Tara Tiger Brown

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just prowling around

Friend?

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching for the better part of this year trying to figure out who my friends are. Hell, even the definition of a friend is a mystery to me. As I was going through a lot of changes this year I relied on a lot on people, and in some cases, it was clear as mud who stuck with me, and in other cases, not so much.

I started to realize that I categorize friends based on a few variables.  Tonite I am staying in and finally writing my thoughts down after some recent events caused me frustration and disappointment and unfortunately, insecurity.  Writing is therapy and I think this will help me to feel “OK” again by figuring out my philosophy on friends and then just moving on.

These are some of the questions that have been raised in my mind:

  • Types of Friends: How do I categorize the people I know?
  • Frequency of Communication: How often do you need to communicate with someone to categorize them as a friend?
  • Types of Communication: What kind of communication is necessary? Is there some sort of subject matter that differentiates between friend, acquaintance, co-worker…?
  • Twitter Follows: Do we need to follow each other on Twitter to consider us friends?

Types of Friends
Childhood friends – I have friends that I have known for almost 30 years. These are people that I can call up or email and its like time never passed. People that I care deeply about and I know that despite a lag of even a year, think about me and send me good vibes. When I am 100, they will also remain in the category of “friend.” Co-worker turned friend –  I have friends that I met through work and ended up going for lunch with, team activities, after work drinks, etc. We became comrades against “the man” and they will always remain my friends. Facebook (FB) friends – Most of my friends on FB that comment on my status are my childhood or work friends. Interestingly enough, on average, they are not Twitter users. Online Friends –  These are people that I haven’t met In Real Life (IRL). We comment on each other’s Twitter messages, Flickr pics, Brightkite updates, etc. Most of these people I consider friends and I would love to meet in person. tokidoki Friends – These are friends that I see at parties, drink with, laugh with, have brief conversations with and nothing too deep. Friends I hang out with – Most of the friends I hang out with I haven’t known for very long. There are a few in San Francisco that I have known since 2000 and I would consider them my close friends because we stayed in touch when I moved up to Seattle for 4 years. There are very few friends that I have known since only this year that I hang out with that I would consider close friends.

Frequency of Communication
This is something that is important to me when it is coupled with the type of friend=”Friends I hang out with.” I can count on one hand the number of people that I regularly IM and text with who I also hang out with. If I am constantly the one that is pinging a friend, then after awhile I start to wonder why I am making the effort and if in fact they actually ever think to talk to me. My fuse on this is pretty long, but it is something at the back of my mind.

Types of Communication
If I trust you enough to share something with you that puts me in a vulnerable position.  i.e. it can hurt my reputation or can be used to hurt me then you are most definitely considered a close friend. If feel at ease discussing the interesting but more importantly the mundane and you don’t get bored with me, you are my friend. If I can call you, IM you, text you, or whatever communication medium at any time of day and you don’t hate me for it, then we are friends. Now that everyone is “public” with social networking profiles, it is very easy to defame someone. So if someone, purposefully attacks me publicly in order to cause me discomfort in some misconstrued retaliation attempt, they are no longer my friend. Period.

Twitter Follows
This topic has been plaguing me quite a bit since someone that I considered a friend stopped following me. I’m not someone that tells someone to follow me unless it seems appropriate to share Twitter names. I don’t want to put someone in an awkward position and I don’t want to be put in an awkward position.
So the idea of confronting them on this topic is just not something I can do.  I got advice from a few people that I think of as wise old Internet owls and they told me that Twitter following should not be included in the definition of friend. Its a very young medium and the social do’s and don’ts haven’t been worked out yet.
I’m not going to lie; even with this sage advice, it still hurt my feelings. Imagine going to Direct Message (DM) someone as if it was an email and finding out you can’t. Yes, I realize that I should just confront this person and ask why, but I feel like an idiot doing it.

In order to live the advice I have been given, I have come up with my own algorithm for following people. I only follow people that I have physically met in person (even if I had to wait in line for 2 hours to meet them :D), with a couple of exceptions: I follow some businesses because their tweets I find of value. I follow a couple of people that I have never met but who I @ reply with a lot, or are good friends with my husband and I know I am going to meet any day now.

