERESTED, they are PLAYING HARD TO GET. This is the same theory that stalkers use, babydolls. You all need to learn to read social cues. I know. It’s hard if you’re not born with the bone that reads social cues. Mine is oddly-developed and twisty like an old tree root, so I get it. Social cues are not the easiest. But if I, who has such a problem with them, can do it, SO CAN YOU.
If you’re constantly offering someone friendship and they’re ignoring you – GIVE UP. If they’re never available to hang out, yet they’re always checking into FourSquare with others on the SAME NIGHT they said they were unable to hang with you because of a bad migrane – the correct action is not to call them up and say, “let’s plan something next week!” but to take the hint and realize they probably don’t want to hang with YOU. Don’t butt into conversations when you’re not invited; you’ll BE invited, eventually, if the people want you there, so be calm, little chicken. And if you’re not – move on. Your people will appear. They will. You’ll find them. I promise.
Let me tell you a true-life story. Once upon a time, I knew a person. This person thought we were BFFs. We were not BFFs. But I was polite, because this person was in the same social circle as I was and I hate to cause waves and also? I felt kind of bad for the person. This is a problem I have. I feel sorry for people. It sometimes causes issues. This person was lonely, and had very few friends, and locked onto me like a damn missile with a homing beacon or something. I refused to hang out with the person unless it was absolutely impossible to get out of; I was cool, I told the person very little about my life, yet the person WOULD NOT BACK OFF. I moved away. The person sent me letters, telling me how lonely life was without me in it, and intimating they’d be moving to where I was soon so our BFF-ship could continue. The person called my parents, told them I’d said to give my phone number, and they didn’t know better, so gave it out. I then started getting phone calls. Five to ten a day. Desperate, yearning, “I miss you, BFF!” phone calls. Some with detailed sex-life information in them? Yeah, I don’t know, either. I’d come home to these things on my machine. Until I finally picked one up and screamed, “STOP IT! WE’RE NOT FRIENDS! LEAVE ME ALONE!” I’m not normally confrontational so that took a lot. I thought it was over. It was not. A few years later, the person called my father, told a lie about being ill, and convinced my father to give out my email address (after my father refused to give out my phone number.) I started getting emails. I responded to the email with “I thought I made myself clear?” The person was all, “I thought you were just in a bad mood that day!” The emails continued, more and more and more of them, until I got one with the same old “I was thinking I should move there, my old BFF!” Again, I put my foot down, only less screamy this time. I explained it was time to move on; we were not friends, nor had we ever been. I had only been polite back then, and had no reason to be now. I had never been a friend. Please stop contacting me. I blocked the person’s email. And guess what I got today? A Facebook friend request and message. “I found you! Please accept my request or I’ll get whiny, LOLLLLL!” Seriously? Seriously. I don’t even know what else to say about this. (I blocked the person and reported the message as spam. It’s gotten to the point where I’m kind of thinking there’s some sort of mental health issue happening here that’s bigger than I thought.)
Overall, rule of thumb? DON’T PUSH. Look back on the interactions you had with the person you think is your new BFF. Do you tell them a lot of personal stories and they don’t tell you any? Do you call them a lot but they don’t call you? Do you give and give and give and they…well, don’t? It’s one-sided. It’s not a friendship. It’s an acquaintance, and it’s never going to tip over into anything else. You’re wasting time. Move on. There’s a hint being given, and you are not taking the hint. You’re being annoying. Do you want to be annoying? I can’t imagine you do.
Remember I said to look over that second list? What do most of those things have in common? Reciprocity. Sharing. Giving AND getting. Allowing them to have opinions in the knowledge they’ll allow you to have your own. Trusting one another. It’s a two-way street, not a one-way street where you’re screaming “LOVE ME LOVE ME LOVE ME” and the other person is covering their ears and grimacing and all “look at my wrist, gotta go” and you realize an hour later “THEY WEREN’T WEARING A WATCH!”
Now. I did promise we’d talk about social media. And, guess what? Fooled you. We have been.
What, Amy? I AM SO CONFUSED!
Social media friendships are the same as real-life friendships, with only a few amendments. They’re easy. And if I think they’re easy – me, Social Anxiety Jones – well, you can rule this. I’ll help. I promise.
Remember the lists from above? You can use those on social media, too.
I’m going to be using Twitter as the example. But you could also use any social media network where strangers gather. Reddit. Google Plus. Online gaming sites. Facebook, I suppose, if you use it to talk to strangers. The list goes on. But Twitter worked for me, so Twitter it is.
The things that bring people together in real life aren’t as fitting in social media. Pretty much what brings you together, since proximity is out the window (the neighborhood is the internet, now, remember) is similar interests. That’s your magnet drawing you together. Mine was my book club and blogging; yours might be crafting, or parenthood, or photography, or a million other things. It’s something to get your foot in the door.
BUT AMY! You’re asking. How does it WORK? How do I take these strangers I meet on social media and turn them into FRIENDS?
