Vulnerability and Social Media

How do you define “friend”?

I think about this a lot, especially as a person who easily (and quickly) becomes attached to people I like. It can be heart-breaking to think of someone as a friend, and, later, for them to completely disregard your relationship. As if it never mattered in the first place. This situation seems to happen rather frequently in “real life”, but what in the online world – where the boundary between friend, stranger and acquaintance never seems to be clear, or it’s constantly being re-draw, recreated and redefined.

I’ve been faced with rejection in both my real and online life. It can be disheartening for a minor misunderstanding, or a difference in opinion to make a relationship explode. But I suppose that brings to mind: what is a friend and how do you know when you have one? This is almost exclusively related to social media. In our waking life, it’s easier to see who our friends are; the people who call us or write us. The people who we feel we can talk to about anything. The people who we resonate with the most. But online? Does spending months chatting constitute friendship? Does taking the time to e-mail each other mean you’re BFFs? Do private DMs mean anything at all, or is it just meaningless chatter? At what point do we know when we’ve reached a solid friendship? But also, when have we realized that our friendship is worth fighting for?

You never really know what a friendship can or is able to tolerate until there’s a tremor. Casual relationships, understandably, tend to explode the quickest since there’s no foundation or support to keep the friendship alive. There’s a strong undercurrent of; “I don’t know you, therefore I’m not morally obligated to you or our relationship.” People are more inclined to walk away from something they haven’t invested themselves in, including other people. But the concept of rejection is also very much about power.

It’s similar to the idea presented in “Two Can Play That Game” where Vivica A. Fox says that whomever breaks up with the other person first, wins. I do believe that there’s a strong sense of satisfaction and self-importance at having ended a friendship – regardless of its quality – versus being the person dealing with the rejection. A lot of the time, I think, the people who were rejected long for a sense of closure because everything happened so abruptly. The quickness of it is jarring because a person is cutting you off for no other reason than because they just don’t know you. 

For instance, a girl I knew in college unfriended me on Facebook. It drove me nuts; it still bothers me because she’s friends with people I know. But underneath all my insanity, I get it. I can’t compete with girls she saw every day in her dorms, the fact that I never called her or spoke with her, or the close relationship she had with a girl who become the Godmother to her kids. (Yeah, can’t compete with THAT) So technically, we were never friends, and it made sense for her to unfriend me. Yet at the same time…

This isn’t to suggest that every online relationship is destined to fail – I’ve made some amazing friends online who I hope to meet up with in real life very soon! But an online relationship can, and does, have the same emotional responses as one that’s initiated in real life.

What about you? What are some relationship explosions or mishaps you’ve had since being online?

22 thoughts on “Vulnerability and Social Media

  1. It’s always an interesting topic. Have you ever met people first online through the blogging social media world and then became friends when meeting IRL and continue that online and offline? That’s a really good indicator.

    Some of my best friends AND my boyfriend, came from the blogging world. I think it’s really clear when you’re good friends with someone. It’s reciprocated. You know about more than just what hits their blog (personal issues they may not talk about, their family, their day-to-day lives, what’s happening at work, school, love, etc.) Those things are an extension of who you are.

    That said, I consider my blogging community and people I’ve conversed with (Skype, Gchat, emails, blog comments, Twitter, etc.) overtime are supporters, friends and a great community. I definitely consider that a friend, especially the more they know about you and the more you two share, that equates friendship. It’s funny, some people I’ve been talking to on my blog for years but I don’t know their middle name, where they live, what makes them laugh, etc. We always talk pointedly about the ideas and posts we both write about and share. That’s just a level of friendship and still counts, just maybe not as deep on a personal level.

    It’s always fun figuring it out and watching your friendships grow 🙂 It is always really clear to me as you become closer with someone, the more you talk and share.

    • Hey Grace,

      I’ve made friends that way, yes. I have a friend now who I met on Twitter and we chat all the time on the phone and through Skype! And generally though, I love to connect with people outside of Twitter. By the time we get to FB – it’s a bit more personal since we can “see” each other and be more involved in each other’s lives. :3 So I’ve made some good friends from the internet!

