Reasons

Facebook is Not the Problem: Friendship in an Online World

When I'm interviewed by reporters about friendship, I'm often asked about my feelings about Facebook.  And then they seem surprised, and a little disappointed, when I simply answer, "I love Facebook as one of the tools we can use for our friendships."

Facebook Is a Tool, My Friends

I have read many others rant and decry how Facebook is ruining our relationships, but I don't agree.

Can Facebook ruin a relationship? Yes, I suppose so.  But I wouldn't say that it is the fault of Facebook, but rather the responsibility of the people who are using Facebook.  After an awkward face-to-face conversation with someone, we don't then declare that we should never meet a friend for dinner.  After a phone call ended with someone in tears, we don't then say that phones are the demise of friendships.  And the same is true of Facebook. It is a tool that we can use to maintain (or damage) our friendships.

To say that Facebook can be an amazing tool to help our friendships is not the same as saying that it's the perfect tool for every setting and situation and person.  But that's the responsibility of the people using the tool, not the fault of the tool. (see my link at the bottom for a post about some Facebook limitations.)

Facebook is Not to Blame for Your 5 Complaints Here are the five most common complaints I hear from people who have either closed down their accounts in protest or have refused to ever join:

  1. "Facebook is too shallow--everyone seems to only brag about the good in their lives or talk about inane things like what they ate for dinner."  Yes, that can be true.  But how is that different from most of life? Many family get-togethers, high school reunions, networking events, and dinner parties can fall prey to that trap as well. But those events are still valuable for other reasons. There is still a level of bonding and connection that can happen in this realm.  We may not be hearing all aspects of someone, but we're still learning about them.  We can't just refuse to engage with everyone unless it's really intimate and meaningful-- truthfully we can't maintain more than a handful of those relationships and we need more support in our lives than that.  Rather than blame Facebook for simply capturing what we do in real life, react the same way you would if you were at an event-- find a couple of people you want to get to know better and engage with them.  Comment on their photos, write them a personal message, ask them a follow-up question to their status update.
  2. "Facebook makes me feel bad about myself." No,that shows you your areas for growth.  A tool is not responsible for your feelings. Yes, Facebook may show us how many more people are having babies, retiring, going on vacation, or hanging out with friends, but the goal isn't to shut out everything that makes us feel insecure as much as it is to do the work of feeling secure and happy.  That is not Facebook's fault unless we only find our worth in comparing our lives to others.  And that is not the life we want.  We want to be people whose peace isn't dependent upon what someone else is or isn't doing. Rather than blame Facebook for making us feel bad, we can use it as gymnasium for our souls to practice cheering for others (give thumbs up, say congrats!), gather information about what we want more of in our lives, and get clear about how we can show up online and offline with more self-worth.
  3. "It's offensive to find out big news from friends through Facebook." While I do think there are some conversations and friendships where Facebook may not be the best choice of tool, I will say that when it comes to a friend announcing something-- that is her moment, not yours.  You feeling offended means you're making this about you when it's about her.  If she gets engaged and just wants to shout it on the Facebook rooftops-- then let her. Let her have her moment and express it however it feels best to her. That isn't about you or your friendship-- be very careful that you're not taking personally what isn't meant to be taken personally. Rather than blame Facebook, I'd suggest that we remember that the way we find out doesn't limit the way we respond. Be sure to comment and celebrate her when you see it on the wall-- she undoubtedly wants people to know.  But if your friendship is deeper than that, be the one who drops a card of congrats in the mail, leaves an enthusiastic voice mail telling her you can't wait to hear all the details, or shoots off an email to schedule a time to take her out and celebrate her.
  4. "I hate seeing my friends out doing things without me." Okay, I get it-- it's never fun to feel like the uninvited person or an outsider. But, again, getting off Facebook doesn't mean it won't happen, it just means you won't know about it.  And you're stronger than that. It's the meaning we give to those moments that hurt us.  If you believe your worth is in being her only friend, then we have bigger issues than Facebook. I always champion that the healthiest friendships are where both women have other friends.  It would be nice to get to a place where you could be cheering for her as she builds up her support system, and where you know you're doing the same.  Rather than blame Facebook, be appreciative that you can use Facebook to get ideas of fun things you want to invite people to do, be inspired by her making new friends, and do what you can to keep contributing to that relationship with her.  Giving her the space to make friends will benefit you in many ways down the road-- she'll demand less from you and soon enough she'll be able to introduce you to the people she's meeting.
  5. "I got my feelings hurt when she de-friended me."  The number of articles written about this just astounds me. In my opinion we are being way too dramatic about this de-friending option. If you are de-friended-- this isn't your new title, doesn't reflect your worth, nor does it speak to the future of the friendship you can still have with her. What it does say is that the two of you having something going on between you that isn't resolved and forgiven. Rather than reacting from your wounded ego, what can you do to help repair this friendship? Facebook is not to blame for our petty fights, disagreements, and frustrations with each other.  Every relationship has them whether we're on Facebook or not. Being de-friended is the equivalent of needing some space-- it doesn't need to be permanent. Much like the shutting of a door or the hanging up of a phone-- it simply says that we have work to do in this relationship.

