Where does friendship start?

My blogging friend Angela Lawson asked me to write a guest post for her blog, You are Awesome, Trying to Stay Awake in a Sleepy World: Parenting, Leadership, and Personal Development. My post is now up on her blog.  For my own blog, I wanted to write about what her request means to me.

In the flesh and blood world, my relationships are tanking, or they’ve already tanked. I’m at the end of a fourteen-year slide. I went from gobs of friends to none at all, although I can think of several people who would refute this claim. They’d say “WTF, Jeff, I’m your friend.”

This makes me wonder: when does friendship end?

Once, mid-career, I joined an LLC as a minority shareholder (a super minority, a why bother minority). Morgan, one of the other owners. had just gotten married. He was hitting that point in life where he was aging out of his college friendships, forging new adult relationships, and had acquired several close business contacts. One night over beers, he told me how he and his wife weeded their invitation list for a manageable wedding. “If we hadn’t hung out socially in the past twelve months, no invite.” Seemed reasonable to me. Using Morgan’s logic, I have two friends, maybe three.

When talking with others, my mind moves slowly. I’m overcome with self-consciousness, which leads to self-doubt. It’s a blockage I can’t steer around. In a conversation, a slow mind is a glaring handicap. Ultimately, I come off as aloof or rude or odd. In the online world, I fare better. Written communication is easier for me. I can be wise and witty, satirical and sarcastic, and I do it at my own pace.

I know a couple in London. On occasion, I write for the running magazine they publish. There’s a lot of back and forth between us: messaging, communication—we email and tweet. We’ve done this for years. Over time, personal tidbits leak into our conversation. Enough has been shared now that I consider them friends, but still, we’ve never met. Next month, by chance, we’ll be in the same tiny town in France. We plan to meet up—maybe a drink, maybe some ice cream, something. Susan thinks this is great, a chance to solidify our friendship. More likely, I think, it will ruin the relationship. Future online communication will be tainted by that awkward encounter in France.

Slowly, I’ve become friends with Angela Lawson. We began following each other a couple of years ago. She lives in Minnesota (or maybe it’s Wisconsin, I can’t keep them straight) a half a continent away. I doubt we’ll ever meet. We won’t chat over coffee, go out for a drink, play paintball together, or whatever it is people do with their friends. We’ll read each other’s blog posts, comment, compare and contrast experiences. We’ll like and retweet Twitter posts, and maybe bump into each other on Facebook (this is rare, I only ever see Facebook posts from about five people anymore).

I can count six bloggers I consider to be true friends. Because we’re all sharing our intimate thoughts, fears, and desires—the sort of things you only learn about from your closest friends—there’s a short-cut to friendship with bloggers. No, we’ve never hung out socially, but I care about them and they seem to care about me. They comment on my posts when no one else does. They encourage me and compliment me, and hopefully, I reciprocate.

Angela takes a special interest in me. Her comments are practically as long as my blog posts. She puts real thought into them, they’re always complimentary, and they always add context to what I’ve written. She introduced me to the editors at the Good Men Project who now republish one of my old blog posts weekly. And when I decided to get serious about building a Twitter following, she introduced me around the writing community resulting in around one hundred and fifty new connections. When she asked me to write a post for her blog about leadership, I couldn’t say no… even though leadership is something I never think about. The post is written and published. Angela likes it, Susan likes it, but I don’t. I think it makes me seem like an asshole.

Take a few minutes to pop over to Angela’s site, read some of her stuff. It’s a nice mix of businessy writing, parenting introspection and even some raw self-analysis. The writing is always strong, and, unlike my blog, where I have a tendency to ramble, she always makes a point.

18 thoughts on “Where does friendship start?

  1. I consider you a a friend too. Of course, there is the unknownness of what happens when moving from online to in person. I think if I were to meet any of my blogging friends in the real world, I’d have to be thoughtful about controlling my expectations. You’re right, there’s an intimacy to blogging that isn’t as easy to translate in the day-to-day world. Perhaps that makes things weird. But, i do have friends whose blogs I read and who I see in real life. I think the real life part helps remind me that life itself is much larger than a page.
    And you’re right, I do take a particular interest in you. We are a species of tribes, or so it seems. We gather our people around us along many different geographic, political, physical, economic or ideological lines. For me, I want to gather the people around me who inspire the kind of thoughtfulness I want to see more of in the world. I think only in cultivating self-awareness and applying what we learn in new ways can we make progress. And beyond that, I think you’re an excellent writer. So it’s easy to be a fan.
    Thank you for the excellent guest post, your kind words, and for being you.

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    • A blogger I follow once wrote about meeting up with another blogger while he was visiting England. He assured me that it was awkward, but still worthwhile. I’m excited about meeting my friends in France, they seem like very nice people, but we’re also in very different stages of life. They are younger, city-folk and players in their industry (running). In my usual self-deprecating way, I wonder why they even want to meet me. But I also see this as a chance to push my boundaries, which could use a little pushing, and really, it’s just for a drink… or ice cream… or something.

