Saturday, September 1, 2007

On the nature of friendship

There are some weird things I've been thinking lately about friendship. Before I was 18, a freshman in college, I had friends. Friendly acquaintances (tons), un-friends (some), best friends (lots), and just plain friends. They were all over my life. I was a very social girl. Even when I was "unpopular" before 9th grade, I was still social. I hung out with my girlfriends and their families, with my parents and their friends and their friends' kids. I hung out alone a lot, too -- about as much as I do now. That's the only constant.

In high school, my friends were my life. They saw me in my good moods, my workaholic stage, my panic attacks, my terrible moods, my depressions, my triumphs. They knew when something horrible happened in my family; they knew when I reached a sexual milestone; they pretty much knew every aspect of me that friends can know. And I knew this about them, too. We didn't hide much from each other; we never tried to put on a certain face. When I was trying to get someone interested in being my friend, I certainly didn't hit them with the PMS monster or bitchface right off the bat. I showed them my best side. But then when that person was my friend, they got the whole shebang (and I got theirs).

Now, it's different. Now I have "real life friends" and "Internet friends."

Some of the Internet friends are people I see in real life; some I've never met. Some of the real life friends I have more contact with online than in person, because they're far away, but I first met them in real life. Out here in The City, there's a lot of overlap. There are people I've met through other people, who I first met online. Or there are people I met first in person but don't see them very often, so I sometimes see them again in The City and can't think of their real name, despite the fact I was introduced to them first by their name, not their Internet handle.

It starts to get a little weird. I seem to have prioritized looking good for my real-life friends at the expense of my Internet friends. To put it bluntly, the 'net friends get the brunt of the worst of me, and the RL friends get the best. I am not sure why this is. Here are a couple of theories:

1) I'm over-clinging to my real-life friendships to the point where I'm afraid if I whine, angst, or otherwise comport myself less than pleasantly, I'll lose them ... AND THEN WHAT? This is absurd. Like my mom would say, if a friend would ditch me because I wasn't sugar and spice all the time, they weren't a real friend in the first place. I know realistically that most of my friends wouldn't decide they didn't like me or want to see me anymore if I had a bad day or two in front of them. But I can't seem to share this part. That means I'm holding back on them. Sure, we get together and have bitch sessions -- about work, guys, money -- but that's topic-based and I don't think I could just show up at one of them's house in tears and say I need some company and comfort. It's like that's not a place I'm comfortable going -- with some of my closest friends! I see writing this that I'm responsible for this lack of closeness. Friendship means seeing all aspects of a person, not just the fair-weather side.

2) I'm devaluing Internet relationships. The Internet is for navel-gazing, snark, gossip, talking about people behind each other's backs and saying things you would never say to someone in person -- right? Well, I don't do that last one, but I do indulge in the rest with my Internet friends. Is this because I think that's what the Internet friends want? They'll find me boring if all I do is talk about how great things are going, I reason to myself. They'll think I'm being smug and self-righteous if I talk about, for instance, the things I write about on this blog (things that I can talk to several RL friends about with no worry about that kind of thing at all). I believe that online, the lowest common denominator is in full effect, and it's my laziness that causes me to sink to that. I'm pretty sure my online friends would like a little more positivity out of me. Who knows, they may think I'm a total trainwreck, like my RL friends think I have it all together. Of course, neither one is true.

So basically I've succumbed to the schizophrenia of having two communities. There are things I'd talk to someone online about that I wouldn't want to bring up to a friend face to face. I don't think that's right. I'm depriving my real life friends of knowing all sides of me, and I'm depriving my online friends of a productive, nontoxic friendship -- which I'm obviously capable of having.

This is the paradox of the modern disconnection culture, or one of them. You cling to the people you know in real life and don't trust that they'll stick around, while you use the people you don't see in person as a sounding board for all your negative stuff you won't show to the RL friends. It's very odd.

There are a few people, of course, who fit into both categories (I'm equally comfortable talking to them online and in person), and these people get the real deal. The only thing that this took was a whole lot of time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

See, I tend to be the opposite. I'm much more open IRL than on the internet. I'm always thinking about the permanent record that the internet leaves behind, and do I want this statement to be mine forever? So I tend to say a lot of non-personal stuff online and save the most personal stuff for RL. But I tend to unload on my family the most, I think.

As someone who writes a LOT, do you think you prefer to have the time to think out your statements? Being online allows you that, and maybe there's where some of the comfort is. When a person is face to face, anything might fall out of your mouth. :D ~~Alice