If I stop following someone its because we don’t see each other very often, the tweet subject matter is irrelevant to me (e.g. some people tweet a lot about coding standards and this is not very interesting to me), or we don’t DM or @ reply each other. There are some people that I keep up with by reviewing a webpage of their tweets. Some people I follow for awhile and then unfollow for some of the reasons mentioned.

I don’t have all the answers yet. I supposed I could write up a flow chart and plug people’s names in and the results would spit out my friends all nicely categorized, but unfortunately emotions aren’t something that a chart can interpret.

The net net of my learnings so far: Friends may be categorized as something one week and something else the next. All you can really do is be aware of how you feel when you are hanging out with people.  Treat people that you consider friends the way that you want to be treated. If there is something bothering you, speak up about it. It’s OK if someone moves from “friend I hang out with” to acquaintenance if you are exerting more effort than the value you are receiving in return. In other words, if you feel bad every time you hang out with someone or interact with them, they aren’t your friend.  Communication tools like Twitter and IM should not define whether someone is your friend. A combination of type of friend, frequency of communication and types of communication should determine that.  Most importantly, be a good
friend to yourself. You need to like yourself and want to be with yourself before you can be a good friend to anyone else.

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8 Responses

  1. hillary hartley says:

    hey tara. i’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, too… i don’t have any sage words of wisdom, but i do have some twitter advice.

    if someone is not following you who you used to DM with regularly, you should most definitely shoot them an email. twitter’s database fails from time to time (imagine that). i have been on both ends, and was glad when someone emailed me to say hey wtf? 🙂

  2. Erica says:

    Strange, I was just thinking about this and decided to stay in to figure it out. I’m a bit stuck though. Nice to see your insight.

    And, for the record, I would love to meet you (sooner rather than later!).

  3. Eran says:

    Communication tools like Twitter and IM should not define whether someone is your friend

    So true! Social networking tools totally killed the word “friend” for us. twitter makes things even more complex for me because the most useful way for me to use twitter is very invasive (growl-style pop-ups). I end up in uncomfortable situations when actual close friends start twittering like mad and I’ve no idea what to do about it…

  4. sean says:

    “These are people that I can call up or email and its like time never passed. People that I care deeply about and I know that despite a lag of even a year, think about me and send me good vibes.”

    I think those are the truest and purest forms of friends. They’ve known you for ever, seen you through ups and downs, and still are totally there for you if and when needed, and they know you are for them too.

    I look forward to meeting those folks in your life, and can’t wait to introduce you to mine.

  5. Brynn Evans says:

    I enjoyed reading this! I’ve thought a lot about what a friend is too, but I think it’s natural for there to be many different kinds of friends in different contexts. In the online world, why would this be any different? I have “friends” I like interacting with on Twitter or FB, but I don’t really get along with them much face-to-face!

    Maybe the more important question is deciding where you spend your time, since the underlying point seems to be that you don’t want to socialize with folks (in some medium) just because you have or you feel social pressure to. I re-evaluate like this from time to time–and “purge” “friendships”– and like Sean said, your true friends will always be there for you, they’ll survive the purges 🙂

  6. Burns! says:

    This reminded me of something my pal John Scalzi wrote a few years ago. Don’t know if it’ll speak to you, but… http://scalzi.com/whatever/003083.html

  7. Clintus says:

    This is such an awesome post. I beat myself up about this sort of thing all the time; especially the twitter following thing. I’m in the same boat about friends who stop following. I have in particular who I still converse with off and on and yet she doesn’t follow me on twitter. I want to ask why but as Sean once told me, it shouldn’t matter, everyone uses twitter their own way.

    I like your categories. They hit home for sure. I have a small group of high school friends that my wife and I still hang out with but other than the two or three times we see each other we never talk. I know more about my friends in other states that I see only once a year than the ones I see weekly. Sad but true.

  8. […] that I used to interact with when I first started using Twitter.  Unfortunately, I made some decisions around who to follow and not follow to make it easier to keep up with friends and I decided to eliminate people that I have never met […]

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