I spent an hour today on Facebook, doing the most unproductive Facebookish thing possible: trying to figure out who had unfriended me. Earlier this week, I had 181 friends; today, I panicked when I saw 180. I finally realized who it was, worried over what possible offenses I had committed to warrant an unfriending, and then, to my immense relief, realized that they had shut down their account. Whew. It wasn’t me.
I’ve been unfriended before. I’m fine with that, actually; people have various reasons for unfriending or friending people on Facebook, and I respect that. But it’s terribly disconcerting to see the number of friends I have go down when I want them to go up.
The odd part is that I’ve never been terribly worried about the number of friends I have, never really wanted to be popular, never wanted to be the girl with a hundred best friends. Worried about whether or not people liked me, sure. But I didn’t really care if a particular person wasn’t an actual friend as long as we remained in the friendly-but-not-friends category, and not the catfight-backstabbing relationship category.
So what’s up with my stress over Facebook numbers?
It’s like I’ve gone back to junior high school, taking Facebook with me. (That’s a scary thought!) I have an uneasy feeling that I’ve changed my definition of friends to fit the online world’s conception of friendship and lost a few brain cells in the process.
Further proof of this:
I routinely check the number of friends any potential friends have. If the person has more “friends” than I do, I’m jealous. Why does SHE have 40,000 friends? my brain whines. Why not me? What’s wrong with ME? Am I not pretty enough in my profile photo? Are my status updates not intelligent enough? Am I not rich enough or athletic enough or funny enough or—?
Hm, I think I remember feeling this way in junior high because my crush didn’t like me.
Then I check another friend’s list. Ah-ha, he only has 3.4 friends! I gloat. What a loser! I have 177.6 more friends than he does! Then I check my number of friends and plummet into the depths of despair: only 176.6 more friends. Now I’m the loser.
An update comes through my newsfeed: So-and-so is now friends with Such-and-such and 15 other people. Wait a minute, where can I get this many friends at one time? Do they sell them in bulk at Costco?
If I gain 15 more friends per day, I’ll catch up to Ms. I-Have-40,000-Friends in 7.3 years. That is, if no one unfriends me (and I’ve used my calculator correctly. My math skills have gone downhill since junior high school. My apologies to my former math teachers.)
Since when has friendship ever been a quantifiable item?
I guess part of the problem is that being a “Facebook friend” is completely different from being a “Real Life Friend.” On Facebook, it’s about connections; they should call relationships on the site connections or contacts. But I guess friended sounds better than connected or contacted. Besides, it doesn’t make sense to uncontact or disconnect someone.
I joined the Facebook community to network with other writers. Then I started getting or sending friend requests to people from school or church or wherever. They were people I actually knew, people I liked, and because I knew them offline, I got my feelings hurt when they turned down my requests or ignored me.
I forgot that ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many connections on Facebook you have: Ms. I-Have-A-Thousand-Friends may be lonely in her real life, and Mr. Three-Point-Four-Friends might have deep, meaningful relationships offline. Or vice versa.
In friendship, numbers don’t count. What does count is having that handful of friends who really matter in your life: you hug each other, cry together, celebrate successes and happy times, mourn heartaches and losses and failures, and become your journey mates in life. That’s the essence of friendship.