Well, here. A whole ARTICLE. The Evolution of a Social Media Friendship. And it’s actually pretty intelligent, too.
Here, in case you don’t want to read. Like I said, I’m going to talk about this as if this is Twitter; you can amend it for any social media network you’d like with very little effort.
- Connection. You find someone you think is interesting; you follow them; you talk to them. Easy as pie.
- Reciprocation. They follow you back! They respond to something you said, or retweet you! I remember the day someone whose blog I admired responded to something I said for the first time. I think her response was something like “That was funny as shit, well-played” or something. I just GLOWED. I made someone who’d been making me laugh for months laugh! I felt like effing Leonardo DiCaprio on that stupid sinky ship. KING OF THE WORLD BABY.
- Engagement. This is the touchy one. Just because someone tweets you back once or twice doesn’t mean you are the best of friends and you should respond to all of their tweets and DM them a dozen times a day and ask them for their personal information like their home address and get shouty if they don’t give it and refer to them as “my BEST FRIEND SO AND SO” and follow all their friends so you can see what they’re saying and then jump into all THOSE conversations. You remember the example I gave above, about trying too hard? Same holds true here. It’s creepy to try too hard. It’s not *quite* stalking, but it’s close. It’s flirting with stalking. Be calm, be cool, be Fonzie, for the love of Pete. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t? MILLIONS of people are on Twitter (or whatever social network you use.) If the person you’ve focused your laser sights on isn’t responsive? They don’t want to be your friend. Back the hell off. You are being creepy and you are being weird. STOP IT. Listen, I’m not talking out of my ass, here. I’ve been on both sides of this. When I first started, I was WAY too up this one person’s ass. And I was so confused when that person stopped talking to me. But I think I was being a weirdo. Sorry, person who I will not mention because I think you still read the blog because you are a class act. Also, I have had the “you must love me NOW NOW NOW!” people. And they make me mega-nervous. I appreciate that you seem to like me enough that you want to talk to me CONSTANTLY and use up ALL OF MY ONLINE TIME, but also? Back off, because you’re one step away from keeping me in an abandoned well in your basement and lowering me lotion in a basket, you know?
(Please note that maybe this annoys NO ONE BUT ME. I know Twitter’s all social and we’re supposed to be all kumbaya and shit. I get it. But there’s a line between talking to someone and replying to EVERYTHING THEY SAY with INANE COMMENTS LIKE “LOL YOU SO CRAY CRAY” and then getting angry if the person doesn’t respond. There’s a line between having something of worth to insert into a conversation people are having, and just putting yourself in there to get ATTENTION because you are LONELY. I know I’m more sensitive to it than most people, due to the aforementioned person who wouldn’t leave me alone and my mom and I STILL call overly-avid-people-who-won’t-take-a-hint by that person’s name, which, let’s pretend the person’s last name was Thompson – it isn’t – we say, “Ugh, that person is TOTALLY Thompsoning me right now,” and it annoys the everloving piss out of me more than almost everyone, but I can assure you, it’s also annoying others. Just not as MUCH as it’s annoying me. And it’s REALLY annoying me. To the point I don’t even want to get onto Twitter anymore because I know the minute I say anything, it’s like a damn alarm goes off and you come a’runnin’ all “AMY AMY LOOK AT ME AMY.” Stop. Just stop. This is the exact OPPOSITE of how you make friends in social media. I assure you. You’re acting like a toddler who needs constant reassurance. It’s not adorable when you’re above the age of about 3.)
- Have patience. This one should really be 3a, I think. It means that social media is not our job. It’s what we do in our free time. Some people respond immediately; some people take hours. Some days. If you want everything NOW NOW NOW, then you’re going to either get your heart broken, or tweet someone with something like “ARE YOU OK FRED? IT’S BEEN TEN MINUTES!” and they’re going to unfollow your impatient and shouty ass. Also, adding on to be patient? Try to also be nice. It’s ok to be snarky. The internet is built on snark. But being a constant douchecanoe is a surefire way to get not only unfollowed, but to get a bad reputation. New people aren’t going to follow you if they look over your timeline and notice you’re yelling at people about politics or something ridiculous. The people on the internet are PEOPLE. You need to remember that. What do people have? Feelings. That can be hurt. Be nice. It costs nothing. I promise. (However: protect yourself and your friends. If someone is attacking you or your friends, you have my COMPLETE permission to rip them a new asshole. Just take a couple deep breaths first. And use big words, because that confuses the asshats and often gets them to shut up sooner.)
- Private communication. Now, there seems to be a step missing. You don’t just go from chatting to DMing all willy-nilly. Well, maybe some people do. I’m not one of them. When I get a DM from a friend? I like that. I like that a lot. When I get a DM from someone I barely know? It’s like a stranger peeking in on me in the shower. I feel you don’t DM someone until you know them better. I might be in the minority in that. If so, so be it. But the article even says, “It is like a complete stranger wanting to skip steps 1-4 on this list and just go directly to step 5. It’s not cool,” so I think I’m not alone in this. Anyway. Once you start DMing, even if you’re not talking about anything top-secret, it FEELS secret. It feels special. It feels like friends having a one-on-one conversation. I like seeing my DM light light up and seeing it’s from someone I love.
