I have 216 friends. On facebook, that is. In real life...hmm, well, I'm kinda scratching my head and wondering where all my real-life flesh-and-blood friends went. Lately, I can barely get people to respond to e-mail. Everybody's BUSY with their families, their jobs, their busy, complicated, over-extended lives. Everyone's apologizing for why they can't get together and making promises about future engagements we MUST plan -- and secretly know we never will.
Part of the problem is that many of my friends (high school and college chums) just don't live nearby. So it takes time and monumental effort to synchronize our various schedules. Another problem is that so many of us work from home or are home caring for young children. How do we make friends when we often find ourselves isolated and alone? Besides which, you have to work at friendships in order to maintain them, and most of us are already stretched thin. It's almost as if we've become a nation too busy for deep, meaningful, close friendships. And I have a feeling that's why a lot of us are looking for the virtual thing online. If only we'd put down our iPhones and Blackberries long enough, we might realize that there are fascinating people to converse with right across the table from us.
I've been thinking about friendship a lot lately, thanks not only to facebook, but to the documentary film I worked on for three years as an Associate Producer. The BlueBelles is an amazing group of women who met at the YMCA 20 years ago and have been able to forge a deep, and long-lasting friendship. What's their secret? It's simple. They make time for one another. Plus, every Friday they meet for breakfast at a local bagel shop so their members always know where and when to find one another.
The greatest lesson I've learned from working with The BlueBelles is that friendships -- especially as we age -- are extremely important to our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. And I've realized that I've been lazy in my friendships. I've taken them for granted and assumed that my friends were going to be there for me no matter how many times I've blown them off or made excuses for skipping a get together. Unfortunately, too many years and too much distance has diluted my old friendships. Maybe it's nobody's fault really. Maybe that's just what happens in life.
My father died a week before my 17th birthday, over 24 years ago. I still remember when some of his old buddies showed up to the funeral and I was shocked that in my seventeen years I had never met them. It saddened me that these friends made time to pay their respects and say goodbye, but somehow never found the time to come around and share a cup of coffee with my dad while he was still alive. Honestly, I couldn't understand how these people could really call themselves "friends" when they hadn't chatted in decades. They weren't there for each other in real life. And I vowed I'd never let that happen to me. Yet here I am, now 41, and I find myself drifting away from so many friends, wondering if we'll ever find time to reconnect before a funeral makes us all stop and take notice.
It's not that I don't have friends in real life -- I do. But how many friends does one need in a lifetime? Is one enough? How about two? An even dozen? Twenty like The BlueBelles? Certainly 216 friends in real life would be way too much to manage. Could you imagine the postage just for Christmas cards? And I don't think I'm necessarily looking for a ton of REAL FRIENDS. But I am looking for friendship that is easy, comfortable, honest, authentic, and fun. Friendship shouldn't be a burden.
Which is why I love my facebook friends. They are fascinating people -- open to friendship and willing to invite me into their lives. They offer words of encouragement and make me laugh on so many occasions. We share interests and are passionate about so many things. We even find the mundane details of life amusing. They fill a void in my hectic, busy life -- allowing me to connect to people all over the world from the comfort of my home. But perhaps it's time to go outside my comfort zone and find new friends the good-old-fashioned way. Not that it's going to be easy. I suspect I'm like a lot of people who excel at making virtual friends: I worry that people won't find me nearly as fascinating in real life as they do online.
The plain truth is that I need more than just virtual friends. I want flesh-and-blood friends who are there for me; just as I want to be there for them. I want friends who show up no matter what and who wouldn't miss a get together if it killed them. I want to know that if and when I ever leave this physical earth I'll have real friends mourning for me. Because I honestly don't expect all of my 216 facebook friends to storm the funeral home on my behalf. Well, maybe just half of them.;)