Do I know you?

ISO real friends.

I’ve mostly been ignoring Facebook lately, and really only paying peripheral attention to Pinterest and Twitter. Occasionally I’ll visit LinkedIn to bestow random work-related endorsements on my contacts there… but it all feels pretty empty.

Sometimes I feel like I have lots of “friends” on social media, but not nearly enough real friends in my life.

I’m not even sure how to make friends anymore. Everybody’s busy these days, doing our own things, pausing now and then to upload photos and update statuses. It’s weird to me– and a little awkward– that  I can know so many intimate details about people’s lives without ever having in-person conversations with them, without honestly knowing them in real life.

But I do it too. I post about my fabulous vacations, my funny pets and my clever children—hoping you’ll like me a little more because of all that. (Although researchers say you’re more likely to be jealous of the extremely edited and happy version of my life I choose to share with you. So, go figure.) I blog about all sorts of personal stuff. I post song lyrics and YouTube videos and inspirational quotes and Instagram photos of my latest visit to some independent-coffee-shop-you’ve-never-heard-of, because (maybe?) you’ll think that’s cool too. But does anybody really know me any better for learning all that trivia? Does anybody really care?

I’ve ‘met’ so many interesting people—all over the country, all over the world even—through blogging and various other social media. I feel like my world is broader because of the internet; my connections are wider-ranging. But it’s harder (or maybe just as hard as it ever was) to find genuine lasting friendship in real life. I have many friends who live in the same city as I do, that I see more often online than I do in person. I’ll admit, that’s partly my own fault. But that doesn’t make it any less messed up.

staying connected

staying connected

These days, most people socialize with their friends online, at least in part. But a lot of what we’re posting is just surface stuff. Noise. With all the static coming through our overstuffed news feeds and in-boxes, are we really even listening to each other anymore?

We can excuse each other if we’re not, right? Because listening is hard to do. There is such a sheer volume of information out there that curating it has become an art form—both highbrow (see Maria Popova) and lowbrow (see _insert name of meme-y Tumblr of the week here_). Which, in the online world, almost gives me the sense that I could curate my list of friends, too, carefully editing and culling until I achieved just the right mix of interesting people with whom I’ll admit to being associated. But people are not bits of data. We are all so much more—more beautiful, more subtle, messier, more complicated—than our Facebook profiles would suggest. It’s this extra dimension, this completeness, that I cherish in my in-person friendships. It’s a depth I miss when I follow my friends online.

And then, there are human qualities– like empathy, a skill so vital to all types of interpersonal interaction, especially friendship — that are easily muddled up in online communication. Is empathy even something that can be experienced through a keyboard? It’s hard to say. At the very least, I think, it’s different online than it is in person. If I pour my heart out to you in a blog or an email… do you really, truly get me? Can you get to know me– for real, I mean? Can you imagine yourself in my shoes? Or, without body language and eye contact and every other little nuance and intuition gleaned through old-fashioned senses, do things just get lost in translation between my brain and your screen?

One of the things social media does extremely well– by allowing for all sorts of collecting and cataloging– is point out just how many scores and scores of people I actually do know. It turns out that I, like most everybody else reading this, have an incredible number of acquaintances. I will even be super broad in my definitions and say that I probably do have a lot of actual friends, as well (and not just fake, placeholder Facebook “friends” either). But, for me at least, the ability to measure comments and “likes” and friend quantity (not just my own, but my friends’ friend quantity too) — only highlights the lack of quality and depth in the vast majority of my relationships. And that can sometimes feel… really lonely.

It shouldn’t, of course, but it does. By now I think we’ve all heard the neat little fact that humans can really only hold about 150 meaningful relationships in our heads. Your real list of tried-and-true, hardcore, BFFs probably brings that number down to a mere handful (it does for me, anyway). Which is as it should be.

But when I’m feeling lonely, and everybody else seems all chummy with each other on Facebook, the type of friendships I wish I had more of are the deep and long term ones. The real ones. The ones that start up kind of like magic, and to which there really are no shortcuts. The kind where you really, truly know the other person and they know you– no agendas, no strings attached– where you’re understood and loved, and missed when you’re not around. Isn’t that what everybody wants?

© Jaime Greenberg and discovered in play, 2013