Saturday, December 26, 2009

Are You My Friend?

One of my favorite childhood books is Are You My Mother?  In this endearing tale, a lost little bird wanders around in search of his mother.  He happens upon planes, cows, trains and other random objects, asking plaintively, “are you my mother?”  It’s a really sweet story about finding your tribe, about belonging, and I think it is similar to situations some of us encounter online.  We all want to make friends.  We all want to connect.  Belong.  But to what extent are we building friendships and lasting relationships?  And how much of it is white noise?

I have a tendency to call everyone a “friend,” with no distinction between those I just bonded with about Glee on Twitter and those who knew me the first time leggings were popular.  My husband recently questioned my overuse of this word, saying [insert your social media guru and/or popular blogger of choice here] is NOT your friend.  Which, of course, prompted me to craft a smart-ass DM to one of the aforementioned gurus/bloggers, who replied that he did, in fact, consider us friends.

“But there’s a difference between ‘friends’ and ‘friendly,’” my husband insisted.

And he has a point.  Yes, I’m accessible and witty and occasionally overshare, but the several hundred people I know solely through the magic of the web aren’t all the same category of “friend.”  Only a handful of us have shared deep secrets and belly laughs over a bottle of wine or held each other in moments of grief.  To those special few, I am eternally grateful.

But what does it mean to be authentic--to be real and engaging and sincere--in a space in which public and private are so blurred?  To want people to know those things that make your heart soar (for the record: running, Anne Lamott, Manhattan, naps, wine, amazing food, Don Draper, show tunes and shoes), but without them thinking I’m wasting time (naps, running, the contents of my DVR), money (wine, travel, the shoes) or influence (talking about all of the above instead of super-important industry facts and trends).  What’s the difference between things I endorse and products and people I represent?  How do I use these tools effectively to promote myself and my business?  And do so with personality and grace?  And yes, maybe even find a few friends along the way.


  1. Well, I certainly didn't know you when leggings became popular, but I am glad to call you a friend. And am grateful for your support and encouragement with #runATL! Many thanks!

  2. The word 'friend' is used in place of the word 'people' and it diminishes relationships. Distinctions exist for a reason. No one would call every guy that walks by husband so there is no reason to call everyone friend. Relationship delineations can exist and and are normal, healthy and apart of boundary building. I can care for and respect a client, a tweetheart on Twitter, a Facebook fan on my biz page, an acquaintance, and a complete stranger in ways that are appropriate to the particular relationship without giving them the role, title or responsibilities appertaining to a friend. I take the word and relationship seriously.

  3. Real friendships can develop online. I know this from experience, but it is different from the "real world."

    The speed seems to be a bit different. Some bloggers share personal and intimate things online that they wouldn't necessarily share IRL.

  4. Laura, my daughter and I love this book as well. I like your spin on the theme. I'll be your friend!

    - Joe (Twitter name @JWSorensen)

  5. Excellent piece. I've always had a problem with the overuse of the word friend. Most of the time it should be contact. Still, in this social era that sounds/feels so cold and distant. However, using the word friend too often lessens its power and meaning and dishonors your true friends. Thanks for covering this so well.
    I wrote about this thin line between our virtual and real worlds in When Worlds Collide (homage to George from Seinfeld).


  6. It's a brave new world and we're in it, baby.

    There are people I called "friends" through social media acquaintance who have become my friends for reals.

    Sometimes you just have to be who you are and roll with it.

  7. Tremendously clever way to delve into the whole idea of friends people have made in the flesh vs. friends people have made via text. (And a lovely book to boot - just reading it to my child last night for the umpteenth time.)

    Thank you for a great read.

  8. Hi, Laura, This is a wonderful article. As a publicist, I see myself in what you've written. As a professional, hopefully, my clients are those whose products and services I promote because they fee right and good to me. There have been the occasional turn downs because I wouldn't want to be associated with their good/services. They aren't my *friends*. However, I'll hop on over to twitter and ask you to be my friend.