      As usual, thank you for the compliment on my writing. I’ve enjoyed this experience and I got a chance to really think out side my little box.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can relate to this as well. I have the worst time trying to talk and would just rather have a computer to type what I want to say. I swear I must have a RBF (resting bitch face) which keeps people away (and I’ll take it because Lord knows I don’t want to talk). I am always focused on answering someone’s question in a conversation that I forget that conversations are two way and never ask anything back. But I really don’t even know what to ask. And same – I have two friends whom I see and/or talk to very rarely. I have come to know some of the parents of my kids friends, and I am friendly with them – but I wouldn’t consider them my friends. Excited to see your post over there. I am sure it will be good.

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    • “I am always focused on answering someone’s question in a conversation that I forget that conversations are two way and never ask anything back. But I really don’t even know what to ask. ”

      You and I are the exact same person. I wonder what would happen if we ever tried to talk. I must have RBF too, no one ever tries to talk with me. Susan, apparently, has the most open face in the world. Everywhere we go, she strikes up a conversation with the person next to us. One time a person in the midst of a domestic violence crisis even came up to her in a grocery store and said “Can you help me?”. I guess we really project our availability to the world.

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      • That is funny to imagine. I think it would be a quick conversation until we could get back to our computers and then talk to each other the way we are most comfortable 🙂 That is funny about Susan too. I think you are right!

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  3. Yes, it was very good. I really liked your perspective. I’m not a leader either, but different from you, a pleaser. I bet the subject really was introspectively fun to write about.

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  4. Friendships in this social media age are tricky. Whom do you consider friends? Can you be friends with someone you have never met in person? I don’t know. I have commented on others’ blogs and they have commented on mine. There is one blogger in particular who leaves very long comments on my posts. We have had conversations about all kinds of topics. We tell each other personal stuff, but are we really friends?

    It has also been my experience that runners are sometimes…ummm…socially awkward. I see this in our running club all the time.

    Great post, Jeff. You made me think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Other than on wordpress, I don’t feel particularly close to anyone on social media. When I first joined facebook (three years ago) I thought I was making real connections, but then I realized that I wasn’t, I was just remembering old connections. Other than my family, my best relationships are online right now. Yes, I find that distressing and I keep resolving to do something about it, but so far, I haven’t had much success.

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  5. I think written communication is easier for me because I can edit myself and take the time to truly say what I’m thinking. I don’t think you have to meet someone in person to feel connected to them. Perhaps it’s the secret idealist under the crunchy shell, but isn’t that what the very act of writing and sharing is, to find connection? Writing, in and of itself, is an intensely personal act to explore ones’ self and their place in the world, how they might be connected to it. Then, to have the bravery to put it out in the world is to actively seek connection, knowing you may never see the face of the person you might influence, or even know that you made them laugh, or cry, or think. I don’t know the real answers to forging meaningful relationships, let alone stoking them to continue in perpetuity. I just know that I’ve gotten to a point in life where I try to fling as much kindness and connection into the world as I can muster in a day, while trying to let go of the expectations of others to do the same. I sleep better that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you’re doing well, you’ve been on my mind for the past few days.

      I just finished a historical fiction book that reminded me that back in the day, correspondence was the primary life long communication method for many relationships. Part of me feels that being anonymous on line helps me be real.

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  6. Great post Jeff, I agree with you, blogging is/or can be, such an unusually intimate experience that invites sincere connection from strangers, who become long distance friends. I like how supportive you are of your friend, very cool to acknowledge and uplift others.

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    • Thank you, Judy. I think commenting, giving and receiving is a rush. Communicating with someone, somewhere in the world, it doesn’t matter where, and making a connection. Last week, someone emailed me to tell me that they hated my most recent book. My attitude and approach towards running offended them. You would think they gave me a five-star review. We had a brief email conversation, and I feel like a better person for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome Jeff. I think we need connection more than ever, it’s funny that we can connect with strangers long distance but not in person anymore. I used to meet people at cafes all the time when I used to go to cafes to write (before tech invasion). People were curious to know what to was writing, the writer’s allure :). I don’t understand why someone would be upset by your book about running. It sounds like you handled the criticism well because you remained open to dialogue. I tend to ignore the critics :).

        Liked by 1 person

  7. So you reference the Chamonix friends?!! How was it? I have met a blogging friend and it was fantastic. I now try and see her whenever I can. Sadly, it’s once very two years, but she’s amazing and I’m grateful for her. There is another gal who’s blog I love…I’m hoping to meet her while traveling to Houston for work this year. The older I get, the more I want to do things with my Boyfriend or a select few. The circle is smaller and I am happier for it. 🙂

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    • These guys were the publishers of a magazine I write for sometimes. We all really enjoyed their company, especially my 13 y. o. son who put them in the “cool adult” category. I was dreading the meeting, expecting it to tank, but it went really well.

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