      I agree – I think it’s definitely a sign of friendship how much you divulge with each other. If you’re friends for months or years, but you rarely talk more than about the weather – then that’s lame! Plus, communication is super important to me. I have a hard time considering someone a friend if we never chat! There are people who are near and dear to me who I know are very busy, and it sucks that we can’t talk more! But, that’s not too bad.

      Thanks for commenting! :]

  2. Hmm… I’ve found myself asking the same questions regarding friendships; How do you know when it’s real? and when it’s worth fighting for? I confess, I’m still figuring that out.

    What I have worked out is this: friendships exist on a continuum ranging from an activity buddy where two people share little more than a love of the same activity to a bff, someone who knows you better than you know yourself. The key of the friendship continuum is in levels of intimacy, and it varies from person to person based on a variety of factors.

    Like any relationship, friendships have to be nurtured, but friendships aren’t necessarily meant to last be forever. Sometimes they last a lifetime, but that is rare. Sometimes they are a short simple exchange to smiles that brighten the day.

    I would be reluctant to call a past friendship that has drawn to it’s natural conclusion, a never friendship, simply because it has ended. I’ve had a number of friendships fade over time, end, and be ended. I’ve learned the best thing to do is the thank God for what they brought into my life, for the time we shared together, to enjoy the memories, and to hope the best for them.

    Consider the life of a flower: it blooms then wilts, but it was no less a flower for the wilting.

    in Christ

    • Hey Cadence!

      Thanks for coming by my blog! 😀

      Wow, what you say makes a lot of sense! I think it’s cool to have that friend who you to amusement parks with because your other friends are scared of roller coasters. For me personally, my friends tend to be similar in the sense that I feel like I can talk to them about stuff. So sometimes it varies on who I can talk to about certain topics. Some friends I gossip to about, other friends I discuss different ideas and observations I have. Other people I just chat about life with them, or a key interest we have in common.

      I guess for me it depends on how I would define “natural”. But, for me, I’m the type of person who will call you randomly after months of us not really chatting. I care about all my friends, and I love to talk to them. :]

      I love your flower analogy: that’s fantastic!!

  3. I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve some friends (IRL) that I had to un-friend on facebook, and in my life because the investment was just no there. Too many empty promises, and “talks” about calling, and getting together, that years would go by, and nothing. Overtime, we disconnected and had nothing left in common.

    Still before I decided to move on, I was torn as to making that step. Regardless of online or in person, if you classify someone as a friend, then you will be willing to invest yourself into that relationship.

    But like it is suggested in your article, are we using the term “friend” too loosely? Most likely. However, I do agree with Grace, there are many levels of friendship, and each level does count.

    • Hey Kalley! Thanks for stopping by! :]

      Aw. It sucks when friendships just sort of disintegrate like that! How saddening, I think. But I guess it happens. Can’t be friends with everybody right?

      Yes. It can be difficult to walk away from a friendship that you feel connected to. 😦 I think the concept of friendship can be tricky to define since many people use the word casually while others are take it more to heart.

  4. It’s interesting just how much the internet has chanced the nature of socializing. I love how social media has given me the opportunity to meet people with similar interests something that I have often found hard to find in ‘real’ life. I’ve met a few great friends online that I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to also meet in person.

    That being said I have far more ‘social media’ rejections especially in the travel blogging world where it seems many ‘online friendships’ are calculated in order to get the persons name out there and leverage yourself within the community. Often you find out your ‘new friend’ is now more popular then you online and therefor they have no more use for your ‘friendship’.

    I used to really take it to heart, like you I easily get attached to people and therefor get hurt easily but after nearly 3 years of blogging I’ve discovered that that’s the nature of online socializing, it’s fickle, it’s often fake but at the same time you really can forge some great ‘real’ friendships! You just have to really look at the situation and think is the person in it for a new friendship or something else entirely differently. Thank goodness for blogs though, you can really get a good idea of if a person’s genuine or not just be reading their writing!

    • Hey Sasha!!!

