I have 987 friends. At least, that’s what my Facebook Page tells me.
I was scrolling through my list of friends the other day, and made some observations:
Some of these “friends”, I’ve met one time in my entire life. At least 5 of those friends, I’ve never actually met face-to-face. Other friends, I haven’t spoken to since high school…which was….a really long time ago. And others still I have to do a double-take to actually figure out how I even know them.
But, according to my Facebook page, these are all my “friends.”
It’s kind of funny, when you think about it, how loosely we use the word friend. Thanks to social media, a friend can be a stranger, a relative, a spouse, a lifelong pal – and everything in between.
But I find it ironic with how saturated we are with “friendships,” living in a technological age where we’re connected with the largest amount friends we’ve ever had – that so very many people are feeling extremely, and utterly alone.
As a professional counselor, and relationship blogger, I get the privilege and enormous responsibility of hearing from people across the country and world. And through the thousands of emails I receive, it’s impossible to be inattentive to the amount of people reaching out to me with feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Even in a crowd, it’s easy to be lonely, isn’t it? And sometimes, the larger the crowd of “friends” – the lonelier we can feel.
As I’ve been thinking through this dilemma recently, I realized that one of the problems is that we’ve taken the word “friend” out of context. We apply it to too many people, and too many relationships. And at the end of the day, when everyone is our “friend” – we find that we’ve lost something really significant in cultivating meaningful relationships.
At the end of the day, when everyone is our “friend” – we find that we’ve lost something really significant in cultivating meaningful relationships.
I was chatting with a young man over a Skype Session, and in our session I asked him to draw a social map. A social map is something I learned to do in graduate school, and it’s basically the idea that there are “three rings” of relationships in a person’s life.
The first circle is the “core group”. These are the people who are the closest to your heart. They’re the ones you’ve laughed with, cried with, and walked through the mountains and valleys of life with. They know everything about you, and you can trust them with the deepest and most meaningful parts of your life and heart.
The second circle, are your “level 2 friends”. These are the people who you may see and interact with on a regular basis. Maybe you’ll have coffee, or grab lunch with them. Maybe you’ll sit with them at church, or hang out to watch the game. They’re people who are in your life physically – but maybe not FULLY in your life emotionally, because there are just some things that you don’t quite feel comfortable sharing. But even so, there’s the potential there for a deeper relationship.
The third circle is what we would call your “acquaintances” or level 3 friends. These are the people who are on the peripheral of your life. You see them in passing, say hello to them at work, and chit chat with them about the weekend. You pass the time with small talk, and polite gestures. You may see them at a gathering or an event, and maybe even get together with them infrequently. But for the most part, they remain on the fringe.
So back to my session with this guy. He shared with me that he was feeling really lonely, but couldn’t understand why that was, because according to him – he was a really well-liked guy with a ton of friends.
But when I asked him to draw his social map, something really interesting came to light.
His life was packed with level 2 and 3 friends, but there was really no one he could think to put in his inner circle.
He had so many people “in his life”, but really no one in his life at all.
That’s when I realized that part of the problem with our social media society is that we have WAY TOO MANY FRIENDS, yet hardly any meaningful relationships.
He had so many people “in his life”, but really no one in his life at all.
We spend hours of our time commenting on photos, or posting Happy Birthday messages to people we hardly interact with in real life, and often fail to take the time and energy it takes to cultivate real relationships in real life.
Because you know what? Facebook relationships are EASY. They’re easy because in the world of Facebook friendships, you can give at your own time, take at your own time, and interact at your own pace. You can present yourself however you want to. You share your best recipes, your best photos, and your best moments. Not only that, but all from the comfort of your own home (or bathroom- you know you do it)! With a click of a finger, you can give affirmation. With a push of a button, you can “interact”.
And if for some reason along the path of clicking and commenting, you decide you no longer want to interact with someone, or maybe their posts start rubbing you the wrong way, with a click of a button, you can choose to ignore them or even, no longer be friends! It’s that simple.
But real life, real relationships are not so mapped out and cookie cutter. They’re messy. They’re inconvenient. They’re filled with good emotions and bad. They require time. They require energy. And they require an authentic look into the good, the bad, and the ugly of life.
They cause you to step out of your “comfort zone” and be real… be real with your heart, your imperfections, your weaknesses, and your struggles.
But in exchange for that authenticity, you gain true intimacy. And only where there is true intimacy can loneliness begin to disappear.
What if the only real cure for your loneliness is not having more friends – but having less?
You see, that’s why it’s so much easier to settle for fake relationships. That’s why it’s so much easier to invest in “clicking” rather than truly “connecting”. What if the only real cure for your loneliness is not having more friends – but having less? What if this year, you chose to invest deeply and give deliberately to the people God has placed in your life?
I remember the year I went through this transformation in my own life. The transformation of moving from more friends to less friends. I felt like I was surrounded by acquaintances, but not one friend I could really call “my own”. It’s a strange place to be. I was feeling lonely, even though I was one of the most social people in my circle.
But that was the year God asked me to concentrate and condense. To take the limited time, energy, and resources that I had, and invest myself in a few significant friendships that God had put in my life. It was time to get real. It was time to go deeper. And looking back, I will never regret it. Those friendships are some of the most significant ones I have in my life to this day!
What if this year becomes the year that you chose to commit to less friends, but in a more meaningful way? What if this is the year you decide to be real, authentic, and engaged with a few significant people in your life? What if this year you chose intimacy over convenience?
Imagine how that could impact your life. Imagine how that could deepen your relationships. Whoever you are and wherever you’re from – my prayer for you this year is that this would be the year with less friends, but in turn, far less loneliness.
This post originally appeared on True Love Dates and was republished with permission.
Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor, speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life. You may also recognize her voice from over 150 articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.