That is the exact number of people I still talk to from my four years of university. I don’t think about this often.
That is the number of people I tell everything in my life to. I am married to that one person.
That is the number of people who I hope always know I am there to listen to them, no matter what it is they need to say to me. These two are my daughters and I worry about this relationship more than I worry about anything in my life.
Fifty, maybe more. Maybe as much as 14,000.
The number of people I’ve met once or twice face-to-face and who I have learned to manage friendships with online. I don’t feel I am unique in this. I also don’t think it is odd that when I’m hurting, or when I’m happy, I turn to Facebook messages or email or Instagram to share my news.
You might be able to tell from these numbers that I don’t make friends easily. I have an even harder time meeting up with the friends I do have in a face to face way. Being in the same room as a person causes me to close down. It changes who I am as a person. When I am talking to someone, when I can hear their voice, my brain closes up.
As Brené Brown would attest, I have work to do with vulnerability. At least when it comes to being face-to-face with humans.
Here’s my long term friend story…
Friends as currency
In elementary school, I had a few friends. I felt comfortable talking to people but still preferred spending time with only a few people. So I came up with rap songs with one other person in the library. I found ways to have friends but not be around too many people at once.
In high school, I had friends. Not hundreds of friends but enough that people would have considered me “normal.” Friends, in high school and in elementary to school to a lesser degree, were social currency. I often tried to make friends because I was supposed to make friends. And the more people I talked to every day, the more normal I felt.
My role in high school was “the person sports teams came to when they needed someone to play on the team so they’d have enough people.” I was often a filler-inner. This suited me. I dated a few people, I sometimes put on nail polish, and I graduated with good grades. There were quite a few friends but I didn’t talk to any one of them about depression or my ever increasing lack of self confidence. I had a personality I portrayed with friends and one I showed in my own bedroom.
In university, as you saw above, I stopped making friends. I no longer felt comfortable being myself because somewhere along the way I started to feel as though I was supposed to be a grown up and I never felt like a grownup. I talked to amazingly few people during these years. I’d say I talked with fewer than five people more than once a month during this entire time period. I read a lot of books and started writing my thoughts out instead of speaking them.
Then I went to college as an older version of an adult and was put into situations where I’d have to interact with other people. And amazingly, I made friends. I started to talk to some of them regularly, sometimes even about deeply personal things
Finally, I got a job, started maintaining more of my friendships online and had kids: enter a lot of the people in my life I consider my in-person friends.
Friends in a digital age
I struggle to think I’m good enough when it comes to a lot of things in my adult life. This, I’ve learned, is as rare as a child telling their parent they don’t want to eat what they’ve made for dinner. I write stories and share them with a virtual community and those people are my friends. I have people I’ve met online through writing about fatherhood, those people are my friends.
And in the age of following, friending, liking and sharing, I’ve carefully curated my friends. Because I can and because it keeps me supported.
Because of this, I have a space to be vulnerable, to talk about my feelings in a way I don’t feel comfortable doing with more than a handful of people face to face.
I think we need to accept that the word “friendship” has evolved beyond sitting down with a cup of tea and talking to someone you have shared a personal handshake with for 40 years. Some of us still have those friendships, many of us do not. I have none of them.
But we can’t rank the importance of friendships of others. Me having mostly online friends doesn’t mean your in person friends aren’t valuable. And vice versa.
And, we need to carry this over to how we interpret social situations. When you see me in a restaurant typing on my phone as my kids colour, I just want you to know there is a good chance I’m talking with one of these friends. There is a good chance this is me sharing a special moment with people I won’t meet face-to-face or it’s me asking for support from someone I’ve never shaken hands with.
My way of interacting with friends is less valuable, it isn’t less intimate. It is different. And that’s what many of us need.
This post originally appeared on Puzzling Posts. It has been reprinted with permission.
At Everyday Girl Dad, Mike Reynolds tries to share the stories behind the relationship between a dad and daughters. He considers the image of the dad standing with a gun as his daughter poses with her date on prom night a tired one. He shares the times a dad reads Harry Potter until midnight with his daughter, the time he spends cheering her on at her baseball game, he shares the tattoos he gets of their random drawings, and he shares the times they sit down to talk about anything they want while painting their nails. He wants dads to constantly be reassured it’s okay to cry, to express emotion and to be wildly in love with their daughters. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter @everydaygirldad.