  9. Good point. I often find myself saying, "My friend {fill-in-the-blank}..." when I refer to people in my circle...both online and in-person. I rarely make the distinction between my true blue friends and people that I'm friendLY with, would you make that clear without sounding strange? For now, I'll stick with "friend" because it's a straightforward term that most people understand in both contexts. :)

    P.S. I like running, wine, and good food too.

  10. Thanks everyone for your comments!

    Trudy, I definitely see your point. My husband says you expressed his point of view eloquently. I usually reserve "friend" for people I've connect with in some form offline, but I'll admit I use the term more liberally than most. :)

    Jack, excellent point. There have been places online where I've shared more intimately that I have with "real life" friends.

    Joe--just followed you on Twitter. And thanks.

    Pai--I agree--I think that's why I use "friend" so often, because other monikers seem so cold. I'll check out your piece--thanks for the link.

    Marie--I love the way you put it: be who you are and roll with it. That's definitely me!

    Abby-thanks for the feedback.

    Cheryl--You're from SC--we're "friends" already! ;)

  11. Great post! It's something my hubby and I joke bout from time to time. One of my favorite quotes on my hubby's FB account is: "I told my wife the other day that I may have more friends in my cyberlife than I've ever had in real life. She laughed. Loudly." And laugh I did! So now many are moving into discussing degrees of friendship. It's not too unusual to find that even in our online world, people have the need to distinguish between true confidantes and their casual chatting buds. I now hear more often "my DEAR friend..." or "my bff" or "my wonderful/amazing friend" or "my long-time friend" or even "my cyber-friend" and on and on. Many now have to define what they mean every time they discuss an acquaintance just to justify our use of the word 'friend.' One of my cyber-friends (I've also met IRL) was called a "FB slut" last month. WOW! Who comes up with these terms??? So apparently others have decided that she has too many friends.

    One day, not too long back, a social media gal I chat with regularly said to me that the more years she spends investing in online friendships, the more difficult it is for her to distinguish a difference between most of her IRL friends and her online friends.

    I admittedly use the term liberally. I'm more concerned about not limiting a potential budding friendship by way of terminology than I am about using a socially unacceptable term. As long as *I'm* aware of how/why I use the term and what it really means to me, I suppose it works.

    ~Shaye @ Miller Memories

  12. Shaye--It sounds like we have a lot in common! I overuse BFF, too. But I tend to form really strong connections with people, sometimes instantaneously. A lot of my really close friendships have grown out of online relationships. Plus, I don't hide behind the keyboard. I'm pretty social in real life, too!

  13. I get what your husband is saying, but there are degrees to everything, whether it's real life or online. Like, the distinction between "friends" and "friends who will help you move to a new house".

    You know the old joke about how a good friend will bail you out of jail, but a best friend will be sitting in there beside you saying "Woo, we really messed that up!"? Drawing a distinction between "real life" friends and "online" friends is just another way of assigning "trust" or maybe "commitment" to the word "friend".

    I have online friends I've known for years whom I have never met IRL but whom I would willingly bail out of jail if they really needed it. ;-)

    The emotional bonds of affection that occur between people sharing themselves online are as real as any that occur over a beer or a job or some other shared experience. It can seem less trustworthy, because you seldom are able to know the whole person, but it isn't any less real for that. I think that when people differentiate in that fashion, they are assuming that someone who can't be "trusted" implicitly is someone who's not a true "friend".

    Drawing that line, though, is a way of ignoring the fact that at some point, you CAN develop a strong enough trust relationship with an online friend for them to become a "real" friend, even if you still don't know every detail or facet of their lives.

    Insisting on a demarcation line is simply a way of saying "I'll never trust anyone that I can't interact with personally on a regular basis." That's a personal choice, and a valid one, but it's not a de rigeur rule for everyone by any means.


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