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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Desert FriendsAre friendships important to you?  Are you blessed with the kind of deep friendships where you safely share everything with each other, from the most superficial to the darkest corners of your souls?  I've been giving this a lot of thought, lately. 

A couple of months ago I was offered the opportunity to read and review a copy of Lisa Whelchel's (think Blair from "Facts of Life") new book, "Friendship for Grownups."  You can find my review and a book giveaway here

I'll tell you the reason I'd been thinking about friendships, though, was not because of Lisa's book - the timing of that opportunity was one of those divine, cosmic, coincidences that fall into your lap when you least expect it, but when you most need it.

I'd been contemplating friendships in the context of real life vs. virtual.  One thing that's been tugging my conscience is that I've placed an unrealistic - and perhaps, unhealthy - importance on my online acquaintances while neglecting my real-life friends.

I'm a regular contributor on various online forums; I have facebook and twitter accounts, blogging buddies with whom I trade comments, thoughts, blessings, challenges.  The world wide web presents myriad opportunities to network, chat, share, debate, commiserate...you name it.  It's easy to fall into thinking that these people are friends when, in fact, you can't always say for sure they are who they say they are.  Come to think of it - are you who you say you are?  Am I? 

In many ways the anonymity of the internet offers the perfect safety net.  You can set up a user name and profile that cloak your true identity.  You can comment without censure; even if your opinions get bashed, it's not "real life" or personal so, the internet is the perfect place to float your trial balloon ideas and opinions.   I'm often shocked by the brutality with which people treat each other online when they would never dream of speaking that way face-to-face.  Frankly, I've been shocked by my own past behavior, especially on hot-button issues like politics or religion.  (If you run into me online, you'll notice my annoying habit of emoticon abuse.  Smiley faces are my way of indicating the spirit behind my comments.)

I've seen people bare their souls on the internet, sharing personal and private details with the world because they feel they have no one to turn to in real life.  Behind the veil of a user profile, ctrl+alt+del if things get too close.  Unfortunately, the internet is not a safe place and you can't always take things back.  It is, however, easier to run away from people you decide you don't want to spend time with.

The internet may seem the perfect place to make friends.  After all, there are millions of folks accessible through cyberspace, you don't have to wear your makeup, get dressed or worry if you've got broccoli stuck between your teeth.  The truth is, in most cases the internet is like a vision distorting, plexiglas wall between you and the world.  It gets in the way of honest, deep, real life friendships.

There's a personality disorder where one finds it difficult to establish and maintain close friendships because she (or he) builds expectations of people which, after getting to know them a little better, she finds were not realistic.  Rather than let go her preconception to match reality, she abandons the relationship, always seeking people who live up to her expectations, never quite finding them.  Reminds me of that book title:  "Everybody's Normal Until You Get To Know Them."

That's not to say you can't make friends online.  One of my best friends in real life, I met online, as well as a couple other acquaintances whose company I enjoy.

I'm not saying I'm willing to give up time with my online buddies.  I'm simply talking about keeping perspective:  online does not equate to real life.  Sharing troubles and advice via the internet, though maybe therapeutic in its own way, does not replace being there for a friend, day or night, to share a hug, a "real" smile, or a face-to-face cup of coffee.

My goal and challenge for this week:  make real life contact with 3 friends.  Pick up the phone or get together - make some kind of physical contact.  Maybe there's someone you haven't spoken to in a while?  An old friend who'd love to hear from you?  How about the friend you only see at the grocery store and say, in parting, "we need to get together one of these days!"  Well, make one of those days happen this week!



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