Finishing last week’s New York Times Magazine section (I know, it takes me way too long to read stuff and we aren’t even discussing the books!) I came upon an article on friendship. The author was discussing a friend he had in Ireland when he was a child, and how he hasn’t seen him in decades. He has no photo of his friend, doesn’t know if he’s alive, living on Mars, singing in a rock band. There was no social media to preserve their young faces.
During the holiday season in particular, but truly more often, I think about how loosely the word ‘friend’ is used. Has technology degraded the meaning of the word? “She has 4036 Facebook friends.” Really? You don’t know half of them. Friends that follow you on a screen but know little about your real life; like your favorite color, whether you like cats or dogs or both, what books you read, when your heart last broke. And if by some fluke one did have 4036 friends, how exhausting it would be to repeat your story that many times. Ugh – kill me now.
Acquaintances and followers are not friends, they are just names. Friendship has a depth, a richness, that cannot be rushed, or counted in Likes, it must be cultivated and that takes time. Instantaneous friendships are not friendships. They require no commitment, there is no loyalty. These ‘friends’ will not show up when you lose your job, your baby is sick, or your parent dies.
And we have no one but ourselves to blame. Friendship and its many iterations is a slice of life, for good friends-family members-spouses, it can be a big slice, with lots of layers and flavors. Andrew O’Hagan, the author of this article, states: “…it’s the art of friendship that warms you in the various winters of your discontent…”
Friendship is powerful, let us not dilute the concept with superficiality and distance.
When you are in trouble you don’t need 4000 people, you need a few good friends, who can make the difference the other 4000 can’t.