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. πŸ˜‰ 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. πŸ˜‰

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. πŸ˜›

8 thoughts on “Friendship

  1. I’m glad to hear that you are sending the card because late or not if I were the recipient I’d be glad to receive it. The card is an expression of bonding, an indication that you are thinking of someone and, it’s an opportunity to let them know that you want the relationship to continue.

    You say:

    But is that really true, that a relationship online is less β€œreal” than in our everyday lives? I don’t believe that.

    We are in agreement. Online relationships are “real” relationships.

    Relationships are founded in communication and communication is a two-way activity between two or more people. Communication is the method by which we share ideas, information, opinions and feelings with those that we are in relationship with. There are various modes of communication and, in our times online communication is becoming more prominent as a means of communication.

    I blogged on this same subject here Are cyberspace relationships underrated?

    Cheers πŸ™‚

    CJ: Thanks, brightfeather. What you said about it being an expression of bonding was what I was thinking but wasn’t sure how to say; it’s about showing an intent to continue the relationship, and that’s what matters more than anything else. I decided to get a blank birthday card in the end; I thought at least I could write a more personal message, and I prefer those anyway.

    The main difference I find between an online and offline relationship is the difference in subliminal communication. In everyday life we tend to communicate with our body language and in more subtle ways, but when we’re talking online that disappears. We rely on words and often we overemphasise them to make sure we’re understood. I find it quite challenging sometimes, but interesting… I guess I like being open to all means of communication; they’re just another part of life now, much as some people might not like to admit it. πŸ™‚

  2. you should send the card (or more if you want to) and you should also mention what you said here when you explained why. at least even if your friend was the kind who might get miffed for a late wish, he or she might not be anymore after an explanation like that. πŸ™‚ (at least i would – and yes, i’m inclined to be miffed that way!)

    i learnt that friendships online are as real as those offline, but they’re different in nature. the medium through we which connect, the subjects we are more likely to converse, etc.

    but one thing i find friendships online and offline have in common is the necessity to maintain the friendship. you have to make the effort to keep the friendship. i’m not saying if you aren’t in contact with a friend online for a few weeks would not make you a friend anymore, but two people who are friends must take the effort to stay in touch.

    i find that this is where the test of friendship is. it’s very easy to lose touch with a friend online because you are busy with your life offline. it is just the same with offline friendships too.

    CJ: I got the card earlier, so I’ll bite the bullet and send it tomorrow… in the end I can’t control someone’s reaction and it might be negative, but it doesn’t change the reasons why I sent it, so I should. Not sure if I’ll be explaining as much as begging forgiveness, though. πŸ˜›

    You’re right about needing to stay in touch as well. I think any relationship needs to be worked at, and you should want to be in touch anyway; otherwise that’s another way of taking the friendship for granted. I’m lucky that most of my friendships are familiar, so we can drift in and out of each others lives… but there’s usually an email or a text in-between, so we’re never really out of touch.

    I suppose in the end friendship means different things to different people, and we each take something different away from the relationship; that’s why it’s important we make the effort to maintain it so we stay in sync with our needs. I actually find that more difficult offline, as it’s easier to fall back into old habits and patterns… but that’s probably just me! πŸ˜‰

  3. Hi CJ long time no see…Glad ur’re back.. Humm, interesting that I did often missed a couple of birthdays and people have missed mine too a few times…But, never got mad about it as I have forgotten some myself…Better receive it late than not at all…I am always happy to receive an happy belated birthday….

    I value online friendships as much as offline and I believe honesty is the key to good friendships..If you are not ”real” as person then your friends won’t be either, ”like attracts like”…

    CJ: Hey CV, yes, it feels good to be back; I didn’t realise I’d miss blogging and my blog friends so much after only a week! But sometimes life intervenes, eh? πŸ™‚

    I guess we all forget birthdays sometimes, but that’s why it’s strange that some people react so strongly; if we all do it, you’d think we’d be more understanding… I think my friend will be; she’s usually pretty laid back.

    That’s true, like does attract like, but if you think about how many voices there are online, it’s actually quite rare that we’d find someone we click with right away… that’s one advantage with offline relationships, the instant connection. Perhaps that’s why blogging is popular; we get to know someone’s voice and thoughts first, and we can tell if we have something in common. In the end any lasting relationship comes back to honesty; if they’re not real to us, how can we care for them? That’s something writers should listen to as well. πŸ™‚

  4. I do know what you means — and I would have sent the card also. Better late than never, and sometimes I think we take the online communication for granted and forget how things used to be. I still adore getting REAL mail (no bills!)

