Will you be my friend?

Having friends, people you connect with, is an essential part of life.

Children, whether at the park, the shops, kindy, school or anywhere else are always looking for someone to engage with or play.

Often when children come home from their first day at school or other activity, a parent will ask (if the information isn’t volunteered) “Did you meet a new friend today?”

Children of before school age are often happy to play alongside whomever happens to be around; everyone is their ‘friend’. As they get older interactions with others of similar interests become more important and they begin to form stronger friendships with individual or small groups of children.

If children have an unhappy day at school it is often because they have had no one to play with. Maybe their best friend was absent or chose to play with someone else; or they may have had a disagreement with a friend or group of friends.

A few years ago I was engaged to construct and implement a friendships skills program with early childhood classes. Through discussion, stories, song, role play and cooperative games, the program taught children strategies for initiating and maintaining friendships.

applications-internet

The need for friendship is just as important on the internet playground of social media as it is in the school playground. People seek out others with similar interests and form online communities collecting followers, favourites, friends and likes. Just as in the playground, there are certain strategies which should be followed online to maintain those friendships.

The home page of each platform is a good place to start for ‘rules’ of engagement. In addition, many bloggers offer recommendations for friendly behaviour. Some that I have found useful include:

I’m sure you are aware of, or will find, many others offering similar advice.

The one thing they all agree on is being friendly and polite, engaging in conversation and not making it all ‘me, me, me’. Just as one-sided in-person relationships have a limited life span, so too do one-sided friendships on social media.

In the ‘real’ world, people belong to different groups and organisations which are quite distinct in their goals and purposes. It is not always desirable to have these ‘worlds collide’ in a way that would provide information about oneself not previously revealed to a particular group; for example one may not wish to mix neighbourhood friends with work colleagues.

The same situation may also exist online with people publishing, or participating in groups that publish, very different material. The use of a pseudonym is sometimes suggested as a way of masking one’s identity or to keep separate two distinct styles of authorship.

While neighbourhood friendships are important to both children and adults and may be easier to maintain, the planning that is required to engage with like-minded friends who live further away is usually worth the effort.

The same is true online. Because I blog, and am already signed in, at WordPress, it is very easy for me to engage with (by following, commenting, liking and sharing) others who also blog at WordPress. Notifications of others’ posts are received in my everyday email inbox as well as my WordPress reader. Additionally, when I link to them in my posts, pingbacks are automatic.

Engaging with those using hosts other than WordPress requires effort, some more than others. It can often be difficult to leave a comment because doing so requires signing in using a platform to which I don’t already belong. Frustratingly, sometimes lengthy and well-thought out comments disappear if a mistake is made signing in or copying a captcha.  Oftentimes a like or share button can be impossible to find, and following can also be difficult as I miss notifications sent to an infrequently used email address. There are particular blog hosts that are so problematic that I now ignore them, regardless of how interesting I think the posts might be.

While following WordPress bloggers may be easier, I don’t follow all or only WordPress bloggers. Those I follow must meet my criteria for interest and engagement. The extra effort required to follow non-WordPress bloggers is worth it when we have interests in common and engage in conversations which expand my horizons and thinking. (I am thinking particularly of Anne Goodwin and Caroline Lodge, both non-WordPress users.)

I have talked about maintaining real-world friendships, the need to belong to different groups, and the desire to achieve separation between some of those groups. I have also discussed a similar situation with regards to online friendships.

Warnings about the dangers of forming online ‘friendships’ with unscrupulous people are publicised almost daily with their accompanying stories of tragic events. I agree that these are very real and very present dangers and one must practise extreme caution when forming any friendships, online as well as off. Of less interest to the media, but probably of greater magnitude, are the number of real friendships forged as a result of online communication.

So what do you think about mixing real-world with online friendships?

If the adage, ‘strangers are only friends that haven’t met’ is true, should one maintain separation from one’s online friends, or take the risk of meeting in person should the opportunity arise?

What is your experience? Which of your online friends would you like to meet in person?

I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

Here are two more of my favourite songs about friendship (just to help your thinking):

 

21 thoughts on “Will you be my friend?