Anyway. The step that’s missing? Time. Lots of talking and – well, I don’t know that I can explain this. This is how you make a friend. Sometimes it takes less time, sometimes it takes more. There’s no set timeline for making a friend. You talk. And you share things. And they share back. And you laugh. Well, I don’t know. I do. I laugh a lot. That’s how I choose the people I love. They make me laugh. They make me laugh until I’m snotty and teary and my chest hurts. I want those people in my life. They teach you things. You teach them things. You help them when they need it; they help you when you do. They support you. You support them. It’s all very “when there was one set of footprints that’s when I carried you,” isn’t it? Gack gack gack. And one day, you’re friends. If it sounds vague and nebulous, well, that’s the magic I mentioned. I can’t explain all of it. If you don’t understand it, I’m sorry. Some of it is instinct. Some of it is something we have in our genes and something passed down generation to generation to generation. Like calling to like. Us banding together in the dark against whatever’s outside of the circle of our campfires. It’s not something that science or psychology or years of education can explain. It’s magic, dammit, how else do you need me to explain magic?
- You start communicating like real friends. You send each other your email addresses. You email. You DM more. You friend each other on Facebook and see each other’s real-life friends and start liking each other’s personal shit. I suppose if you like phones, you talk on the phone. I hate the phone. I don’t talk to my real friends on the phone. The phone makes me itch. I mean, if they NEED me, it’s not like I don’t ANSWER the phone, but it’s not my choice, ever. You communicate with them as much as the people you see on a daily basis. You find yourself mentioning them in conversation; sometimes this is awkward, because you have to explain “Oh, that’s my online friend” and you always come up against someone judgey and then have to bite your tongue when you get someone all “You met them ONLINE? You don’t know them?” But you do. Know them. You know them as well as you know someone you see or touch. How can you talk to someone that much and not know them? Sure, they could be pretending to be someone they’re not. But how long, exactly, could they keep that up? Days? Weeks? Months? It’s unlikely. It happens, but not as often as the people who are scared of the big bad intertubes think it does.
- You meet in person. This one I can’t give you so much advice on, because I don’t have experience. I met an acquaintance, and waved at someone across a room. I may or may not be meeting some friends tomorrow night. That’s up in the air, depending on how long my rehearsal lasts. AND AND AND, I’m meeting my Susie two weeks from Tuesday, and I’m all over butterflies about that. But yes, that’s the next step, isn’t it? It breaks my heart how far I am from some of my people. It seems a little unfair that they’re all they way over THERE and I’m all the way over HERE and we can’t just sit down and have coffee and talk about our lives and laugh and laugh and laugh. But when I’m sad about that, I think, what if I didn’t know them at all? I’d rather have them in my life and have them be all the way over there than not have them at all.
This is a mega-post and at some point I need to get some sleep. SO. Listen.
I counted up the people that I consider my close friends today. Not just friends or acquaintances or coworkers or whatever. Close friends. People that I’d jump in front of a herd of stampeding okapi for, you know? And yes, I’m weirder about categorizing friends than most people. Cut me some slack, Jack, I went my formative years without any people so I’m a stunty bean plant. I’m very fiercely loyal to my small band of loved ones because I never thought I would HAVE loved ones.
I won’t tell you the final tally, because it’s none of your business, and I don’t want you to compare your total with mine and be all “I WIN” or whatever. This isn’t about winning or losing. It’s quality, not quantity, my little deviled eggs.
About half of my close friends (close friends, as defined as people I love, remember, people I would gladly give a kidney to, people who make me laugh and cry and who I know are there for me, and that I thank the world for helping me find?) I’ve found via social media. The other half from places in real life: college, work, shared interests. (Also, it’s split equally male/female, so much for the gender wall.) I don’t value my real-life friends any more than I value my social-media friends. They’re my people. They’re the ones I’d save if the boat were sinking. They’re the ones I know love me, warts and all. They’re the ones I’ve chosen, and, in a happy coincidence, they chose me right back.
I don’t have a summation; I don’t have a nice way to end this, other than to say thank you to my people. There was a time I didn’t think I’d have people, ever. And I convinced myself I didn’t need people. Who needs people? I’d say, and laugh all Cruella Deville-like.
I do. I need my people.
Thanks, my people. No matter where I found you, I’m sure as hell not giving you back.
Best of luck to you all in finding YOUR people. You will. Be patient and calm. It’ll happen. Don’t push; don’t be crazy. Relax. They’re there. They’re waiting for you to arrive.
(The title is – I know, ick – from a Phish song? And I hate Phish? But I adore the song. ADORE. Here, there’s no video but you can listen. It’s nice. Even for a stupid jam band.)