by Elise Seyfried
“…Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you’ve got to do is call, and I’ll be there…you’ve got a friend…”——Carole King
Check it out. I am closing in on 400, people.Facebook Friends, that is.
Now I realize that, compared to the numbers my children have racked up (986, Julie? Really?), this is chump change, but I am thrilled in a Mom sort of way. My large-ish posse is mostly comprised of people I actually do know, for one thing. Oh, there’s one guy I do NOT recall accepting a “friend” request from, but clearly I did. He has “liked” my status a couple of times, and I am eager to unfriend this “friendly” stranger. But I can’t figure out how to do that quite yet, and am too proud to ask my kids.
Anyway, my Facebook Friends and I enjoy going to the movies and shopping and on trips together, having long discussions over wine on the porch, sharing stories of our children and their antics. (Does being stopped by the police in 9th grade for walking with friends to McDonald’s at 3 a.m. count as an “antic”? Hope so!) When one of us is sick, the other is at the door and at the ready with chicken soup, People magazine and sympathy. We tell each other our deepest secrets and know they will be kept; we would trust them with our very lives.
Ohhhhh, right. They’re not those kinds of friends. My bad.
The word “friend” has undergone a sea change in recent years. Now, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, it refers to any random person in (or out of) your life who has even the most marginal connection to you. What do they really know about you? Oh, they all know your birthday. (“Have a great one!”) Your unfortunate addiction to Farmville. Your penchant for posting “hilarious” YouTube videos of babies, monkeys, baby monkeys, etc. For many in your ever-widening circle of chums, that’s about it.
But what is a friend, in the classic sense of the word?
For starters, if you have more than a handful in a lifetime, you’ve hit the jackpot. A friend is in it with you forever, whether that be a brief span or from diapers to, well, diapers. Friends eat your kitchen experiments — deflated soufflés, charcoal briquets that once were steaks — without complaint. They help you look on the bright side when the color you painted the entire house dries more SCREAMING PURPLE than Smoky Lilac. They drive you to scary doctor’s appointments and hold your hand for the test results. Real friends can speak truth to you with so much love that the truth is bearable. Friends like that are rare as black pearls, and need to be treasured as such.
We’re not all that lucky at various stages of life. As our family relocated often, I gamely tried to become part of the “gang” at Epiphany School, Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, St. Jude School and so on. In those days, as the eternal New Kid, I attracted the Mean Girls like a magnet. Peggy and Pam and Linda heaped scorn on my outfits, my hairstyle, my lisp. My Mom had similar pre-teen experiences, and so did my daughters. Ah, girlhood! Are we having fun yet?
It took three more family moves and three high schools before I found more than one lifelong friend, and a long time after that before my handful grew at all. Our wild and crazy theater years provided lots of laughs with our eccentric fellow actors, but when the show closed, so, most often, did the relationships. By and large, that was just as well. Conversations with these buddies tended to revolve around themselves to a humorous degree. (“But enough about me. What did YOU think of my performance?”)
Cliché as it sounds, having children and joining a church were the keys to developing some of my very closest friendships. These folks are my “black pearls,” and I treasure them beyond all telling.
In this world of “more” — more things, more distractions, more casual connections —friendship is an invitation to have “less.” Less stress. Less worry. Less pretending. A chance to stand before the mirror of our friend’s eyes and accept, lovingly, the person we see reflected there. Friendship is powerful, powerful stuff. Life-changing stuff.
How rich our lives can be with such companions. So let’s reclaim the word from the social network, shall we? I have 398 contacts who are on Facebook. I do not have 398 “friends” and, I’ll wager, neither do you. Let’s end this ridiculous numbers game. And when we find our true friends, then we can count ourselves among the blessed ones.
Ed. Note: Not that anyone asked me, but I can’t resist the temptation to say it anyway: I am not on Facebook and have declined countless requests to be a “Facebook Friend.” I do not care what “friends” are doing every second of the day, and if “friends” want to know what I am doing every second of the day, they should check themselves into a mental institution.