      Yes, I definitely agree that social media has really altered how we view relationships, especially with things like twitter and blogging where many of the people we meet are totally random. At least on FB, the people we’ve added are those we’ve met in real life so there’s already a connection there. But I’ve found great success with blogging/twitter and cultivating friendships.

      What!? I didn’t know that about the travel blogging community. That’s horrific! D: That sucks though… to only be used as a puppet or a pawn as a way to leverage another person. Ugh. But, it seems you’re not as bothered by it anymore? Which I think it is good. A “thick skin” is required in many walks of life, perhaps more so online than anywhere else (??). And yes, I agree that a blog is a great way to get to know a person. I guess writing is like viewing into people’s souls, eh?

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Whoa, it’s so strange that I stopped by to read this post today because a similar thought was floating in my mind this morning and I tweeted about it. It started off as I began to to wonder why I’m so free and open on twitter (my most personal social media exchange) where I’m encouraged when people follow me to Facebook where I hesitate and hardly ever accept random requests. I understand the dynamic of the two mediums is VASTLY different but yet still, it was interesting for me to think about.

    Anyway, I absolutely think that friends in the blog-o-sphere are valuable. As Grace was saying, it’s just on a different level. I converse with my social media friends about topics that I may never talk about with my ‘IRL’ friends. It’s just how it goes but like you, I greatly look forward to meeting the ones that I’ve had some fun and interesting conversations with (you’re in that group! :)).

    It’s definitely an interesting dynamic. I think twitter and blogging has brought us a long way from those AOL chatrooms where we were terrified of predators. I look forward to the lessons I learn from other people’s experiences or the sheer amount of information I can access from one day’s worth of tweets. I think this area is still being defined though but until then, I consider everyone a ‘friend’ in varying degrees. 🙂

    • Gia! Hey!! ;D

      I think that’s an interesting conversation as well; Twitter vs FB. I’d like to think it’s sorta like transferring to a new school. At your old school, everyone knew who you were, but when you transfer you get to be whomever you want. So FB is the old school, and Twitter is the new one. And sometimes it can be hard to be the “new you” at your old school because being around the same people and in the same environments can trigger the way you used to act. I think my convos are a bit different on twitter but the real time makes it different than FB which requires an accumulation of sorts – in terms of convos. So… but I love the messaging feature like ten times better on FB than I do on twitter (no character limit!!).

      Yay – I hope we can meet up one day too!! That would be awesome. I definitely value my online friendships and try to bring the ones I like the most into real life. I think it solidifies a connection to be able and sit down with someone that you’ve met online. Makes it feel more real, I guess. :3 Yes. I’ve learned A LOT about myself and the world by being on Twitter!! It’s amazing how much information is out there. 😀

  6. I actually posted a link to this on my FB page because FB makes me ponder this question a lot. I define a friend as someone who knows your beyond the surface level areas of life, as mentioned above (they know your woes and not just triumphs, know about your family, your job, your relationships).

    Acquaintances are more so people who know you on the surface level mostly but there’s room for a chit chat here and there. I think both have important places in our lives but I do think friendships are cultivated much less now and it’s unfortunate. I don’t think social media helps the majority of the time but it is possible to create and maintain great friendships even via the web. I met my sweetheart through a dating site and I have one of the best friendships ever with her.

    But I see a lotta dramatic things on the web too. Code phrases that get friends riles up..might be the reason why I post less nowadays..I can’t blame it all on social media though, we’re busier than we’ve ever been, working more hours than ever and the time we get to ourselves usually doesn’t seem like there’s a lot going on. I know quite a few people I wish I could hang out with more but it just doesn’t happen. I think part of that is making more of an effort but a larger part (in my humble opinion) is not having 64 friends that you make plans to hang out with and then don’t deliver. We seem to have more friends than ever today as well. Before the interwebz boom, you knew those down the street and those at school. It’s overwhelming how many people we meet, like, and want to socialize with now. I’ve realized now that I’m not in the business of accumulating friends or acquaintances, if it happens, it happens organically…and I try not to make promises as much too!

    • Ah cool!

