When do you think it’s too late to send someone a birthday card? Is there some unspoken rule that it’s okay to be a few days late, but longer and you’re in hot water? I ask because usually I’m quite good with birthdays but I’ve forgotten a couple this year… one I remembered but got the dates mixed up, so ended up missing it by a few days. And this week I realised I’d left another birthday too late – I need to send it overseas and it’s going to be at least a week late.
I’ve been feeling guilty, mainly because now I’m not sure whether to send a card or not. On the one hand, at least I remembered; on the other, it could feel like an afterthought. Personally I’m happy as long as someone remembers; I don’t mind if it’s a bit late, but a lot of people get angry and would rather you didn’t bother at all if you’ve forgotten… isn’t that a bit extreme? It’s not like you’ve forgotten their wake and so they decide to haunt you from beyond the grave.
I think I’ll probably send it; it’s to an old friend, and I can save on postage if I send a Christmas card too. I know, I’m cheap. 😉 I’m just annoyed at myself because I don’t normally forget this kind of thing. Friendship is important to me. I’ve never been someone who’s had a lot of friends; I’m comfortable being by myself and I don’t need to be around people to define who I am. I have acquaintances and contacts, but my true friends I’ve known for a long time; we have the kind of relationship where we might not hear from each other for weeks or months but when we do we just pick up where we left off. I value that greatly.
What I’ve found interesting over the last 10 years or so is seeing how the way we think about friendship has evolved, particularly because of the ‘net. People my age are in an interesting position in that we’re the last generation to have grown up in a time without the Internet; I’m 23 but it wasn’t until I was just about to start high school that the ‘net became standard in schools here. Already it’s changed so much in 10 years; kids are growing up with the ‘net now, it’s a part of their lives in a way that it wasn’t for me until much later.
Part of the change online is because of MSN and social networks, how they’ve changed our lives. ICQ and MSN and Skype allow us to talk to people whenever we like for free, speak to people around the world; the ways we communicate and stay in touch have changed, and even the language we use has changed because of MSN. Likewise with networks like Facebook and MySpace allowing people to follow each other, the barrier between our online and real lives has become much smaller.
What we’re really talking about are acquaintances, though, not friends. But the difference between the two online seems to be narrowing and I’m not sure I like it. I’m a fan of Facebook but I hate these endless friends lists. I’ve seen people with over 2000 friends on their profile. That just seems crazy! I don’t use Facebook that way; I can understand several dozen friends, maybe 200 if you’re including your ex-classmates, but does anyone but Paris Hilton actually know that many people? People who do that seem to be using Facebook because it’s trendy rather than as a networking tool.
The same goes for MSN and Skype; I often hear from new people who I’ll chat with for a few weeks, and then we drift apart. I rarely expect it to become an online friendship; it’s just a way of meeting new people. But some people take it too seriously, and the opposite as well; it’s like any relationship, you need to be honest about what you’re expecting to get out of it or someone might get hurt. Often we seem to think that because the technology is so convenient and we can chat whenever we like, that our relationships online are disposable; they’re not “real”, so it doesn’t matter.
But is that really true, that a relationship online is less “real” than in our everyday lives? I don’t believe that. I understand why people can feel that way (I agree with some of it), but like anything I think it depends on the strength of the connection. I met two of my closest friends online. We may never meet in real life but that doesn’t change how I feel about them. We have things in common; reading, writing, experiences in life, ambitions. I have more in common with them than I do with most people I’ve met in my everyday life. And it makes sense, if you think about it. To meet people here I have to go to places where we might have similar interests, but online there are a thousand forums and message groups dedicated just to our interests. That we clicked out of all the people there is probably rare, but it doesn’t make that connection any less strong. And to me talking on Skype is no different that speaking on the phone; better as I can’t afford a video phone. 😉
I suppose in the end what matters to me most in any relationship is honesty; knowing that somebody is interested in what I have to say and that we share a connection. I’ve found that with blogging too; we share an intellectual connection and I might not visit a blog for a few days (or the last week… I know, sorry, I’ve been busy!) but whenever I stop by, I always find the discussion interesting, the voice familiar… to me that’s as real as anything else.
Anyway, this has just been on my mind lately, first because of the card and also because of Christmas. What I like about Christmas is the atmosphere and spending time with family and friends, but I think a lot of the time we take our friends for granted. We fall into the same patterns and expect our relationships to mean the same thing as we get older, rather than letting them evolve and change; it’s natural that the relationship we shared as children would be different as adults, or when we have children ourselves. Sometimes we can outgrow a relationship and it’s better to let it go than to continue taking it for granted.
That’s what I’m trying not to do, to take my friendships for granted… so I think I’ll go send that card because otherwise that’s what I’m doing. I can’t help but think that a card doesn’t seem like much, though. What do you think, should I send some chocolates or flowers? Or maybe a copy of Poison’s I Won’t Forget You? That’ll work. 😛