Has the Facebook “like” replaced our real life connection with friends?
I caught up with a friend last week who I hadn’t seen in 10 years. She’s someone from my high school days, one of the girls I sat in a circle with each lunchtime, eating sandwiches and assessing boys.
We never had a falling out, but when high school finished, college took us in wildly different directions, then life closed in around us. People marry, have children, or move away. It just happens.
In the past, we’d lose these people from our lives gradually, often with no idea where they ended up. But now there’s Facebook.
Like most people, I’ve been through various stages of Facebook friend acquisition and subsequent culling. When I first signed up, I added virtually everyone I’d ever met, and probably a bunch of people I hadn’t. We went to middle school together? Add! We spoke for five minutes at that party last year? Add! You’re my cousin’s best friend’s hairdresser? What a small world! Add! When you’re suddenly bombarded with a feed of information about these people you have no real connection with or only vaguely remember, then it’s cull, cull, cull.
And yet there are always those few friends who make the cut. The handful of people you haven’t seen in forever, but they’re part of your past. And like the old favorite dress you no longer fit into but can’t bear to throw out, you want to hang onto them, just in case. It’s part voyeurism, part curiosity, part on the off-chance you might like to see them again. An abstract, hypothetical desire, to maybe, possibly want to or need to connect in future.
The friend I saw last week is someone I’ve been Facebook “flirting” with for the past few years. Most of us have at least one of these friends. You know how it starts: You like one of their photos.They like one of yours. The liking gets more frequent. Soon you’re liking one another’s status updates and photos all the time. And more intimate ones too, not just the quotes they share from Word Porn. You even start dropping the odd comment, tentatively at first, you don’t want to appear too eager. And then it’s on.
Gradually, as a result of all of the liking, commenting, and voyeurism, you realize you’ve actually got quite a bit in common. The wildly different paths you left on years earlier seem to have ended up back in parallel. Maybe you have kids the same age, work in similar industries, or live in neighboring suburbs. Someone suggests that you meet up for a coffee. You agree wholeheartedly, but after a slew of back and forth attempts, a date is never set, and you go back to liking each others’ posts again.
With my friend, the Facebook communication moved up a notch through an exchange of private messages and the confirmation of our phone numbers, after which we finally decided to meet up. In the actual flesh.
And it happened. The stars aligned and I turned up on her doorstep—a bunch of bright yellow gerberas in one hand and a boo boo bunny in the other for her baby girl I’d only seen in photos.
And you know what? The fact that we’d been following one another’s lives on Facebook for the past few years made catching up easy. We poured our stories out in a rambling stream of “So when you did you meet your husband?” and “Oh, I saw your house in your photos! It’s lovely.” It was like playing connect the dots with our narratives, as we ambled our way through the last decade, talking about breastfeeding and motherhood, marriage and careers, illness and everything in between.
A few cups of tea later, with a kiss on her baby’s squishy cheek, I left. A friendship renewed.
I’m not sure if it was turning 30 last year, or an increasing sense of dissatisfaction with the superficiality of online relationships, but a few of my friends have recently expressed a similar desire, a longing to reconnect with people from their past. Perhaps it’s the comfort of the familiar. Or a natural comparative (though not necessarily helpful) tendency to seek out those who we leapt into adulthood with. To see if we’re “on track.” To wonder together where the time goes and reflect on the people we’ve become, with the ones who knew us before.
So, folks, here’s a challenge. Unless you’re a ruthless culler, or Facebook-free, most of us have friends on our Facebook lists, perhaps work colleagues, high school friends, or college chums with whom we’ve long lost contact with for whatever reason. Instead of just clicking “like” on their next post, why not organize to meet up for a coffee or a cocktail? And enjoy the (hopefully) delicious tumble back into a friendship from the past. Go on. I dare you.
Ariane is a Sydney-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared on The Good Men Project, Mamamia, Tabula Rasa and iVillage Australia. She is not to be left unsupervised in secondhand book shops and can be found on twitter @Ariane_JMS.