  1. Joanne

    Great post Norah. Really intrigued to know more about the program taught to children about initiating and maintaining friendships. Feel at time I could do with that myself! I think that kind of thing should be taught more in primary classrooms. It’s so important to kids and actually to us as adults.
    I have often found reciprocity a difficult thing. Not me being reciprocal, but from other people. For example this 6 week holiday has involved various outings and social events, mainly for my 6yo’s benefit and I have met up with many of my friends and their kids and he has had his school friend over to play twice. The interesting thing is that 95% of these events have been initiated by me. Parents of his friends who told him, and offered to me that they’d arrange with me to go over and play haven’t done so. The one lad I’ve had over twice and his mother, despite saying my lad “must come over” hasn’t invited him and we have ony two days left. I have only seen my friends and their kids, primarily because I have texted, got in touch. Friendship seems to be a very tough thing these days. People always seem too busy. It gets to a point where I do start to give up.It can feel as though the effort is one sided and that perhaps you are not really wanted around or needed. Maintaining my own friendships is hard enough, then you have to maintain them for a child too, at least at this age to a certain degree!

    As for online friends. I connect with many different people but would class only a few as friends. One I have actually met and wouldn’t be averse to meeting others. Though clearly geography often plays a big part in that. 🙂 I often feel bad I can’t keep up more regularly with more people on line, whether it be through Twitter or through blogging, but I believe we can only maintain s many close friendships anyway.

    Thanks again for sharing a wonderfully insightful post. Like I say, I’d be intrigued to know more about this program for kids. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Joanne. Thank you so much for popping in and sharing your thoughts about friendships. I appreciate the difficulty you are experiencing with reciprocity of play dates with children and the effort it takes.I think people genuinely want to reciprocate but time gets away, there are other things to be done, and sometimes quiet days at home are desired after the hectic days of the school term. Don’t give up. It is worth it, for you and your son. It is an interesting thing about friendships that I have noticed over the years. As you say, only a few close friendships can be maintained over many years. Other friends come into our lives at certain times, stay a while and then fade away as life’s circumstances change. It doesn’t mean the friendships are less valued or valuable, they just fill different needs. And each of us have different needs at different times.
      I agree with you about the time taken to maintain friendships online as well. It’s as for everything else. There are choices to be made and you are the only one who can make those choices for you.
      Thanks for showing interest in the friendship program. I’ll try to dig it out and post some more details about it. I couldn’t find it the other day when I went looking. Because I am not in the classroom at the moment, all my teaching resources are stored here at home – and there are a lot! Packed up everywhere! 🙂
      It’s lovely to have you join in the discussion. I look forward to future conversations. 🙂

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  2. Bec

    A lovely post, Nor! It’s interesting to think of friendships as being valuable – they can seem to be taken so for granted. The series of novels I’m reading at the moment – the Thomas Covenant Chronicles – often has some very moving friendships. I feel there is a lot of value to online friendships! For many people, particularly those who struggle in traditional social settings (i.e. in person) it can be a nice, safe space to meet friends.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think it is very important to not take friendships for granted. Good relationships take work to maintain. I haven’t read the Chronicles you mention. It would be interesting to know what types of friendships are explored. I agree that some people who struggle with face to face relationships may find online friendships less threatening initially and maybe help develop confidence over time. 🙂

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  3. Gina Stoneheart

    There were so many fantastic points about your post, Norah. The online community provides us with an infinite amount of connections. And when I say infinite, I mean, not a day goes by without presenting itself with an opportunity to make a new friend. But who has time to make new friends everyday?
    I think when a writer, author or encounter has an impact on us in some way, we are more likely to stay in touch with them. This is probably through their art, writing or entire sense of being. But to take things further than offline… well that is entirely up to both parties. I met an author who I have developed a strong bond with through Twitter two years ago. It just so happened she was following one of my favorite children’s book authors so I decided to reach out to her. This was early on when I first engaged with social media. But we have remained friends ever since. We don’t live too far away so it’s easy for us to meet up in person. She makes me laugh all of the time and is probably one of the sweetest and most giving people I know. I keep in close touch with other authors through emails and Facebook but most of them live hundreds if not thousands of miles away.
    If you are comfortable with the person, I say go for it. Make sure you have spoken with them on the phone and have had quite a few emails exchanged. Also, see lots of pictures of them! You never know… there are some crazy people out there!
    I also met my companion on Match.com and we have been living together for over two years now… dating for a total of three and a half years. I love him so much that I would be lost if I didn’t have him in my life. But again, we took things slow and talked a lot before we met in person.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Gina,
      Thanks for your lovely, encouraging comment. It’s true what you say. The mind boggles with the infinite possible connections, doesn’t it? We can’t connect all the dots, as much as it may be lovely to try.
      Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts about online friendships. How wonderful to meet someone who lives close by and with whom you can meet up and have a laugh. And I agree, it is difficult when online friends live all over the world. I love that I can have conversations with others of similar interests, regardless of where they live. Years ago we would not have even known of each other. When I was a child I would try to write to penpals from different countries, but the mail was slow and it was a difficult thing to maintain.
      I think your words of caution are excellent. I don’t really want to meet any of those crazy people out there!
      Thank you for sharing your insights! 🙂

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  4. Terry Tyler

    Heyyyy! How nice to click on this post and see your recommendation of my blogs – thank you!
    My view – I think you should treat social media friendships the same as you do others, ie, be helpful and courteous, and take an interest in people. I know that probably goes without saying! There are writers who only ever post about their own work, only get in touch with book bloggers when they want a book reviewed, etc; this is often reflected in the lack of interest shown in their own blog posts, etc. I think that, eventually, different personalities come through even within those 140 twitter characters as they do in real life. I once wrote a post about the 12 different twitter character types, I don’t know if you’ve seen it; it was just a bit of fun, but had a certain amount of truth to it!

    Meeting online friends in real life? I’ve done it a few times. Hell, I ended up marrying one! But on the whole I don’t feel any burning desire to meet my online friends. It would be nice, but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to arrange it – so it’s probably a good thing that some other people do, as I love it once I DO meet them. Now, that’s my laziness and the fact that these days I’m always so wrapped up in what I’m writing – my own failing!!!!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Terry,
      Thanks for popping over. I was hoping you would have received a track-back regarding my links to your posts. I put them in, but am not sure how or whether they work or not. Your material was very pertinent and I am grateful for your advice. I’m not sure if I have read your post about the 12 twitter character types. It does sound vaguely familiar. I’ll have to go back and try to find it. A mix of fun and truth – sounds like a great blend! 🙂
      I’m interested to hear that you ended up marrying an online friend. I know a few people who have done that! And are very happy as well.
      I appreciate what you have said about meeting online friends in person, and I agree with the time factor (but not the laziness). It’s really a matter of making choices, isn’t it? Deciding what is important and what is achievable. I don’t think being wrapped up in your own writing is a failing. It’s you! 🙂

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  5. stuckinscared

    Great post Norah, I learned the hard way to copy comments before hitting publish – It’s so frustrating to have them disappear (especially the longer more thought out comments), there are times that Iv’e spent a long time composing a comment, but left without commenting at all after the original is lost o_O

    Iv’e now met two of my online friends, I felt close to them both before meeting but I was still incredibly nervous before each meeting, now, I’m so glad I plucked up the courage to meet them. I have many more good online friends I’d love to meet one day, courage and circumstances allowing.

    I’m off to copy comment now before attempting to send (just in-case) lol

    Take care Norah

    Kimmie x

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Kimmie.Thanks for joining in the discussion and sharing your thoughts. Seems like a few of us have written and lost comments, then left without re-writing them. Pity we all had to learn the hard way. If only we could let everyone know to copy them before hitting ‘publish’!
      It’s great to know that you have enjoyed meeting some of your online friends. I think I feel rather nervous about doing so too, but I am looking forward to meeting some in the near future. I agree that it does require a mix of courage and circumstances.
      I’m pleased this comment wasn’t lost!
      You take care too! 🙂

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  6. The Mermaids Purse

    Great post, thanks, I can always use Twitter pointers….I have become so frustrated with other blogging hosts, especially Blogger, making it so hard to follow or comment I wonder why bloggers use them. I have stopped bothering too…which is a pity..

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi. Thanks for joining in the conversation. I’m pleased you found the Twitter pointers useful. I agree that Blogger is one of hosts that I am finding more difficult to leave comments on or like. I am yet to figure out what to do on Tumblr! Thanks for finding me and leaving a comment!:)

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  7. Hope (@NannyShecando)

    As always such a brilliant post – and you’ve got me thinking about a few different things that I haven’t looked at before. A few months back when I switched from WordPress.com to worpdress.org it was really difficult. Because as you know it’s so easy to curate your little wordpress community. I didn’t really follow many non wordpress blogs and lost a lot of my followers when I changed, it took a while to make new blog friends. But I’ve actually met quite a few in person now. The idea of meeting a random friend from the internet in person was a bit strange at first but I’m so glad I took the plunge! And yes, when little Viv at 15 months is clinging to the fence desperate to go and play with kids her own age as we walk past the community play group, you realise just how essential having friends is.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Hope. I’m pleased the post sparked some new thinking for you. I’m disappointed you lost some of your followers when you changed hosts. I’m sure you have won them back and found many more. You always have such great material to share.
      I’m pleased to hear that you have met some of your online friends in person and have enjoyed the experience. It does seem a little scary. I would worry about not meeting expectations.
      I’m pleased that you are one of my online friends. Friends are indeed important.Thanks for joining the conversation!

