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My mother always told me, if I could count my true friends on one hand, then I would be truly blessed.
Throughout my life’s struggles and challenges, I have found her words to be accurate. I can count only but a few loyal friends who know the truth, the whole truth, and who love me anyway.
Those friends who have made the time and effort to come and see me, and I them. And those with whom I’ve shared battles and shoulders to cry on.
For me, friendships with facial expressions, hugs, and silences are real friendships.
They endure over time, and even when they come into question over a difference of opinion, there is communication. Real communication, like the kind where we show up, look into each other’s crying eyes, and make a decision to sort things out.
“Friendship isn’t a big thing. It’s a million little things.” ~ Unknown
In the 21st century, there’s a whole new way to make friends, and loads of them, with this wonderful thing called social media. I am a new writing apprentice with the Elephant Academy and in the last three weeks I have been inundated, (well, it feels like inundated) with new friend requests on Facebook. And whilst I am delighted suddenly, at the ripe age of 55, to feel popular, I am fundamentally a realist and recognise that there is a reason why I am only friended the night before the apprenticeship starts. And I assume I may just as quickly be unfriended when the course is over. Such is the reality of social media today.
In real life, one has to consider how to mindfully let the other side down, take responsibility, and face the consequences of their actions.
Social media, however, allows our new friends to hide behind a mask of anonymity—including blocking, and unfriending others with a mere press or swipe. Done. Acquaintancebook is a more apt name.
I recently separated from my husband and moved to Queensland to fend for myself for six months. This isn’t the first time away from friends and family, but even though I was working at a busy retail store there, I found myself becoming lonely.
I began scrolling through Facebook and even got “catfished” on Instagram (yes, that actually happened). I became completely immersed with my virtual “friends,” especially those with the edgy profile pics, and those who know nothing about me, nor I them.
I spent my evenings addicted to my virtual friends’ postings and wasting time in front of the TV—with my little doggy waiting at my feet for attention, toy in mouth.
We human beings crave company. We are social creatures, and the company of virtual friends sometimes is better than nothing, but’s easy to get caught up in these fantasy worlds from the comfort of our sofas.
And then there’s a certain etiquette to how one portrays themselves on Facebook. Of course, since employers and anyone really can see our lives online, we have to behave responsibly. But that’s only part of the façade. No one wants to chat online with their virtual friends about their marriage breaking down, posting a barrage of tragic personal images, or their suicidal, drug-addicted son. Because that’s too brutal. It’s way too honest. It’s too real.
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” ~ Thomas Aquinas
Recently, I moved back to Sydney and close to my little nuclear family again. I have been humbled by my virtual experiences and have even found myself back out in the community seeking real, in person connections.
I’ve been doing some people watching, and what I see are many faces looking down—not connected to the little things in life at all, just staring and scrolling. I watch, as my barista stares blankly over the espresso machine. No words or smiles, no eye contact. Just earphones and a transaction, an exchange of money, and then we both disappear.
I’m on a mission to make more real connections in my life—here are a few ways that have helped me so far:
Whatever you’re doing out in the world, whether paying the barista for your morning coffee, loading groceries into your green bags, or walking your dog in the park, ask yourself if you’re open to others in the community with your presence. A few ways to do this would be looking up with a nod, a smile, or a thank you for services that others provide. And bringing good energy along with you, so your smile is genuine and comes from a place of gratitude.
Connecting with the Community
Join a group in your local area. I have found these to be a fantastic way to socialise with like-minded people. Generally, whether it’s an art class or a creative writing class, there’s always some kind of homework for the following week. Not only do these assignments keep me occupied and away from the virtual world, I have made endearing connections with my fellow classmates.
Get a Dog
Having a dog is such a great conversation starter for anybody. In fact, I’ve told my 21-year-old son if he really wants a girlfriend, then he should get a really cute, fluffy dog. Daily walks are just one of the bonuses of having a dog, as I now have some very dear friends from my walks around the local dog park. But having a loving companion at home, always happy for any attention, is another great way to focus our time on what matters in the real world.
The digital world is here to stay. There is no stopping it.
But it is worthwhile to be conscious that we as humans also need in person social interactions with others.
And with human connections come respect, a sense of community—and maybe, if you’re lucky, real friends.
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” ~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh