Friends, especially good ones, are so hard to come by nowadays. It’s a concept more fascist than friendly at Balaam where a few Mussolinis order around the subjugated majority who swear their lives to the illusionary hierarchy of popularity.
The above quote from Chapter 3 of my unpublished manuscript Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up presents the clique system that dominates a fictional high school. This system, in my experience as a student and as a teacher, still exists although it dissolved towards the end of senior year once the realization set in that everyone’s different and that’s okay – funny how Fairfield University, my alma mater was so very similar. The undertone of the quote, though, is that some pursue acceptance more than genuine friendship.
I learned that lesson early on in my quest for friends in elementary and middle school. At the time, I didn’t realize you can have so many friends you have no friends. A paradox, it intimates that knowing people doesn’t constitute an actual friendship with them much in the same way that knowing information doesn’t mean you understand it. Friends and acquaintances aren’t not synonyms.
By the time I got to college, I recognized the distinction. Still, it’s easy to be friendly with all the people in your vicinity – you’re going to the same bars and parties; you might even be sleeping with the same people. But that doesn’t mean you’re friends.
This is the Facebook phenomenon: there are plenty of people I am Facebook “friends” with who aren’t my actual friends. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t know some of them if I were talking to them. The summer before I made my way to sunny Fairfield, I remember thinking I’d use Facebook to keep in touch with my friends from high school. After all, they were going to universities all across the country. In reality, the only function Facebook served throughout college was to creep on cuties.
Yet, not everyone using social media platforms is a hyper-sexualized 17-year-old male. I truly do believe some actually use it for the purpose of keeping in touch or reconnecting, especially older people who want to find their friends from their younger years.
However, does interacting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tinder, Grindr, Linkedin, etc. equal a substantive relationship with someone? Does it make you happier to look through all of someone’s pics or message posts? Or does ranting about politics or social justice initiatives make you feel like you’ve done a civic duty? What about telling off the people in front of you on the Starbucks line? Does that actually relieve your stress?
Friendship isn’t a new thing. The same common interests that have brought them together since the beginning of time still connect friends. What has changed is the opportunities available to maintain bonds. In the past, it was a letter or a telephone call. Now, it’s all of the above mentioned social media platforms and many more I’m not hip enough to have heard of.
However, when the virtual world supersedes the physical one, you’re getting into Ready Player One Dystopian territory. That’s when you lose touch with what’s important and what isn’t. Not a petty gripe about some office drama. Or a person’s birthday you forgot existed. Not a photo-shopped picture that’s as real as the Loch Ness monster. Actual stuff that matters, stuff that isn’t on social media, stuff that’s personal and private.
I’m lucky in that I have some close-knit groups of friends, my family, and my everything, my always, my forever. I guess what I fear is becoming isolated, having friends located where I live and that’s it. Kind of like my parents. Over the years, they’ve lost touch with most outside of their families and those in close proximity to them.
Looking at them, I wonder if one day immediate family and neighbors will comprise my friends (not to say there’s anything wrong with it). What about my friends from growing up and high school? What about my guys from Fairfield? Shoot, what about my wife’s friends who are now my friends? Do they all just slowly disappear as they do at the end of The Sandlot? Or do they eventually reconnect like in Now and Then? Or is friendship in adulthood really just the end of Stand by Me where there’s Richard Dreyfuss and his typewriter, his fond memories and reflection about Chris Chambers getting stabbed in the neck?
Thirty-years from now, when and if I get there, I’ll let you know. But hopefully some of you will stand by me. And hopefully, I’ll stand by you.