All The Things I Miss About Pre-Facebook Friendships
Here’s what I’ve learned with age, no one escapes nostalgia. If you’ve ever sneered at your elders, as they waxed poetic about the good old days, blink and before you know it, you’re one of them. As a Xennial, that newly-coined term for the micro-generation between Gen X and Millennials, I’ve spent a good chunk of my life on social media.
Still, I remember what it was like before an online profile was as much a part of our identities as a passport or social security number. While, I haven’t gone granny-gravel voice about those days before we lost our innocence, I have lamented some of what’s been lost in our rush to live our lives on these platforms. Sometimes, it feels like we have more friends but less friendship.
There is so much to value about social media. Its global reach is a technological wonder. At once, we can connect to anyone, anywhere. Our capacity to organize and rally is now beyond measure. But, in making everything so easy, we’ve perhaps dulled the tools that chisel a friendship, diluted the ingredients that make these relationships deep and meaningful.
Here’s what I miss about the good old days of friends before Facebook.
There Was More Mystery
Remember get togethers when friends would tell you about their latest vacation or some new development in their lives and you would actually be interested because you didn’t already know about it?
These days, when you see friends in person, you end up saying this a lot: 'Yeah, I saw that on your feed,' or 'Of course, you posted about that!' In sharing so much on social media, it feels like we’ve run out of things to actually talk about in real life.
Social media has almost eradicated that element that is the spice of any relationship — mystery.
In the early days of Facebook, I remember struggling with the idea of updating a status. What do you say and why would anyone care? Now, it’s almost second nature for us to live our lives according to how we might post about it.
Do we do things so we can put it on social media or do we social media because we do things? These days, it’s hard to tell. Maybe, it’s a little of both. Whatever the reason, we’ve certainly killed the mystery.
Show Me the Effort
I often measure a friendship by this principle: If I were in trouble, in the middle of nowhere, would they pick me up at 3 am?
It was a dramatic way of asking, when it matters, will they make the effort? Effort is the language of love and friendship. You can talk about your undying devotion in a million different ways but unless it’s backed by action, those words are meaningless. But, how do you show true effort when everything is so convenient?
Facebook can make friendships feel so easy, operating on a steady stream of posts and likes. While, it’s a great way to stay in touch, I miss the days when we required just a little more from our friends.
With social media, it’s often easy to forget that friendships require more nurturing and attention than the occasional “like” to a post, that sometimes we have to eschew convenience, in favor of showing that we are willing to go the extra mile to affirm our affection.
Forgive the Facebook Misunderstanding
It’s happened to all of us. We read a friend’s Facebook post and we are confused or enraged: Is this person talking about me? Does my friend actually think like that? What is this person trying to say? If they don’t engage with your page, are they just busy or giving you the silent treatment?
Misunderstandings and friendship is a tale as old as time but there’s nothing like social media to heighten the tension. Posts leave little room for tone or context. It can make caricatures out of our lives, and two-dimensions out of our thoughts. Pretty soon, we’re walking on eggshells in a room full of “friends," stepping on landmines over a silly joke or a momentary display of emotion.
Face to face, conversations are fluid and full of nuance. You can read the room and recalibrate. It’s easy to apologize and move on, after an innocent transgression. But, Facebook has added a whole new dizzying dimension to the mix.
A Mile Wide, An Inch Deep
Examine any long standing friendship, one that has lasted through decades, and you’re likely to find some common elements. They are nurtured by both parties, bonded over meaningful moments and celebrated through milestones. In short, they required a lot of effort. But, perhaps, as an unintended consequence, that effort also readily translated to love and care.
As we spend more and more time growing our friendships on social media, it feels harder to find the kind of fertile soil that feeds great relationships. How do you go the extra mile for a friend when our interactions are as easy as clicks? Is commenting on every picture the equivalent of exchanging stories over dinner? Can an emoji pass for a hard and solid shoulder to lean on?
Online and offline friendships are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But, as they both battle for our attention, it’s easy to long for a time when you only had one choice — a real friend or nothing at all.
Not Getting Roped Into Divisive Political Conversations
Social media is responsible for some of the most important and necessary political awakenings of our time. There would be no Arab Spring or #MeToo or Black Lives Matter without these powerhouse technology tools. Before we spent most of our friendships online, we could prepare for these conversations.
It’s easy enough to anticipate, depending on the guests, that certain gatherings could take a political turn. Sometimes, you had silent agreements with certain members of your family, not to talk about politics at all. But a social media platform is a tempting bully pulpit for anyone. Pretty soon, that friend or uncle that you only exchange pleasantries with is filling your feed with monologues on controversial political issues.
Yes, you can unfollow, but your blood has already started boiling before you can hit unfriend. Too often, we’re torn between making a point as dramatic as unfriending and tempering our inability to just scroll past through the problematic posts. These were not friendship problems we had before social media.
No Status Updates, No status
We’re all guilty of showing off that part of our lives we’re most proud of — vacations, celebrations, great outfits. Friendship is about being happy for one another. But, it does feel like we’ve all become hardened by the constant cascade that is the parade of our very best lives. It has become a double-edged sword, that can cut and slash our relationships.
When we’re rolling in good times, we’re often too busy curating our lives to pay any real attention to others. When we’re in a rut, we fall into that dangerous trap of scrolling in silent, sneering at every happy image we see. Social media didn’t invent envy, but it is insidious in the way it fuels it.
We often have no idea when our posts are causing people heartache or grief. As a result, we almost always spend more time navigating this tricky and treacherous space than cultivating our actual friendships.
Sure, keeping up with the Jones’ has always been a thing. But, with social media you might end up keeping up with the Smiths, the Cruzes, the Browns and just about everyone you’ve ever met in your life. It’s enough to keep you longing for the days before FOMO.