So there you have my thoughts on this subject! (Not that you asked me! LOL!) I'm looking forward to your comments and reactions... (I think?!)  :)

And, if you're up for it, be a friend of GirlFriendCircles on Facebook.  It will keep you updated with friendship articles in the news, updates on my books, alerts to friendships events in your area, etc.  And we'll never de-friend you.  Promise.  :)

On a similar note: A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about the five best purposes of Facebook and the inherent limitations.

Why Doesn't Friendship Sell?

I just returned home from a publicity trip in New York City last week where I zig-zagged across Manhattan pitching friendship stories to any magazine editor who would listen to me. Sex Still Sells.  Even to Women.

Regardless of the fact that our circle of friends continues to rank as a bigger factor to our happiness and health than if we're married, or have kids-- you'd never know it by the headlines we seem drawn toward at the magazine rack.  Put romance or parenting on the cover of a magazine and we seem compelled to buy it. We must know more! Mention our weight and you'd think there's a secret out there we haven't yet heard.

Compare how many sex headlines there are every month (I mean, seriously, how many more techniques or positions do we possibly need?) versus the number of titles inviting you into deeper friendships. You laugh.  But, why? Why are we not drawn to headlines that would promote our sense of belonging?

Look at any women's news blog and there will be always be a tab for sex & love, usually one for family, and rarely one for friendships.

Friendship just isn't seen as urgent. Or as important.

In pitching my book proposal to publishing houses this fall, most of the rejections came in the form of "We already did a book on friendship a couple of years ago."  As though, one every couple of years is all that is needed. Compare that to the seemingly hundreds of titles that come out every year to help you find and foster your perfect love. Availability is one thing, the other is that the titles that do make it into print don't seem to impress anyone with the sales numbers. (A depressing fact to sit with as I start writing my book!)

And what about diet books? I mean, we could fill half a bookstore with books on how to lose weight! Books that arguably are just different ways of saying the same thing: Eat healthy and exercise. How many more forests do we have to tear down before we realize that the weight of our country isn't decreasing with the purchasing of these titles?

Yet never a magazine goes to print without the word fat somewhere on the cover. That very word promises money.

Why Doesn't Friendship Sell?

On the one hand, I totally get it.  My husband impacts my day-to-day life way more than any of my girlfriends. He is an incredibly important relationship for me to continue to invest in.

On the other hand, there's enough research out there that actually shows what sociologists have termed the "Marriage Benefit Imbalance."  The concept that "We have to start with the cold, ugly fact that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men," was made famous by Liz Gilbert in her book Committed.  Yes, compared to single female counterparts, married women are more likely to suffer from depression, die younger, accumulate less wealth, earn reduced pay, experience more health problems and thrive less in their careers than those who are unmarried.

For the sake of argument, let's just assume that we decide those costs are still worth it to us to feel chosen, to go through life with someone, to be married.  But wouldn't we then want to do everything we could to bring balance to that? Wouldn't we look around and say, "Okay, what is known to decrease stress, lower depression, increase joy, improve longevity, reduce disease and recovery time, and invite the most amount of joy and support into my life?"

Who doesn't want more of those things? And the research unequivocally continues to come out showcasing friendship as one of, if not the most significant factor to those things. There is no argument on this.  It's not like coffee where some research says it's good for you and others say it's not. Across the board-- your sense of community, belonging, support, and participation in friendships is making a difference.

So someone tell me why this subject doesn't sell?  I won't even ask that it sell more than romance. But why can't it be second to romance?

Why don't we pick up magazines that can teach us how to hold healthy expectations of friendships? That will explain the stages of friendship to us? Inspire us with the research that showcases the centrality of our support circle to our lives? That would encourage us, like they do with exercise, that the results take time and persistence, but are worth it in the long run?

What is your sense on this? Why don't friendship books sell the way romance, parenting, and health books sell?

  • Is it because we intuitively think we know everything there is to know about friendship, not feeling the need for knowledge like we do in the other areas of our lives?
  • Or is it that it doesn't matter what we know, perhaps we feel that friendship is something we can't control or change? As though friendship either happens to us or it doesn't, but either way, we don't need to be intentional?
  • Or is it that we simply have all the friendships we need and want?  Perhaps the research coming out that shows our depression increasing and our support circles shrinking really isn't capturing the fact that we're all surrounded by all the community we want? Perhaps you don't crave more than what you are experiencing?
  • Or is it that we're so busy feeling bad about ourselves in all those other areas (romance, weight, parenting) that we simply don't have time to add guilt to one more life area? (If this were true it would infer that we don't see how friendships might actually improve all those other areas, making us feel more supported and healthy.)
  • Or does friendship not sell because of the stigma we have around falsely linking "I need more friends" with "No one likes me, I'm  loser." Do we think by admitting that we need friends that we're somehow worse than we thought? Are we not admitting the truth to ourselves that we actually can be amazing, and still be lonely?
  • Or is it because fear sells and we haven't yet adequately convinced everyone of the real consequences of not developing meaningful friendships?  Maybe it's like sleep deprivation... something we're so used to doing without that it doesn't really feel all that important?

I'd be so curious to know from a few of you what your read on this is? Why are these books not selling? What are the magazine editors not feeling the urgency to provide teaching and inspiration on this subject? Why is this not a major sense of need in your life or the women around you? Or, conversely, because my readers are those who have decided it's important in their lives (how lucky I am to have found you!) -- what was it that finally made the difference for you?

Give me your wisdom.  Or at least your best guess!  :)