Lately I’ve been unfriending people on Facebook. It started with this email that I received a few months ago from someone I’ve known for many years:
“I’ve got you on Facebook. Confession: I don’t read the ejo’s these days, but I don’t read anyone’s blogs, sites and posts – so no hard feelings! Hope you are great. Message me on FB anytime.”
Now, I know I can’t interest all of you every single time. I tend to write about a pretty large range of topics. I also know that my ejo’s tend to be long (and, OK, sometimes long-winded) and of course sometimes you’re just too busy. That’s cool. I wasn’t in the least upset by the fact that she doesn’t read my ejo’s. But the message still struck me as weird. And then I realised that the reason the email was weird is because it was from someone I don’t even consider a friend. Sure I’ve known her for about sixteen years, but only because for the majority of that time she was married to someone that I do consider a friend. When they broke up she just kind of lingered in the background of my Facebook feed. Her email reminded me that I would never have chosen to be her friend. I silently wished her well, removed her from my ejo list, and chose to unfriend her from Facebook. And just like that she was gone. And I haven’t missed her since. That was in February.
I have a policy of only being Facebook friends with people that I would have coffee or a beer with. But the thing about people you would have a drink with is that they don’t always stay that way. In real life, friends that naturally slough away do so quietly. You lose interest and then you lose touch. The problem with Facebook is that those people stick around a lot longer than they otherwise would. And that’s what happened to the “friend” that confessed to me that she wasn’t reading my ejo’s. Since then, I’ve been carefully and selectively culling people from my friend list. I used to be worried about offending people by unfriending them. But the fact is, if we haven’t interacted in any way for over a year, chances are you don’t really give a shit if you’re my Facebook friend or not. Right? Also: you’re probably not reading this ejo anyway! 😉
Obviously the whole online social media phenomenon has changed the way friendships are defined. I know some people who collect friends on Facebook, numbering in the thousands, most of whom they’ve never even met. I actually like to only befriend people on social media that I consider to be my friends in real life, the reason being that I live so far away from my real friends that Facebook is the easiest way to keep in touch with them. I want Facebook to be a true representation of my friendship situation.
It’s no secret that I haven’t made many friends in Dubai. My inability to connect with people here upset me for a long time. I beat myself up about it and my self-esteem plummeted. I regressed to my 14 year old self. At high school I was an outsider. I never felt like I belonged to any group and as a result my formative years were spent feeling rejected and socially isolated. And when we first moved to Dubai, there I was, 38 years of age, feeling the same way.
But before you start feeling sorry for me, let’s talk about what happened between high school and moving to Dubai. Magic, is what happened. I discovered “my people”. I went to university and I instantly started making friends. People who I am still close to today. Friendship became easy. It was natural and extremely fulfilling. My twenties were spent with a group of people that formed at uni but which evolved into living, eating, holidaying, sleeping and working together. We became a huge, nebulous, loving family. It was intense, it was wonderful, it was safe and fun and crazy and my people ended up defining who I was.
My people: One friend and I drove to the shops one scorching hot day and turned the heater on in the car to full blast with all the windows up until we almost passed out. Why? Why not? And one friend jumped off St. Kilda pier with me in the middle of the night fully clothed because our other mates dared us to do it for twenty bucks. We split the money. One wonderful friend drove to a hospital emergency room and persuasively begged the nurse for painkillers when I’d torn the ligaments in my knee skiing (and yes, the nurse gave him some, while I waited in the car writhing in pain). I played the card game Hearts with a group of friends when we moved in together to determine who did the chores. Another friend called in sick for me when I was too hungover to go to work (and I did the same for her). My friends helped me make an (outrageously bad) audition tape when I applied to get into the Victorian College of the Arts film department. They comforted me when I wasn’t accepted. And then they stormed into my darkened room on day three of my self-indulgent pity party and told me to get the hell out of bed and stop feeling sorry for myself. They cared for me. They were my world. They still are.
Over the years, of course, the intensity has faded as people got married, moved away and had children. But the ease with which we interact has never faded. We see each other less but the love is still there. And the experiences we share now are more important than ever, because of their scarcity. The night in Spain a few of us got drunk on Cocksucking Cowboys and went skinny dipping in the freezing pool while the children slept soundly inside. Spending time with my newest friends in London, dressing up in each other’s clothes competing for the most ridiculous outfit. Stripping off my clothes and riding a bicycle around the Nevada desert completely naked with another friend (yes, there is a theme emerging here, I see it). Hanging out with my sisters, drinking red wine and watching blaxploitation films. Laughing and savouring the moment because I only get to do it once a year.
After moving to Dubai I naïvely assumed I’d continue to be able to make friends easily. I was wrong. But now I’m OK with not having a social group here. I wish I did, but I’m at peace with the fact that I don’t and I compensate for it by enjoying the hell out of the friends that I do have when I see them. And I’m lucky enough to have mates all over the world – old friends and new (see, I’ve still got it!!). The value of these friendships has skyrocketed because of my situation. My appreciation of them, and my gratitude for them is infinite. My friends, who defined me in my youth, define me now from a distance. I love them more than ever. More than they probably know.
Like everyone else, I have a friendship sphere, with my closest friends in the middle and acquaintances at the outer edge. It’s a dynamic sphere and over time you might find yourself moving between the layers. My closest friend right now (the one who used to call my boss to say I had a migraine while she held my hair back as I vomited last night’s booze into the toilet) went from the centre of the circle to about three or four layers out for a few years. There was no big drama that caused that to happen, we just drifted apart for a while. Somehow over the last decade or so, she’s managed to wriggle her way back into the middle (of the sphere, and my heart). And the funny thing is that she probably doesn’t even know it. I see her once a year, when we visit Melbourne. We never call or skype each other. We send occasional texts and hang out on Facebook a little. But she means more to me than anyone right now because she’s been there for twenty long, glorious years and I still hang off every word she says. She’s still the most interesting person in the room to me. And it fills me with so much joy that after all these years, after all these ups and downs, after all these life events and separations (emotional and geographical), she still likes me back.