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The Friends You Need

standard May 22, 2017 Leave a response

When I first moved to the United States I was 7. For the first 6 months I barely spoke a word of English, was baffled by how school worked, and had no clue at all about to communicate with the kids in my class, let alone actually make friends with any of them.

Not a problem.

The kids in the class did the math, realized that I was rounding out what had previously been an odd number of girls and promptly assigned me to be Heather’s best friend. At least I think her name was Heather. It could have been Prudence. Or Phoebe. I don’t actually have the faintest recollection of her name.

Heather (let’s just go with that, shall we?) and I had nothing in common. Or maybe we just couldn’t communicate and so were never even able to discern if we had some common ground. Whatever the reason, we really didn’t gel. The girls took terrible offense at this and spent the rest of the year making fun of me for every little thing I did.

So I became friends with Simon, the other class outcast, who spent all his recesses trying to dig a hole under the playground fence. Presumably to escape. I liked him. He had zero expectations of me beyond handing him new sticks when the one he was using to dig broke.

I only stayed at that school one year. Could be because the girls made me cry daily  or because my parents write essay service didn’t think much of the teacher, it’s unclear. I didn’t care, I was 8 and delighted to get away.

Oddly enough, I took away with me a deep rooted belief that you need to have a best friend to get ahead in life.

Which is especially funny because I’m not a one-friend kind of gal. Never have been. I’m more the kind of person who will have a number of ride-or-die friends to whom I’m wholeheartedly devoted.

  • I have the girl friends that I go out with at least once a week to bitch and laugh about the minutia of mundane life.
  • I have the friends I like to connect with to talk about books and our big picture philosophical take on life.
  • I have the friend who started as a work-buddy and turned into a I’ll-always-have-your-back-no matter-what real life friend who I happen to work with still.
  • I have the friends I used to work for/with whose friendships transcends distance of every kind.
  • I have my blog buddies who, over time went from being virtual pals to real flesh and blood I’d fly to the ends of the world to be with you if you needed me friends

It’s not one best friend. It’s a posse of people I would literally drop everything to help should they ever need it. It’s a support network of angels who would totally do, and have done, the same for me.

Those girls at that school had it all wrong and I’m glad that over the years I’ve finally understood that they were utterly wrong about their small minded approach to friendship. You don’t need one friend to get ahead in life. You need to surround yourself by people who truly see you and love you for who you are, even if they only see and love one aspect of the whole you.  Recognizing that is how I have woven myself the kind of relationships that complete me in every way.

Only you can define the friends you need. Not family, society, or that brat in 2nd grade.

2nd grade class. Photo blurred to protect the innocent from facial recognition software. Except for mine. Because I was totes cute.

Is Facebook the Reason We’re Lonely?

standard March 4, 2014 Leave a response

Since I wrote last week’s post about people opting to leave Facebook I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about Facebook and friendships in general. I had a cold and spent a couple days on the couch so I had lots of time to spend pondering relationships and how Facebook has affected them.

Granted, I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but after all of my musings I’m left with one major question. One I have a sneaky suspicion I know the answer to.

Is Facebook the reason we’re lonely?

As of today I have some 900 people I’m “friends” with on Facebook. Another 200 or so “follow” me, which is to say they asked to be my friend at some point and for some reason or another (valid, I’m sure) I didn’t accept their friend request.

Now, I know a lot of people in real life. Sometimes running to the grocery store can take an extra half hour because I seem to always run into an acquaintance or two. I’m a gregarious person. It’s in my nature to connect with people.

That said, my Facebook numbers have more to do with the fact that I originally bowed to the pressure to join so I could build my online platform through which I would eventually be promoting my novels rather than from a desire to be able to connect online with a zillion of my closest and not so closest friends.

I spend an hour or more every day on Facebook. I read articles that people share. It’s where I get my news. I have conversations with friends, some serious debates, some frivolous chats about inconsequential issues. I have conversations in networking groups. It’s how I keep my finger on the pulse of the social media networking world, the writing world, and yes, my friends’ worlds.

When I shut down Facebook and move on to the next stage of my working day, I feel like I’ve checked in on my friends. I know that some are having a rough day, some are having a good day, and some are having their ritual cup of morning coffee. I can get on with my day with the feeling like I know how my peeps are doing.

But do I really?

