I’m not a good friend.
There’s no excuse. No matter how realistic or valid it may sound, friendship is a two-way road that involves nearly constant effort and upkeep, and that’s where I (and many others, I assume) fall short. Of course life’s friendships move in waves, but the lifelong friendships survive despite distance and time because of the continued effort by both friends. Only recently I’ve realized that I haven’t been keeping up with my end of the deal. I’ll try to explain why while trying not to justify.
I’m a relatively solitary guy. If you know me personally, I’m quite sociable, in the same manner your kitten is when you arrive home after a long day at work. The existence of someone else in the room overexcites you to a point of gushiness. And over the past 18 months, I have lived in five very different places. San Francisco, San Jose, Lake Tahoe, Ojai, and Portland. Many of these places, I lived by myself. I ate by myself. I slept by myself. While living in Tahoe, I would find myself walking to the nearest 7-11 just to speak to another human being, but I couldn’t buy much because I’ve also always been on the precipice of poverty. Okay, not that bad, but “vacation travel,” as a concept, has been unattainable for me for years now. I lead a pretty streamlined existence.
So I found solace in social media, particularly Facebook. While living in these lonely places, I was still able to see the going-ons of my friends and family as they lived seemingly fuller lives than mine. I would spend hours on Facebook perusing my friends pages, not in a creepy way, but appreciating the life experiences of people I felt were my friends. And truth be told, if you’re someone I care about, chances are I’ve “liked” and “commented” on a shit ton of your pictures. (Go ahead, look).
I couldn’t be at your wedding this past fall, but I saw it from 50 people’s perspectives. I wasn’t at your baby shower, but I know your daughter is going to have plenty of diapers. I’m sorry for your loss, that video was truly touching. The major life events that are shared with your friends. Your real friends in particular.
Where was I? Here. “Liking” your pictures and status updates.
But clicks aren’t the same as texts. Wall posts aren’t the same as phone calls. One is digital, the other is actual. Friendships require a commitment greater than “a social presence” in someone’s life, because the best moments in life are had with your friends, not appreciated by them after the fact.
In my egocentric world of solitary and transient living, I wrongly believed that by digitally appreciating your life’s experiences, I was doing my part in maintaining our friendship. I couldn’t be there in person, but I was studying up on my part of the deal. But that’s not good enough. Not only do my friends not have the time to scan Facebook like I do, but I realized that over the past 18 months, I hadn’t been sharing much of my life on social media because, quite honestly, there wasn’t much to share. This two-way road of friendship had slowly changed into a digital footpath. How sad.
One of the reasons that I can live in these different places is because I create art. Over here I write. There I paint. Up here, I’m designing. Some projects are paid for, others are self-funded. Still others are crowdsourced. I’ve had three projects crowdfunded over the past few years, two independent films and currently Dinner’s Ready!
In doing my part and promoting the crowdsourcing campaign, I’m reaching out to my friends and family about donating to my latest project. Instantly, my family and closest friends would contribute, but even that number dwindled by the third campaign. I didn’t get it. Everyone I chatted with about it was totally jazzed at the idea, but nobody’s really backed the project yet. Surely everybody can’t be full of shit, can they?
Of course not. The more I thought about why people weren’t backing my project, the more I realized it wasn’t the project, it was me. I was talking to them with a warped sense of intimacy. Again, not in the creepy way, but in there being an imbalance of knowledge. They didn’t know how much I knew about their life. I didn’t know how much they knew about mine.
In this moment, I’m simply a random guy from their past, popping up, asking for money.
It didn’t matter I saw every picture of their beautiful wedding. I wasn’t there. I didn’t touch the floor on “a little bit softer now.” I didn’t taste the cake or smoke a cigar with the boys. In fact, I probably wasn’t invited because chances are I wasn’t able to go anyway. Life has pulled apart some of my closest friendships to a point of unfamiliarity. We’re “friends” on Facebook, but now virtually strangers in the same room.
I feel guilty about it. I feel so much guilt, in fact, that at times I shy away from interacting with my real friends in fear that I’ll be reprimanded for not being a better friend, or I’ll be brought to the table for any of the other regrettable things of my past. If that isn’t a snake eating it’s tail, I don’t know what is. I’ve ignored calls from my friends and deferred to sending them a text message instead. Now I’m hiding behind technology while still trying to maintain a solid friendship. Coward.
Needless to say, it’s not working. I’m not a good friend.
So I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m gonna try harder to be a good friend. This has nothing to do with podcasts, crowdsourcing campaigns, Instagram followers or blog hits. This has everything to do with redefining my priority list and the areas of life that deserve my focus and attention. Maintaining my friendships, and re-establishing my lost friendships, are definitely near the top of my list as my 30th birthday creeps closer every day.
What about you? Take a look at your Top 10 Facebook friends. When is the last time you called them on the phone? When was the last time you went out and got a burger together? Pick up your phone and call one of them. Right now. I assure you, you won’t regret it.
And if you see me calling, please pick up?