Remember back in Kindergarten? School was the first place where you were on an equal level with everyone. In Kindergarten, everyone started out being friends with everyone else.
Then, as we grew older, we learn the hard way that not everyone is our friend.
Some people were obvious about it. It hurt at the time, but looking back, the people who were overt about their dislike of us were the most honest. They told us point blank they didn’t like us. They didn’t try to be nice. They didn’t feign any social grace. It was clear.
Some people were grateful to show us how much they did like us. They were always with us, we were always with them. We liked the same things, we had no problem going to their house, they had no problem going to ours. These friends were longtime friends – a friendship that could only be broken if something really bad happened, like betrayal. If they moved away, you tried your best to stay in touch, and you probably ended up finding them again on Facebook, picking up where you left off when you were kids.
Then there were those people in the middle. The ones you would like at school but not outside of school. Or vice versa – the ones you couldn’t talk to at school but were friends with once you left the property. These are the 'friends' that probably ended up in your “whatever happened to…” pile.
In person, friendship is earned and maintained accordingly. Giving someone your friendship, or them giving it to you, is a mark of respect. You’ve looked that person in the eye, you know where they live, you know where they work, and you possibly know what they look like puking in a public washroom. But you know these people, inside and out, because you have chosen to give each other your friendship, which is an honourable mutual bequeathal.
Social media has modified this concept of friendship. You don’t have to meet someone face-to-face in order to be their friend anymore. You sign into your social media platform, and you're in Kindergarten once again. You find yourself in a group of people sharing one or more common interests, and everyone is your friend. From there, you discover people who dislike you, or people who only want to talk to you in the context of the group, or people who you hit it off with well and start to contact them via DM, Skype, or IM. You get to know each other and realize that this person is a decent and cool human being. You’ve found a new friend.
But sometimes toxicity that rarely comes out in person emerges freely from behind the keyboard.
Social media friendships have allowed people to say and do things to people they call “friends” online that, were these same things attempted in person, would result in anything from a cold shoulder and a drink in the face to a restraining order.
First there are the group of ‘friends’ who only want to hear about your good news. They don’t want to know about your bad news. They will block you if you complain about your life “too much” – though they never do tell you how much is too much. While it’s admirable for people to want to maintain their positivity, the only way to appreciate the good in your life is by enduring the struggle of those things that can often be negative, and not allowing the disappointment and destructive feelings that accompany them to overtake you. And sometimes you just need to know you’re not the only person who prefers poofy cheesies to crunchy cheesies.
Then there are the group of ‘friends’ who leech onto your negativity. If you are having a sad day, they are there with the “I hear u” and “OMG so am I”; if you’re complaining about your latest breakup, they inundate you with “here 4 u with #cookiedoughicecream” and lend you their ears for you to vent and cry to, seemingly encouraging of your expression of pain when all they are doing is feasting upon your low points, because it makes them feel superior or justified about the ills in their lives that they refuse to change. The second you start to feel better or indicate a brighter outlook for your life, they do one of two things – they stop talking to you (until you go through another bad spell) or they gaslight you into believing you are in denial about your actual state of mind. Sometimes they do both.
Finally there are the group of creepazoids. I can’t think of a better word. Those friends who you first start chatting with about casual interests, then you find out that they have a problem, or perhaps you need to vent a problem to someone who isn’t quite a stranger and yet not a close friend so you get some perspective. They are helpful to you or you are helpful to them. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, that person gets the idea that you’re interested in them, and the conversations become uncomfortable, and often times inappropriate. You try distancing yourself from them, hoping they will get the hint, but they stalk you on social media. They try to get your attention with little comments, at first trying to be cute and funny, and when that doesn't work, they try hurtful, personal, and often nasty passive-aggressive statuses or messages. They don’t attack you or troll you directly, but because of the conversations you’ve had, they know exactly how to push your buttons, and you react. They don’t respond in a respectful way when you tell them to stop bothering you. They’re not quite harassing you, because they aren’t relentless, but you dread opening your social media in case they’ve tried to contact you. You end up having no other course but to block them because all they’ve done is creep you out.
When you do find special friends on social media, those people who you are happy to Skype with, to send messages of comfort and support and encouragement and maybe just something silly to make them laugh, and they do the same for you, you’ve found a friend for life, and it doesn’t really matter if you end up meeting them in the real world – though it would be amazing to meet someone who has brought something special and unique to your life, sometimes it’s difficult to travel to their corner of the planet. And your friend on the other end of the line understands this.
So why am I spending tonight writing a blog about something that may seem painfully obvious to everyone? Because January brought to the forefront all of these categories of “friends”. I have learned who belongs closer to my heart and who does not. I have been hurt and disappointed by people who I thought were good souls, and I have been greatly surprised by the outpouring of support from people who I thought were just casual acquaintances.
The worst has been people who have acted like spoiled brats clamouring for my attention at a time when the last thing I wanted to do was be harassed, stalked, latched onto, or patronized. I could have just blocked them and be done with it. (I have done to some and still may to others.)
But I don’t think I’m the only one who’s gone through this friend reevaluation, in real life or online. And that’s why I’m writing this today. For anyone who feels gaslighted, cornered, stuck in a rut, or in a position where you try your best to be a kind, respectful, and even nice person and yet always end up with leeches stuck to your legs after you go wading through the swamp of social media. I’m here to hand you my salt shaker. Call people out when they bother you, and watch their true selves appear before you. They will either be reasonable and respectful, or they won’t. And you will know what to do. Because you learned how to deal with this in the schoolyard a long time ago.