WHAT IS FRIENDSHIP?: Facebook to real, or real to FacebookHow do we in today’s fickle, shallow and mythical Internet world, with its ease of friending, liking, commenting, profiling and sharing, really know anymore what a true friend is? We flick on the computer and the first thing we do is go to our Facebook page—got to see who likes me, which of my “friends” are doing what, do I “like” what they are doing, do they have anything I can “share” with the ether, have new “friends” been recommended to me, do I have something to throw into the mystic to my “friends”? Our electronic contraptions are set to ping us when a new message has arrived, or a new comment or post or… good lord… or anything…

And the “friends”—do we actually know them, personally? Which way around does this friendship go—real life, face-to-face friends who, while separated, connect on Facebook? Or are we Facebook “friends” who may or may never meet but through online communication and perhaps real profiles believe they know each other and through years of correspondence on the faceless page have seemed to bond, sharing their deepest secrets in the knowledge that they will never meet so it doesn’t matter what they tell each other. (btw- this is one very dangerous route to travel, akin to telling strangers in the bus next to you everything you wouldn’t tell your closest friend and then seeing them a week later come out of the apartment building across the road.)

From Facebook to real life

It’s not as if we’re young anymore—both of us way past the age when “blooming” springs to mind. “Slightly wilted” and “drying on the edges” fits better. We have our separate histories, quirks and idiosyncrasies, and even some we share. That should probably be “shared.”

We met on Facebook and kept up a virtual friendship until one day we met in the same world. Real face, no book. As “good old” friends. We clicked. Visited, walked, chatted, laughed, joked, complained, opined, advised and comforted (I did the latter). Days were separately busy, but we were constantly in touch. Sometimes a wad of time would pass without contact until one of us would log in—”how’re you doing; what’re you up to?”

Living nearby, we did a lot together: drank coffee, walked streets, visited little tourist traps with ex-pat all-knowing smirks and headshakes, shopped and dropped. We even did a road trip. Downloaded music, acquired books and the days we didn’t meet we chatted on Facebook or called or text messaged. Nothing deep, nothing too intellectual—shooting the breeze describes it perfectly.

His posts became more erratic and fixated. One could have hurt someone so I sent him a message. He changed it. But then sent me a message, “I DON’T GIVE A SHIT.” I wanted to ask, “if you don’t give a shit why did you change it?” I didn’t. Sense disappears in a plume of bong smoke.

We saw less of each other, both busy, but kept in contact.

But it hit a wall. He called me one day and we talked for an hour on the phone, chatting and catching up, text messaged and got on with doing separate stuff.

I logged in to Facebook the next day and he was gone, just gone. I sent a text message asking what’s up. Silence. I called twice, he rejected the calls then sent a text “We are off FB and please stop calling me,  thank you.” I sent: “What’s up?” and received back, “That includes texting. I wish to be left alone!” I sent “What happened? There is no need to be offensive. I haven’t done anything to cause such venom.”

Silence. It’s been a while now and he’s gone… somewhere. Up in a literal puff of smoke? Moved? I don’t know. He was always free with all sorts of personal information to everyone and I once told him not to give people weapons that they could use on him. Is this what happened?

The other way round

Rewind to a distant past.

She is half my age, but together her blooming and my wilting create a wholeness. Separate histories, separate countries, separate stages of life. How we met appears surreal, and it is, the universe knowing what we both needed.

On a tuk-tuk, in a distant country, I was taken to visit an orphanage with the thought of volunteering. One look at the place and the conditions and my thought was, “There is no way.” On getting back into the tuk-tuk, the driver asked what I thought. I told him exactly. On the way there, we had chatted about what I did and what I wanted to do, and on arrival back at the guesthouse, he pulled out a business card of a woman and told me I had to contact her, saying he thought we would get along—she was a writer and journalist, but she also volunteered at the orphanage.

I was so disturbed by what I had seen I decided I needed to get out of the country and set about researching my next destination. But the card kept pulling me. After three days, I called her and the voice was almost familiar. We agreed to meet at a nearby club the next day.

From the moment we met, it was an instant rapport and through long discussions and many hours of face-to-face getting to know you, she convinced me that together we should try and do something for this particular orphanage.

Across many years, many continents, many countries, we have stuck together—often separately. We have not only shared countries and houses, we have shared tears and longings, hurts and comforts, joy and bereftness, sickness and health. We have disagreed, argued, travelled, laughed and cried. We have separated often, been together often—speaking across long distances on Skype, Facebook and email. We have even agreed to ignore each other for long stretches of time knowing that one, or both, of us needed to work something out alone and when we were ready, we would discuss it.

But there has never been a burning of bridges or a shutting of doors. We have never been hurtful to each other, never in any way done or said anything to diminish the other. Always truthful—sometimes carefully depending on the state of mind, but never harmful.  Sustaining, building each other, or being a loving crutch. Distance does not remove the support. We share the same controversial non-belief structures, the same interest in reading and writing. Although her genre belongs to a different generation, it pulls me into the now.

Years ago, knowing and trusting each other, we made an agreement: no matter where either of us are in the world, if the other is in trouble of some kind—health, mental, physical, or just plain lonely to the point of desperation, all that needs to be sent across the airwaves is the word “Help” and somehow the other will get there. And this is exactly what we have done, one of us moving and once the other is settled and the timing is correct either remaining or moving on.

*****

He was my friend. Now, across the fickle friendships provided by the Internet and Facebook, he is no longer. For my own peace of mind, I will do what he asks and let him go. I’ll always be there if he needs me, but only if he asks. Wary, but there.

Our “friendship” something ephemeral sometimes given substance across a hastily constructed bridge.

She is my friend. Years of walking, talking and working together through valleys centre-of-the-Earth deep have created an unshakeable bond. The Internet has only been a way of eliminating physical distance. If she needs me, and intuitively I know when things are awry, I’ll be there. Unconditionally there. And I know she will do the same.

Our friendship is the bridge.