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  8. writersideup

    Norah, as always—a GREAT post and such valid content 🙂

    Through my years online, I’ve had both positive and negative experiences with online connections. Some have become dear friends, and now that I’m that much more involved with Social Media, I’m meeting so many more people! And, of course, they are people I have passionate things in common with.

    To me, it is all about connection and sharing while sometimes gathering very helpful information. I like when there is conversation and certainly response from the blog owners. Without it, it doesn’t take much for me to decide the effort to post a comment is not worth my time. It’s just like now, when a book doesn’t grab me, I will no longer push myself to read on. Life is short and we need to spend as much time doing valuable,positive things as possible, imo.

    There are many people I’ve met over the past year or two, online, and some I’ve known for MANY years that I would LOVE to meet in person! You’re one of them, but as with most, the opportunity won’t present itself : / So—it’s one thing to be grateful to the internet for, right? 😀

    Also, due to the repeated “losing of comments” while trying to post, whether due to a glitch or whatever, I created the habit of copying my comment before I click “post” or “publish” so, if there IS a problem, I can re-paste that comment. Time is simply too precious and NO one wants to repeat something like that. I’ve done it, but don’t want to take that time. COPY your comments, everyone, ’til you know it’s gone through 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Donna,
      Thank you for your lovely comment. I really appreciate it. The responses are what make it all worthwhile. As you say, it is about connection, sharing and conversation. I love the sharing of ideas on blogs and social media. I learn so much, and that is what keeps me going. It would definitely be a sad day if I was ever to stop learning. Life is too short, and there is so much to learn – can’t stop now!
      I am grateful for the internet, and all the wonderful people I have met and opportunities it offers. Maybe one day we will meet in person. Who knows? I’m sure we would have a great old ‘gasbag’. Do you call it that where you are? In Australia it means a wonderfully vigorous chat! We would have so much to talk about.
      I appreciate your recommendation to save/copy comments before clicking ‘publish’. It is a great one. I usually try to do that, particularly on unfamiliar sites. I learned after experiencing a few comment losses, but it was a hard lesson to learn! I’m pleased to know it wasn’t just me who needed to do this learning!
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Anne. I like playing over at your blog too. I always feel welcome there. I just have to be vigilant in checking for comments etc. Thanks for reminding me of “You’ve got a friend’. How could I have forgotten that? “Tapestry” is one of my favourite albums. I used to listen to it all the time when I was much much younger!

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  9. TanGental

    You know what? I have just had a long comment eaten by WordPress – one of your points in your great post! Grrr. And I’m with you when I have to sign into Google+ to comment and then never remember to check what’s come back?
    Still, my comment (assuming I’m allowed!)
    1. Brill post
    2. Thank you for the twitter use links from Belinda. I’ve had a brief read, learnt two great things already and know I will find out more. Top advice, Norah!
    3. Strategies for negotiating the sometimes depressing social jungle that is childhood friendships are critical so I’m delighted if you helped some children – sometimes with the Vet we would despair. Her day could be ruined by the smallest perceived slight. Learning not to attribute motivations to actions was a slow painful process but when achieved, made her so much happier.
    4. I’d love to meet some of my new online friends but then I love meeting people and talking. That’s a trait I got from my dad who loved talking to anyone and finding out about them. He loved listening, really. There would be risks: people who are articulate and funny when they have time to compose may be clumsy and shy in person. But just imagine the benefits? Here we are constrained rather by the ‘blog and comment’ structure that means it is not so easy to roam off topic (and boy do I like roaming off topic!); over a coffee we could go here there and everywhere. Of course you have to give up more of yourself, like internet dating I suppose. People see you for all your warts; it’s harder to hide your real personality that way. When the Textiliste worked for a prison charity, working with the prisoners, the one thing you never asked was ‘what did you do?’ because it would most likely make it hard to work with them. Better for that side to remain hidden so you could form the necessary relationships to make things work. I suppose, if you break through the pixilated wall and meet the person behind the screen, you risk losing the good you have. Depends on your attitude to taking risks I suppose. Personally I’d welcome the chance of the upside.
    Thanks Nora for getting me thinking and learning this early on a Sunday. The sun shines on Edinburgh; we have two shows left before we journey home so time to find some breakfast..

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