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Rules For Keeping Real Friendships in Facebook Age

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
 — Ralph Waldo Emerson

The teen I was talking with yesterday was perplexed. “How come I can’t keep friends?” she wanted to know. “I’m nice. I’m decent looking. I like to do stuff. Why don’t people want to hang out with me?”

“How much do you work at it?” I asked.

“What do you mean, work? I mean, friendships aren’t supposed to be hard. They’re supposed to be, like, relaxed.”

We have work to do. This young woman has over 500 friends on Facebook but has no one to go to the movies with and she really, truly doesn’t understand why. She hasn’t learned the basic fact of friendship: To make a new “friend” (especially on Facebook) is relatively easy. To keep one takes commitment.

Yes, commitment. Real friends are obligated to each other in a meaningful way. To be a friend is to accept the gift of another’s trust with the appreciation and trustworthiness such a gift deserves. It requires the willingness to devote time, energy and thought to the other person’s needs and desires as well as to our own. The reward is a rich and satisfying relationship that can last a lifetime.

To the teen, I say: “Think about it this way. You know that car your family just got? Nice, isn’t it? Well, it will only stay nice if you take care of it. That means not being too rough with it, taking care of minor problems before they become major ones and doing routine maintenance like oil changes. Right? When you do, the car is reliable and is there for you when you need it.

“Friendships are like that. You need to take care of them to keep them going. You can’t be too rough with them. You have to take care of minor problems before they balloon into major ones. You have to do routine maintenance like keeping in touch, doing thoughtful things and never taking the person for granted. When you do, the friends are reliable and you are there for each other in an important way.”

Here’s the “owner’s manual” for the care and maintenance of friendships:

Keep in contact. Good friends don’t let a lot of time slip by without connecting. Long conversations are often interspersed with quick texts, fly-by hellos, and email check-ins. Friends are woven into the fabric of our lives in a regular way. A friend wants to know about our life and wants to have opportunities to share in it when it’s possible. Yes, there are some friends who lose touch for decades and pick up right where they left off. But in the meantime, they lost all those years of each other’s company and all those opportunities to deepen the relationship.

Don’t keep score. Friends don’t worry about who made the last phone call or invitation or who gave the most expensive birthday gift. They have confidence that over the long run everything will balance out, sometimes in unexpected ways. I remember talking with a teen who wouldn’t call her friend to go to the beach because she thought it was her friend’s turn to invite her to do something nice. Please. There are lots of reasons why people legitimately can’t return a favor, an invitation, or a phone call immediately. Sometimes one friend’s life is just less complicated than the other’s. There are likely to be periods of time when one or the other has more leisure, more money, or more time. Friendship doesn’t wait for life to make everything exactly even.

Read more: Marie Hartwell-Walker ED.D, PsychCentral



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