Building Authentic Friendships in the Age of Social Media

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You scroll through your social media feed and you’re a bit bored and a bit depressed by what you see. The voyeuristic pastime of peering in on others’ lives may seem mildly entertaining but it’s starting to feel old. Plus, it also has a dark side.

From your convenient social media feed, it appears that everyone else is doing something more interesting than you. Without realizing it you’re left feeling mildly envious, isolated, and depressed. But without some rational thinking, you won’t realize you’re coveting make-believe. The curated images of window-dressed lives.

Social Media and Our Self Esteem

This social media mirage was one of the main reasons I took a two-year break from Facebook. Even though I was pretty content in my life and in possession of a solid self-esteem (I’d like to believe), I remember looking through these posts and feeling a creeping sense of insecurity.

  • The vacation spots I couldn’t afford looked enviably amazing.

  • The job promotions others celebrated while I felt stuck in a dead-end job.

  • The pics of the fun party I didn’t get an invite to. Hmm...

Nowadays, social media is redefining our social norms which are having an impact on our personal relationships. We’re losing the intimacy of our friendships that not so long ago were found, built and strengthened through sharing and bonding in regular in-person contact.

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Are your friends only in your phone?

Are your friends only in your phone?

Today we feel a false sense of connectedness because our measurement of friend, acquaintance, and stranger is just too nebulous. You may take some pride in a friend or follower count that is astronomical but the real questions should be—what’s it all worth?

I reflected on this when I got back on Facebook after the hiatus. I made a decision to just get real about it all. I went through my “friends” list and decided to slash and burn.

My Friend/Unfriend Criteria -

  1. Do I even know you?

  2. If I saw you in public would I one: recognize you and two: be motivated to go talk with you?

  3. Are you an interesting person that I can learn something from?

  4. Have we had some meaningful real conversations lately?

The result of this exercise reduced my friends list by about 60%. I went for quality over quantity. I found the process to be quite cathartic and I have recently discovered others are starting to make such bold social moves.

Rediscovering Authenticity in Our Relationships

Now I realize this is just me and there is absolutely no problem with having a super duper friends/followers list. I am just making the argument for more authenticity in our relationships and, in turn, our lives. Can you say that you have a small group of friends or even one friend that embraces and accepts you just as you are?

Who is your shoulder to cry on and/or champion to celebrate your successes? Who would take you to the airport, help you move, or visit you in the hospital? Whoever that is, invest in them. Truly. Give to them, show and tell them how much you care. Listen to them. Give more than you get because the laws of the universe always keep things in balance.

The most beautiful example I have ever seen was the friendship between my mother Mariellen and her best friend Helen. They met when one was selling the other her house back in the early seventies. Their friendship endured for over 45 years.

FRIENDS FOR 45 YEARS. MAREILLEN (L) HELEN (R)

FRIENDS FOR 45 YEARS. MAREILLEN (L) HELEN (R)

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Through marriages, children, retirement, and widowhood their bond remained through good times and bad. Disagreements and reconciliations. Even as my mother’s daughter I knew the bond my mother had with Helen was stronger than anything we ever shared. With Helen, my mother could be her most authentic self. I didn’t always get that.

And it was Helen who was at my mother’s bedside as she lay dying. It was Helen alone (as we both decided was most fitting) who held her hand as she drew her last breath. That was truly enduring friendship.

I cannot say I have ever had such a bond with another human being. But for anyone who does, count yourself lucky and blessed. This post, however, is not meant to have you dwell on what you may not have but instead celebrate what you do have. Or to go seek it out. I want to persuade you to recognize and invest in the real relationships in your life.

Build Your Authentic Network

Start where you are. I would venture to guess you have someone in your life who you care about and who cares about you. Maybe your relationship has grown distant over time but the mutual affections still remain. How could you deepen that relationship or friendship? Come up with a structured contact plan that may span over a few months.

Make a call...invite them for dinner...introduce them to someone you know...send them a relevant article...ask them some advice...send them a real birthday card (in the mail!).

Take the smallest of baby steps. Reach out to them with sincere intentions. Give and listen attentively without expectation and see what happens. It may be slow and it may take time but your efforts will count. To the inverse of ‘death by a thousand cuts’, it could be ‘love by a thousand gestures.’

Show Empathy and Compassion

I suggest all of this with one caveat. You cannot control how others respond to your gestures. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment if their reaction to your overture is something other than you expected. They may not be in the same place as you and the circumstances of their lives may not be fully known.

They are walking their own path and you’re walking yours. Remember this: you can only control yourself and your own reactions. In most cases, a response that does not meet your expectations has more to do with them and not you. You never really know what’s going on in someone’s life, heart, or head at any given time. Show empathy and patience.

Remember this initiative is for the long game. Relationships take time and they take effort. By approaching this with the sincerest of intentions you will see reciprocity. It may not be in the manner you expect but it will come to you as you pay it forward. As they say—To have a good friend, you need to be a good friend.

Take Action!

Decide on one or two people in your life you wish to have a deeper relationship with (assuming they are already in your life). Come up with a six-month plan on how you can invest more in that person consistently and over time. Be creative and consistent.

What are your thoughts on what makes a good friendship? Please share.

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