On Friendships and What Is Important

You never think it happens to you until it does. Yesterday it did. I lost a friend through the medium of social media. We weren’t close friends by any means (more friends by association), but it stings a little all the same – mostly, because I’m convinced that if it had all been played out in person, none of it would have escalated.

It’s kept me awake last night, thinking about what happened and what, actually, is important. Friendships come and go – it is one of the sad facts of life that, sometimes, you just drift apart through differing life circumstances and evolving differing viewpoints over time. What often attracts us in a friend is either a personality like our own or a trait we appreciate and admire and when those characteristics appear to change, friendships can drift apart. That, and time.

Over the years I have lost a few friends, mostly through continuous movement from one place to another, coupled with life circumstances often meaning that both sides have not invested the necessary time in actually keeping the friendship up. Sometimes, I think that through our culture of instant gratification and throw-away attitude, friendships and relationships are thrown away too easily at the first signs of friction. And why not? We’re constantly told that a friendship should be deep, meaningful, involve lots of shared nights out, lots of communication and always full agreement.

The thing is, life rarely pans out that way. Throw in a big change in circumstances – new job, new town, new baby – and often there will be a big lull in our ability to keep up with everyone and communicate in a meaningful way.

Social media can help. It has certainly helped me keep in touch with old friends dating as far back as my early secondary school days, despite some of us now living in countries all over the globe. If used as intended, social media can be a brilliant way to catch up occasionally and keep the spirit of friendship up. It can be a nod to say that, yes, we’re unable to see each other, but we can still share our lives with each other.

However, I don’t see it being used this way very often. Social media has also a darker side, where our lives are being contorted and shown in a twisted way to those who should know us better. From intense political and religious rants to the lack of an appropriate emoji completely distorting meaning in each other’s heads (where intonation, in person, can make all the difference), social media can often leave us wondering whether we really knew a person at all. Things is, when we post things online, our inhibitions in what we say and how are often lowered.

I am no exception. I know that my life is not all that I show on social media. I rarely share negatives anymore and most of the time keep my religious and political thoughts to myself. Yesterday I broke that rule and it cost me a friendship. It wasn’t all that important; we just disagreed.

Can you disagree in your political, social and religious beliefs and still be friends? Of course you can. My friends are diverse, of every skin colour, religion (or lack thereof), social class and sexual preference. We may heartily disagree with each other on how the world was created, what political party will screw us over the least or whether Jamie Oliver is hot or annoying, but, oftentimes, what we believe doesn’t matter at all. Our conduct does. Our personalities and shared experiences do. The rest is just window dressing. We need diversity to keep our lives varied and interesting. We need friends with different opinions to challenge our own, lest we end up in a self-perpetuating bubble of boredom and misery.

I love a good debate. I love playing devil’s advocate, because I don’t believe I’ve swallowed wisdom whole or that I have learned everything there is to know.

The rest – the what – is unimportant. I don’t expect my friend (that I still view as such, even if our social media connection is severed) to read any of this and this is not intended to change anything. Though if you do read this and want to pick up the darned phone, feel free.

It’s the time of the year for reflection. It’s helped me realise what is important and what, really, doesn’t matter at all.

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