      Oh yes, I definitely agree that the internet has made it feel like we have more friends than ever. When we meet someone we like online, it’s like, “WE HAVE TO HANG OUT IN REAL LIFE!” and I’m definitely like that. I love to meet my twitter friends in the real world, since I feel like it can solidify a relationship. There isn’t always a connection, online or off, but it can be great to at least make that effort and meet others. Building your network is good too, even if it’s just for professional reasons. A friend of mine met up with recruiters he had interacted with on Twitter, so that part is really helpful as well.

      Yes! There is loads of drama on the web. My friend and I talk about this on Twitter all the time, especially about Twitter since that’s where we both hang out. Blogging drama I’m not as familiar with, but I’ve heard Tumblr can be pretty drama-tastic. But I do agree that I’m not “in the business of accumulating friends or acquaintances”. It’s difficult for me because I have a hard time making friends in real life, and the internet has been super helpful to find like minded people who I can talk to.

  7. Since I work from home, a lot of the “friends” I interact with during the day are online, and rarely people I’ve actually met, because they’re people on Twitter from all over the place. I find it interesting that I often have more meaningful conversations on Twitter, with people I’ve never met, than I do on FB, where most of my friends are people I have met. I think it’s for a number of reasons. For one, the people on FB who I am close to (like family & BFFs) I prefer to see or speak to rather than chat on FB. That leaves a number of people from high school, college, networking events, etc…whom I only know on a superficial level.

    It’s weird, but I think blogs and Twitter are a much better way to really connect with someone. When I think of the people who I worry about when I haven’t seen them online in a while, it’s mostly people from these circles. I think it might be because connections through Twitter and blogs are often based on common interests: we read each other’s bios to get an idea for what people Tweet about, we read each other’s posts to have more in-depth discussion on topics of mutual interest. But FB connections are usually just based on, “Oh, I met that person once” or “Oh, we went to high school together and I’m dying to know what she looks like now.” It’s not enough to sustain a significant relationship.

    • Oh yeah, I definitely agree. Most, like 90%, of the people I know on FB I sort of “collected”. When FB was really new, everyone would ask each other if they had it and simply add people they’d just me, even if they hardly knew each other. I do what I can to keep in touch, even if it means saying “happy birthday” via a reminded on my homepage – but it’s really difficult to have in-depth relationships with over 400 people primarily online. It’s so much easier to take it offline.

      I’m similar; a lot of the conversations I’m having on twitter and my blog trump many of the convos I have in real life. It’s for the reasons like you mentioned; we’re bonding over similar interests and desires versus anything else!

  8. Great post, I wrote a similar one but never got a chance to comment. Anyway, I think that with online friendships it’s obviously different for everyone. Personally, I have always made my best friends in person – whether during high school, undergrad, or just through random connections like friends-of-friends after undergrad. My boyfriend and I have been together forever, and I met him in person. So somehow, I seem to develop closer bonds with people I’ve met in person. I guess it’s a personal preference but beyond meeting for coffee/lunch/happy hour a couple of times with people I’ve met through social media/blogging, I haven’t developed those types of close friendships. *shrug* Really, I think I can have meaningful convos on Twitter but more and more, I’m realizing the people who REALLY mean the most, are there when I want to talk, and are people who support me through thick & thin are… found in the “real” world.

    • *nods* That makes a lot of sense. My experience with friendship online and off has been mixed. I’ve made amazing friends online, while I struggle to make friends in real life. However, I tend to check-in with people often and talk to them when they’re available and try to include them in my life. But one of my newer, but closer friends, is someone who I met off of Twitter. It’s important to me to bring those relationships into “the real world” otherwise it has this distance to it that makes it seem less real, and less important in some respects. And those are the friendships that I value a lot too.

  9. Great post. I’ve actually been overhauling the way I look at friends lately. I’ve discovered that because I’ve been so busy, I have less time to nurture friendships as well as I’d like to. As such, I went through my list and really thought about who had my back, who inspires me and who i’d ever want in my wedding (which, I’m sure, is years away). I narrowed that down to 4 friends from all different walks of life. Two are my best friends from college and 2 are newer friends. These are the 4 people that I’ve been dedicating my time and energy to lately because they’re the people that inspire me and allow me to be myself and i know they’d have my back if I needed them – so i need to start having their back more!