    CJ: Thanks, Alynda. I agree, better late than never, particularly if you’re sending it for the right reasons. It’s the thought that counts, right? πŸ˜‰

    We do take online communication for granted sometimes, and mobile phones. We’re always contactable, but they’re all fairly recent innovations if you think about it. I love getting real mail too. At least we all know when Christmas is! I’ve still had more bills than cards this week, though. πŸ˜•

  5. To answer the first question you asked–never too late. As a writer, you could look upon it as an opportunity to exercise your creativity to describe circumstances and feelings πŸ˜‰

    Interesting exposition about online/offline friendships. I’ve never done any “social networking”, but I’m aware of those MySpace people with a gazillion “friends”. It’s seems the conversation goes something like “hi, whatcha doin’? went to the mall, today!” with a lot of those “friends”. All fine if that is fun for them. I’ve actually been very surprised at how I’ve come to value some of you at WordPress, though. It seems on a different level than Facebook, etc., because we engage in meaningful (to me) dialog. People here write about what’s important to them, and, on that level, share something real about themselves. They then attract other minds ready to engage.

    I have some friends too, that I don’t see or talk to for long stretches, and that is OK–we understand each other, and when it’s important we communicate. It’s different in an online community, though. Unless the people want to take the relationship further (from blog comment, to email, to IM or chat, to phone calls, to actually meeting!) then the blog is the only interface for the friendship, and, if a person disappears for even a few days, I find myself wondering how they are, if they’re OK, etc. This may be a bit morbid, but I sometimes wonder: “What if someone has an accident or illness, or even loses their life?” We blog friends may never know. It puts an element of strangeness into the relationship that is not present with RL ones, as usually there, I have an address and phone number and can find out about people.

    All this makes me think the online folks are precious, but in a different way. Their presence is so “in the now” and immediate. I must just tune in and value what is right there. Oh, my, you got me going on this!

    CJ: That’s true, it does give me a chance to describe some of my feelings (my masculinity allows it on occasions!)… now I just have to brave the post office queues tomorrow. πŸ˜‰

    I like the idea of social networks, but I’m not a big fan of MySpace… I just find there’s too much going on with the sites, too busy. I like Facebook because it’s more of a resource and you can take the conversation off Facebook if you want to. But you’re right, it’s not the same dialogue as you get with blogging or in a forum; it’s not a community like we have with WP.

    That’s what I find difficult to describe when people ask me about blogging. Many still think of it as a journal, but really it’s a platform for sharing ideas and to be engaged. It’s the ongoing discussion in the community that makes blogging unique. But things in our lives can suddenly interfere with that, and no one would know… I’ve thought about that too, Muse, and it does feel strange, that we can be so connected but isolated at the same time. I suppose that’s the nature of online life.

    I look at relationships as being fluid and that makes me value my online friendships all the more. I don’t know if the same people will be blogging in a year, or if my friends will still be available to chat, so I value the discourse we have now, and watch as it evolves… it’s incredible how far we’ve come online, if you think about it. The world’s a much smaller place and keeping up with all the changes is half the fun! πŸ™‚

  6. oops, paragraph 3, sentence 5 s/b “This may be a bit…” not “They may…” Didn’t want to pin that on anyone else!

    CJ: I didn’t even notice when I read it. Funny the difference a few misplaced words can make, eh? Neil Armstrong’s still living it down. πŸ˜‰

  7. I totally agree with museditions about the wondering if something has happened if people are suddenly not blogging regularly. I email people if concerned. I would rather come across nosy or a worrywart than miss out on critical life issues that can stop some people from blogging.

    I believe it is never too late to send thoughts on greeting cards. It is truly wonderful to receive such mail, especially if it is from a distance.

    CJ: I think it’s natural that sometimes we’d need a break from blogging; something can interfere in our everyday lives or we just need time to recharge… it shouldn’t feel like an obligation. But I worry too, particularly when I don’t see someone around the community, or if their posts take on a different tone… I drop them a line then as well.

    It’s lovely getting real mail, isn’t it? Something with real handwriting… I guess this is why they have belated birthday cards! Thanks for stopping by, MQ. πŸ˜‰

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