How we value friendship, and how Facebook has changed that

I think quite a lot about friendship. I moved halfway across the world when I was in my late 20s (which, I hasten to add, was not that long ago!) to set up home with my boyfriend. It’s a stable, monogamous relationship, but the consequence of that is that it’s fairly challenging to meet new friends – and I mean friends in the sense of genuine friendship, rather than just people I know. So I really love living in the time of Twitter and Facebook, meeting people online and making real, genuine connections with people.

Having the majority of my friends being “online” friends often leaves me thinking about friends I have had in the past. People who I became friends with by meeting them in real life (IRL*), but people I’ve lost contact with. I’ve had the most wonderful friendships with people – and had experiences that made me think “we’ll be friends forever”. Almost all of these friendships have ended because of circumstance. I moved away, or they moved away, or one or the other of us changed jobs, or we just happened to meet at a convention and spent the whole weekend together, but the convention ended and so did the friendship. Some I have as Facebook friends, but the majority of those friends have simply passed into memory.

I get a little frustrated how the internet – and Facebook in particular – has messed with the way people maintain friendships. And importantly, the way friendships end.

Something that I think is hard to accept is the idea that all friendships are temporary – but it’s an important idea that I agree with. Too often I think we measure the success of  a relationship or friendship by it not ending, and we value friendships based on how long the lasted, but I reject this. I say we should value a friendship based on how much we enjoyed the experience while it lasted.

Facebook (and social media in general, but for me it’s mainly Facebook) is ruining this because now we have the ability to add friends to a database and access them whenever we like. We now have this idea that a friend isn’t really a true friend unless we are connected with them for life. It’s for this reason I’m very unsure about Facebook, and maintaining Facebook friendships. I feel that some – maybe most – friendships are meant to me temporary: that it’s not the longevity of the friendship that counts, but the feeling of having a friend.

I look at my friends list on Facebook (it’s small, just 74 names), but also think about the friends I have had IRL in the past who are not on that list, people who I had terribly good – albeit temporary – friendships with. While I love that Facebook and the internet allows us to stay in touch with people we’d like to, when we fall out of touch with people it’s not because we were not good friends, it’s because real friendship and what Facebook would have us believe is friendship are two different things.

* as it happens, I do count the friendships I have with people I only know online as “real life” friendships too, but online vs IRL seems to be a distinction we make, so I use it here for ease of understanding.