I mean seriously. If you’re having a frustrating day because your car won’t start and your kid spilled his $5 hot cocoa on your brand new yoga pants, I’ll know about it and will have commiserated, but what if you’re really struggling? What if you woke up and the weight of the world seems heavier than usual? What if your morning cup of tea just isn’t enough to make the world seem alright again?

What then?

Because that stuff isn’t the stuff people are sharing.

So there I am, I’ve “seen” that maybe 0.05% of my 900 “friends” are online and chatting and it makes it seem like everything is fine with everyone. And it won’t be until two weeks have gone by that I’ll think “Hey, so and so hasn’t posted anything for a while.” A quick check of their Facebook Wall (to see if Facebook isn’t playing a trick on me) reveals that the friend really hasn’t posted anything in two weeks and that’s when I realized that just maybe not everything is right in the world.

I work from home. Day in and day out (except for the seemingly ever-present school vacations and teacher in-service days) I’m alone with the dog. And, I gotta tell you, I’m lonely. It’s hard being alone with my thoughts all the time. Until this very introspective week, I thought that it was silly for me to feel lonely because all my friends — the “real” and the virtual, the close and the not so close, the local and the not so local — they’re right here at my finger tips. I’m never really alone. I have 900 friends ready to chat with me at a moment’s notice.

But I’ve been lying to myself. I think many of us have. I think that Facebook gives us a false sense of connection and friendship. I might know how that one friend was dressed when she went out to have lunch with her high school posse, but I haven’t talked to her in weeks so I don’t know how she felt about going to that lunch, or how she feels about anything else going on in her life. I know that that other friend’s son had a fever last week, but I don’t know how the transition to his new school has gone, or how she’s doing with the changes in their lives. I never feel like I need to call anyone, or email anyone, because, hey, I checked in on Facebook and they looked fine!

Well, here’s my revelation for the year. I miss those deeper conversations. I miss knowing more. And no, I don’t need to get emails from those 900 people, because frankly, I’m not that close, nor have ever been that close, to most of those people. But my friends? My true friends? I miss them. I think that these superficial conversations and check-ins which give me that false feeling of having connected with people are the reason I feel lonely and dissatisfied as I sit here at my desk. Because I’m sure that every single friend I think I’ve touched base with feels the same way about me. And really, nobody knows how I’m really doing over here.

I think that next time I think “Hey! I haven’t seen any updates from that person in a while!” I’ll send an email instead of popping over to their Facebook wall. I’ll ask for a real update. Maybe for a coffee date. So that we can really catch up. Really connect.

Maybe after a few such interactions I won’t feel so lonely and disconnected any more.

One can only hope.

What will we do after Facebook?

standard February 27, 2014 3 responses

Any long time reader of this blog will remember that I came to Facebook kicking, screaming, and dragging my heels all the way. I wanted to believe that Twitter would be the winning social network and had some serious trust issue with the big blue thumbs up.

Clearly, as the friends who have renamed it the JessicaBook will tell you, I’ve adapted.

I finally joined because I had to. From a social media marketer perspective, I couldn’t realistically do my job well without being active on the number one social media platform. And, bit by bit, I started using the site more and more.

You see, it became fun.

It became fun because my friends in England, Australia, Iraq, France, Nova Scottia, and other far flung places were sharing photos of their kids, kids I’m likely to never meet, kids I’m only ever going to see through these photos. They’re sharing tidbits of their lives with the world, with me. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter that my friend in Germany had eggs for breakfast, but for that split second it made me feel close to her, made me forget that I haven’t seen her in 15 years and probably won’t be seeing her any time soon.

It became fun because more and more of my American friends were joining. Blogging friends I only ever get to see at conferences. Writer friends who live in towns I’ve never even heard of. All of them, right there, in my computer. Sharing encouragement, stories about their days, highs and lows about working in our field.

It became fun because even my local friends were logging in. I know that I can walk up the street to see how my friend and her new baby are faring today, but how much more fun is it for me to see that she’s having a bad day so I can pop over with a comforting latte?

What was once a chore has become a lifeline of sorts. When I feel lonely sitting at my desk, I just have to open up a browser window and I have friends to talk to. When I’m struggling with something, I just have to share and soon enough I have lots of helpful (or not so helpful) advice. When friends inform me that they’re moving, my soul feel a hair less crushed than usual. They may be leaving, but I’ll still be able to “see” their kids grow, still be able to have them in my life.

Or will I?

More and more of my close friends have decided that they need time away from Facebook. They’ve recognized that, beyond being just a fun distraction, a quick way to check in with friends and family, it’s become an obsession, one that’s taking them away from their families and their face to face friends. And they’re stepping away. Deleting the app from their phones. Only checking in once a week or less.