You Weren’t Privy to Every Friends’ Private Thought
As a writer and avid reader, I love stories. I love it in the form of love letters and monologues, op-eds and slice of life commentary. But, sometimes I miss the days when I didn’t have to know everyone’s stories, all of the time. Too often, social media platforms are used as de facto diaries, with little regard to acceptable boundaries between private and public.
While some displays of affection can read heartwarming, others can feel like you’ve just been "voluntold" to play voyeur. Should I really be reading this? It can change your friendship IRL, really quickly. Before social media, it was easy to assume that everyone had different layers that they didn’t always reveal. Now, it’s in plain sight online, even if they still choose to keep that side hidden during real life interactions.
It’s easy to feel conflicted. Is your friend their social medial profile or their real life personality? Perhaps, a little of both. But what if you like one and not the other? Do you remain friends? We can thank social media for zapping the ignorance and the bliss that comes with it.
To Like or Not To Like, Oh The Anxiety!
If a friend posts ten times a day, how many of them do you have to like, to keep your friendship strong? Cue the gravel granny voice: Pre-social media friendships were just simpler, its etiquette and protocols developed over many generations.
In a classic deal with the devil, we’ve activated technology’s spoils and inherited its complications. In choosing to live our lives online, we’ve also inadvertently agreed to the gargantuan task of writing a new set of social rules. No pressure. It all seems simple until you find yourself in front of a friend’s post that makes you feel uncomfortable or angry.
There are so many options. You can ignore, dislike, comment, private message or feign approval. Be careful with your nonchalance. To choose the wrong one could cost you a friend.
It was so much easier when all you had to was buy a friend a drink to make them feel loved and appreciated.
Your Love Life, Not Mine
I’ve done it. We all have. The anniversary poem. The Valentine’s Day love declaration. The online PDAs. Gone are the days when a couple’s love story remained a tale between two people.
These days, we’re all the unwitting audience to our friends’ love lives blossoming, breaking down and maturing. Social media has a way of making us feel like we’re constantly sitting beside that TMI couple friend we all seem to have. And sometimes, that couple is us.
The allure of sharing our private lives on these platforms is so strong, they become extensions of even the most private parts of our relationships. It’s easy to miss the days when such personal topics were reserved for long and intimate conversations, between close friends.
Now, you can have the most casual of acquaintances and still know every detail about their romantic dalliances, right down to what they write on each other’s birthday cards.
No Absence, No Fondness
These days, you can go years without seeing someone and still never miss them. We are ever present in each other’s lives, thanks to social media.
The ache of longing for someone, deepens how we feel about them. Absence recharges our interactions, even brings back the spark that comes with all new relationships. Social media has created its own kind of monotony, one that’s so saturated with every moment of our lives, they blur from one to the other.
As the audience to this merry-go-round of daily living, we may end up needing a break from our friends despite hardly ever actually seeing them.
A Life Less Branded
It’s only human to adapt and evolve. Likely, our social media pages are glossier than they’ve ever been because we just learned to take better pictures, tailor more popular posts and carve out our niches. To some degree, we’ve all become good at branding, more sophisticated and less homemade.
But, there is reason why mom’s cooking almost always taste better than any meal at a fancy restaurant. It’s simple and warm, not cloying. I challenge you to go back to your first year on any social media platform. Your posts were probably less calculated and strategic. One of my early posts, read something like: "have a head cold, think I’ll lie down."
People actually posted in the comments section: "are you ok? Need something, I can come by." The platform acting as it was originally designed to do, give people another kind of watercooler to gather around.
I can’t imagine, such a thing would really happen now. On the one hand, we know better than to appear mundane, on the other we’ve also become savvy enough to use our platforms as an extension of our resume, our products, our livelihoods. This might be good for our brands, but who wants to constantly be in a friendship with a sales pitch?
So Many Friends, So Little Time
A recent survey showed that Facebook users have an average of 338 friends. When’s the last time you threw a backyard BBQ with that many people? Unless you’re a celebrity host, probably never.
With social media, it feels like we cast a wide net, catching friends everywhere. We’re so quick to friend anyone with even a slight connection to our lives. Pretty soon, it feels like we are entertaining daily, juggling different social circles through an endless parade of watercooler conversations.
The social pressure to amass online friends and keep them engaged is so intense, managing your social media profile can feel like a second job. This anxiety did not exist pre-Facebook, when you all your friends could fit in your backyard for a BBQ.
Easy Come, Easy Go
No doubt, we’ve all had friendships go through the ups and downs of life. Often, weathering these rough patches can fortify a relationship.
Before unfriending existed, there was more motivation to work through our differences. When your friends don’t exist in the ether, it’s a little harder to turn your back on them.
Social media’s construct makes relationships feel disposable, as easy to acquire as it is to discard. As we form habits that are getting harder to break, will social media stunt our ability to carry our friendships over the roadblocks of life? As platforms like Facebook enter their second decade, it’ll be interesting to observe how we all define what makes a long and lasting friendship.
Welcome To My Entire Life
The advantage of not being a digital native is having that experience that’s become a little too rare in our modern age — the undocumented moment.
Pre-Facebook, your friends didn’t have access to a record of everything you’ve ever liked, done or said. It was easier to let embarrassing life stages live in the past, romanticized by memory alone.
Instead, we must now contend with our choice to lay our lives bare, for all to see, all the time. Having friends in the Facebook age means, you can never truly start from scratch.
It’s now almost impossible to meet someone without already knowing too much about them. In fact, is there a more modern worry than the paranoia of being Googled and researched? Take me back to the days when you could walk out into the world, without your entire life virtually hovering around you.