These days, I’m just not winning at friendship. I have no idea how to be a friend, keep a friend or find a friend—a true friend, that is—in a world overloaded with tweets, texts and selfies.
Sure, I’ve liked my share of photos and left plenty of well-meaning comments, thrown around an abundance of emojis and shared my fill of inspirational quotes. But, sadly, I haven’t experienced much life with friends this year; and it’s left me feeling discouraged, lonely and frustrated.
Social media certainly has its place, but without a doubt, it’s taken over our lives in ways even Mark Zuckerberg could never foresee. In our attempt to create Instagram-worthy moments, we’ve somehow forgotten to live Instagram-worthy lives. We keep our heads down, eyes glued to our phones, afraid if we don’t, we’ll miss out; when all the while (ironically) we’re missing out on the very world around us. I mean, people don’t actually go out to dinner and just talk anymore, do they?
Whether we like to admit it or not, social media, in all its forms, has taken a toll on our relationships—particularly our friendships. That’s not to say that social media is pure evil, it’s just that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the like have forever reshaped the way we relate to one another. Gradually, it seems social media has altered the DNA of friendship, and frankly, it makes me sad. In looking back at failed attempts to win friends (and keep them) over the past year, I’ve discovered six areas where social media is wreaking havoc on our friendships.
It Creates a False Sense of Intimacy
Social media makes us feel like we know people better than we really do. Let’s get one thing straight: Liking someone’s photos on Instagram does not a friendship make. Genuine relationships take time and communication—preferably face-to-face.
Lasting friendships are built on far more than a Facebook history. They’re forged in the fire of life’s peaks and valleys. They’re held together by more undocumented memories than documented ones.
While social media may help us keep up with friends—especially those who live far away—it can’t replace personal communication and shared experience. You can only intimately get to know someone through spending time with them in person, not solely online.
It Fosters Illusions of Community
Social media misleads us to believe that we have a large, built-in support system. But that support system is merely a number, not real life. While the importance of “community” is preached in churches across the nation, most of the time, we feel like we’ve aced this tenant of our faith simply because we’re constantly building a tribe of followers online.
However, on our darkest days, we quickly realize the core of our true community lies in a very few faithful friends who know us best. The only real way to foster community is to live life with people over time.
It Keeps Us From Being Fully Known
Social media puts up virtual walls. Most of the time, we don’t air our dirty laundry online for fear of what others might think. We only Instagram our best moments and tweet about the most extraordinary few minutes of our day.
We’ve all gotten really good at “spinning” the stories of our lives so that they look seemingly perfect. Yet, it’s only in our mess, in our brokenness, when we can become fully known. The friends who know us best are those who have seen us at our worst—and loved us any way. Those types of friendships are only crafted through the nitty gritty life moments that we’d all be too embarrassed to divulge on Facebook.
It Turns Us Inward
Social media keeps us living in a vacuum. The Internet is such a solitary place. We’re all there, gathered around the proverbial water cooler, but it’s mostly surface talk (and the occasional bit of juicy gossip).
We’ve become so obsessed with making sure the story we’re telling on social media looks exciting and beautiful and meaningful that we’ve failed to pay adequate attention to the stories other people are telling. It’s easy for us to be me-focused when social media forces us to play the part. How can we ever be a good friend when we have no room for another person in our carefully crafted lives?
We need to stop trying to impress our friends and start paying attention to the stories our friends are telling so we can become the kind of friend they need.
It Sets Unrealistic Expectations
Social media sets standards no human could ever achieve. I had a friend who was recently offended because I had no idea a major milestone happened in her life. “Didn’t you see it on Facebook?” she asked, obviously stunned.
There’s no need to call your best friend when you get engaged or find out you’re pregnant. After all, she’ll just find out on Facebook. But that just seems to take all of the personal beauty out of it, doesn’t it? Everything is public, and therefore, we have nothing to talk about when we do get together with friends. We’ve already “seen” it all, and you’re clearly out of the loop if you haven’t.
It Makes Us Good at Storytelling, But Not So Good at Storyliving
Social media memorializes our moments while life passes us by.
No matter how many photos we capture or clever tweets we publish, nothing can take the place of physical experience. The best applied filter can’t replace the feeling you get when you actually sink your toes into the sand or stand in awe of a setting sun. No video clip can adequately convey your favorite song performed by your favorite band in a live setting. No amount of likes can substitute for the feel of a newborn’s silky skin or the perfect fit of a strong hand in your own.
Sometimes, words and pictures just aren’t enough. Life is meant to be lived and savored. And social media keeps us from doing just that. We miss the expression on our friend’s face—the very thing they’re not telling us—because we’re so busy tinkering with our phones. We miss the magic of ordinary moments—best experienced with others.
So in a communication-weary world, what’s the answer to reclaiming authentic friendship? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but maybe the best thing you can do for your friends is turn off your phone when you’re with them, choosing instead to give them your full attention.
And the next time you reach a big milestone? Before hitting “publish” on Facebook, choose instead to call your best friend. Tell her how the big moment made you feel. Give her the gift of sharing your joy and your tears. Invite her into your story. Deliberately save some moments. Don’t publicly share every facet of your life. Instead, let’s vow to keep some things just between friends.