A few years ago people were declaring a “time out” from Facebook, leaving for a couple days, and then coming back, lured back in a very tangible “Fear of Missing Out.” These days, people are saying they’re taking a quick break, walking away, and… not coming back.

I’m seeing the trend grow. It’s starting among the less tech savvy of my friends. Those for whom a cold turkey break hurts for a few days and then is easily replaced with something more wholesome. But I’m sure it’ll keep growing. I can easily imaging a time in the not so distant future when the only people who will remain are the lonely marketers like myself who will be struggling to figure out how to operate in a post Facebook world where paid marketing no longer has the reach it used to command and free marketing seems to be failing.

Soon enough, much like Twitter, Facebook will be a marketing wasteland.

And what then?

How did we keep up to date with our friends before Facebook?

Will we go back to writing letters? Emails? Sharing photos on Flickr?

Will I have to hope that the Europeans catch up and start sending photo holiday cards so that I can “see” my friends’ kids at least once a year?

Will we go back to the way things were BF (Before Facebook) or will we head off in a totally uncharted direction?

Will we have to go back to signing up to receive blog updates via email? Or keep links in bookmarks and remember to go check daily for new posts?

GASP, will people actually start commenting on blogs again?

One thing’s for sure. I doubt anyone at Starbucks wants me to stand around randomly saying things that pop through my head just to see if someone will be interested enough to reply. The JessicaBook is going to have to go back to living inside my head.

From Doctor Who to Bruno Bettelheim

standard September 13, 2012 Leave a response

You know how your children always go back to reading the same books over and over again? How they love to see the same tv shows even though they’ve already seen each episode a million times and can recite the plot to each and every one?

Well, there’s a reason for that.

Bruno Bettelheim, renowned child psychologist (sadly better known for his devastatingly erroneous work on children with autism, but brilliant nonetheless) did amazing work on the subject of fairy tales and how children, without being aware that they are doing so, see something in certain stories that address deep rooted issues they need to process. They read the story ad-nauseum until the issue has been processed and then they move on.

I’ve been wondering this week about what has caused me to become so utterly obsessed with Doctor Who (Why yes, this is another post about Doctor Who. I am a geek. Deal with it.) and I think I’ve finally figured it out. It’s very Bettelheim-ian in nature.

Not to oversimplify a brilliantly complex and entertaining show that has been running for almost 50 years, but, in short, Doctor Who is the story of a man, a Time Lord, who is essentially, more or less, immortal. (A million Whovian hearts just stopped over the gross over simplification of the actual situation. My sincere appologies.) He travels through space and time and usually takes along a human companion or two.

Here’s the important part. Human companions. Time Lord who doesn’t die or age. The two aren’t exactly a recipe for long lasting relationships. Add to that the fact that he’s the only Time Lord left, that every other one is gone and basically you have the makings for a lot of sad, painful goodbyes.

He’s a lonely traveler who wanders around, making friends, dropping them off, saying goodbye, and moving on. He’s currently around 913 years old. That’s a lot of friends who’ve come and gone.

OK. Are you seeing where I’m going here? Or do I need to draw a clearer picture?

Fine. Let me get my markers.

The Doctor keeps saying goodbye to friends. I keep saying goodbye to friends… Are we seeing the parallel yet? Are we seeing the Bettelheim-ian draw here?

I have, over the course of the last few weeks, watched almost 6 seasons of Doctor Who episodes. I have cried over and over again as he has to say goodbye and move on. I have struggled to appreciate the new companions, have fought to not get attached, because, much like the Doctor, I knew they were going to be short-lived.

And yet, time and time again, I’ve been unable to resist.

I think I kept watching because there was that last layer of turmoil that I needed to process.

The Doctor, he welcomes people into his life, he loves them, he embraces everything about them, then he lets them go and gets on with his life. He finds other companions, he finds other friends. Except for a few momentous times he doesn’t really mope or lament. He moves on.

I, on the other hand, have been feeling guilty about moving on with my life, about going out with other friends, about going to my Mother’s Group, about being happy. That guilt has been keeping me trapped.

I know that Doctor Who is nothing more than a great scifi fairy tale, but I’m rather grateful that it’s helping me process this latest loss of mine and helping me see that it’s ok to go on living my life without the friends who have moved away and that it’s ok to do so with a smile and my old bounce in my step.