    As far as social media goes, i’ve met some wonderful people – people who i’ll chat with and occasionally catch dinner or drinks with. I’ll network with these peeps and i’d most likely to go to parties/events that they host. However, they are not my core group. It is has nothing to do with me not liking them well enough. I just feel that as I get older, I need to start being more selective about who I lend my time, energy and emotion to.

    Thanks for the great post!


    • Thanks Meghan!! 😀

      *nods* I can understand that. I think having an intimate group of friends and then a bunch of acquaintances is good, especially if your interests are varied. So it’s great that you’ve narrowed it down to 4 people! I’m wondering if that’s something I could do as well. Currently, I have two people who are definitely my bestest friends ever, and who I have known for a really long time. I’m acquiring new friends and acquaintances as I go about online, but in some ways social media makes it feel like there are less boundaries – which is both positive and negative – so it can be harder to tease apart good friends and casual friends. At least for me anyway! :3

  10. Speaking of vulnerability and social media: I just joined Twitter a few days ago and I’m still wet behind the ears. I noticed a couple of well known people who I really admire had profiles and I followed them and asked them to follow me, which I hadn’t realized is not a good thing to ask of celebrities.

    Naturally I got no answers. So I felt really bummed, even though I was beginning to realize how many followers celebs have and that they don’t always do their own tweets. I know one of them DOES do his own tweets and I saw him chatting to other mere mortals in a friendly way while ignoring me, and that hurt way more than it should have. I told myself that I shouldn’t let it bother me, but this is someone I’ve looked up to for many years and it’s really hard not to let it bother me. Anyway, he still has never answered or followed (it would have been cool had he just said “sorry, I can’t”) but he still talks to other random tweeps, even ones who are not being all funny or original or anything and who aren’t his friends. And it burns me up, even though I try not to let it. I get rejected all the time in real life, but it hurts so much more online, because I put so much of myself into what I write and paint. When people reject me in real life, it’s because of my appearance and I can just tell myself they’re being shallow for confusing the nut with the shell. But when I’m rejected online, I feel like they’re rejecting the real me and that hurts so much more.

    So today something happened. Not with this person but with somebody else.

    I had asked another Person I Really Admire to follow me despite my thinking I had not a chance in the world with him…and he was not online for a few days so I forgot about it…but just now I got a message from him saying “ok” and he is following me now. So now I am afraid to tweet anything, for fear of saying something stupid.

    It’s weird how when we achieve something that is deeply desired, we don’t always enjoy it. Instead we sit there frozen in fear that we’ll lose it.

    I always thought of myself as a strong person, but I don’t know if I can deal with Twitter.

    • *nods* I’m sorry Twitter has been such a roller coaster for you! Social media can and does bring out some of our more intense and hidden fears about ourselves; and the fear of rejection is definitely one of them. Though, I experienced some of those feelings but when I’m unfollowed versus rejected for a follow. It always sucks to have someone you like follow you and then for a few days (or weeks later), they’re not following you anymore. It definitely brings up feelings of rejection and of not being worthy when it happens.

      Though, I am glad that one of your idols is following you! That’s also a good feeling.

      Yes – Twitter is very stressful and sometimes not for the faint of heart!

  11. Hmm. I’ve gone thru this two times in the past year. My best friend of 14 years made it clear to me that our friendship was not worth fighting for. Damn, that hurt. So when something similar started to occur between another friend, I knew NOT to beg for her to talk to me or work things out. I definitely miss them both, but I know sometimes friendships end and it’s okay. It hurts, but it’ll be okay. I keep telling myself “chapters end…let them end.” Doesn’t mean we can’t turn back the pages, when the time is right. Anyway, I dunno who has the power, but in my situations, I took back whatever power I lost by pursuing positive relationships and moving the hell on!

    • Yes! Moving on is really the only thing that CAN be done! Unless you want to turn into a stalker and make your ex-friend’s life miserable >:3 So congrats on choosing the saner – and less legal action inducing – path of the two! It’s always hard when friendships fall apart, or explode.

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