Friends - real or virtual?
What real friendship means
An article about friends, acquaintances and virtual friends. In this article I take a look at the role of friends, the difference between friends you know and friends you make over the internet.
Since writing this I have come to realise people have wondered what I meant by 'virtual friends' - I suppose I made that up to represent friends in cyber-space, as in virtual reality. These are people you know, probably chat to online, but may not have actually met.
What makes a true friend? What happens to friends if you split from your partner? How can you tell if someone is genuine. For the answers, read on...
Photo courtesy of Tina Phillips at www.freedigitalphotos.net (http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photo... with thanks.
How many friends have you got?
If you ask someone how many friends they have they would probably reply with an unrealistic figure. Most of us are lucky to be able to count true friends on more than one hand, any more are likely to be acquaintances.
Take the likes of Facebook, Myspace and Twitter to name a few social network sites - many people establish contact with others via these and presto, they have new friends. For the younger generation it seems to be a competition as to who has the most friends on their page, for the older ones they are more sceptical, often querying a friendship request by asking, 'Do I/should I know you?' How can you be friends with someone you don't know and why would you want to share your most intimate self with a stranger?
That is what true friendship is based on; being able to share something with another person on an intimate basis. It creates a special bond that is unique between all your friends, for instance you may interact differently with friend A to friend B because of their individual personalities. You instantly know whom you can rely on in a situation because of what each friend brings to the relationship.
But friendship isn't just about being able to rely on others, it is about give and take. You must also be reliable in return and a true friend wouldn't stare at the clock when their mate is having a crisis and ask, 'Can we deal with this in the morning?' A true friend would be prepared to drop anything to help someone in their hour of need.
It takes time to establish good friendships and true friends can stay with you for life - look back to your childhood and ask yourself how many of your friends are still around? Probably not very many, if any at all, and for the ones that remain are they truly a friend or just someone you know? The same can be said for the workplace, changing from one job to another alters your social circle, people come and go.
When friends are involved with a partner it can alter the dynamics of a relationship for all parties. For instance a wife may be jealous of her husband's friendship with another woman. Similarly, a same-sex friend may feel pushed out when marriage comes into the equation. Divorce also alters the dynamics because partners have joint friends and this creates a question of loyalty. True friends would work around any changes, friends are meant to be there for each other no matter what - they just need to adjust.
Trust and understanding
Seeing eye to eye
To share your intimacies with another could not be possible without trust. Friendship is largely built upon trust. Trust is something you should give without questioning or expecting reward, but needs to be earned in return - you know when you can really trust someone, your instinct will tell you.
Real friends are honest with each other. Honesty doesn't always mean putting your friend on a pedestal, but being able to tell them directly when you disagree with something they have said or done. A real friend in return would value your honesty, even if a little shocked that you don't hold the same view. Friends keep you grounded.
Allowing your friend to hold a different opinion is healthy because it shows a greater acceptance of their differing personality. When friends fail to see eye to eye in a situation, often it marks the end of the relationship. Disagreements affect everyone at some point, but true friends are able to rise above it and simply beg to differ. This is forgiveness.
Real friends need to 'exist'
Friendship has many facets, more than are written here, and as mentioned earlier your friendship with one person would differ to that with another. Virtual friends in cyberspace cannot offer the level of understanding to one another that physical friends - people you have met with, are capable of. Save virtual friends for general chit-chat but not your greatest secrets. Providing there are good, solid foundations in a relationship such as intimacy, reliability, flexibility, trust, honesty and forgiveness, and regardless of whether you have one special friend or five really good ones, then you can expect it to last you a lifetime.