Some Thoughts on Friendship in the Digital Age

friendship in the digital age

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. I’m not entirely sure why. Having always been a bit of a social butterfly and deeply interested in the why of people, I guess I find our relationships with each other to be a hugely interesting topic.

Having a wide social circle used to seem like the be all and end all (I remember the days of having over 800 “friends” on Facebook… how stressful!), but the older I’ve got, the more I tend to nurture my introverted tendencies. Less nights out socialising and more nights in reading, yes please!

My Dad always says you can count your true friends on one hand and now I’m a bit older, I can see how right he is. I probably have less friends now than I did at say, 19.

Yet, the friendships I do have are strong – they’ve stood the test of time and distance, surviving new relationships, marriage and in some cases, extreme grief.

However, what about all the other people in your life, who fall in the cracks in between? Is having known someone forever a good reason to keep spending time with them… even if you don’t altogether understand or even like them that much anymore? Can you still make friends past the age of say, 25 and will those friendships be as rich as the ones that formed in your late teens to early twenties?

Here’s what I think I’ve learned when it comes to forming and maintaining friendships in the digital age (and knowing when to let go).

It’s important to know when a friendship has run its course

Personally, this has been the hardest lesson I’ve learned – that some friendships have a expiration date.

This is a point that really hit home when I did actually return home from living overseas. I organised a reunion to meet up with some people I knew in the area. I invited everyone I had wanted to see and was pretty hurt when quite a few of them didn’t show up.

Some were genuinely busy with other things, but others that I had once been close to didn’t even bother giving an excuse. Just radio silence as the friendship bit the dust.

And I get it – I hadn’t been home in a long time and I was leaving pretty shortly after arriving, to move to Melbourne. For some, it wasn’t worth the investment of time.

It’s healthy to not hold a grudge in these situations, as hard as it can be, because sheesh, is it really that difficult to send a message or respond to a Facebook event? Okay, maybe there’s a little residue of a grudge there.

Point learned – some people you meet are only going to be in your life for a short time, because the friendship is situational.

Maybe it’s a work-based friendship and once one of you leaves, you lose the common thread holding you together.

Or you once lived in the same city, but one of you moved and distance has caused the heart go wander.

Perhaps you were best friends at school but walked down different paths – one is married with a kid and the other still likes to stay out until 2am on a Saturday night. You naturally drift.

Rather than dwell on the cause of the demise, just accept that the friendship has ceased to exist and be thankful for the time you had together. Plus, it leaves space in your life for a new, fantastic person to walk in.

If you want to know who your real friends are… move overseas

Okay, perhaps this isn’t an option for everyone, but it’ll certainly show you who your true friends are. They’ll be the ones who stay in touch and make an effort to keep in contact while you’re gone.

Sometimes the results can be surprising (and certainly upsetting). People you held dear (perhaps a close friend from University, who was constantly by your side for three years) will ghost, fade into background, never to be heard from again.

Yet, random people who figured in your life will keep in touch – like the girl from your Year 10 soccer team, who you met up with sporadically in your hometown and now messages you on Whatsapp every few days, just to chat.

You’ll probably find you’ll lean on your pals more than you expected to as you get settled into your new life. Yet if the friendship is strong, it’ll bend like bamboo and take the added weight.

That being said, there are some people who you’ll find are a bit here and there when it comes to friendship. You’ll barely hear from them whilst you’re away but as soon as you’re back in town, they’re ready to hang, go for drinks, grab a feed, whatever the situation. They’ll inquire about your time abroad and be genuinely interested – as you are in their life.

It’s nothing personal, it’s just for some people that once you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. It’s just how they operate.

You don’t need one on one time to have a strong friendship

Which brings us to the next point, that being that you don’t necessarily need face-to-face contact to be good friends with someone.

Five of my closest friends live overseas, which is a bit upsetting at times, particularly as I get to see them once a year, if I’m lucky (one I haven’t seen in the flesh since 2015 but we text almost every day!).

While it would be nice to have them living in the same city or even the same country, the lack of contact doesn’t really have a detrimental effect on our friendships. We make efforts to keep in touch and it works.

Plus, it can be kinda fun. Long phone calls into the night, surprise postcards and gifts and our reunions tend to turn into long conversations which run for hours, or epic adventures.

Don’t keep toxic people in your inner circle

You know the term “frenemy”? Where someone who is close to you is secretly working against you and delights in your failures?

Many of these friendships are residue left over from childhood – shared circumstances such as schooling threw you together and for awhile, everything was good and okay.

Yet, something changes as you get older. Maybe one of you becomes more successful at their chosen career. Perhaps the other begins a new relationship, has less time to dedicate to your friendship and things become strained and strange.

Don’t let your shared history chain you together. Sometimes it’s healthy to count your losses and cut the link. You’ll both be happier for it.

Friendship is not age restrictive

It’s nice when you get a bit older and your friendships start to transcend your age group, into other decades – or even generations!

My youngest friends are in their mid-twenties and I also have friends in their forties, fifties and sixties.

It means you have a wide spectrum of people to hang with, to discuss life matters and often glean a different perspective on things.

You can be friends with exes… but should you?

I know a lot of people tend to stay friends with exes, successfully. I guess in some ways, it makes sense. There’s obviously something you once liked about each other, to have actually dated.

I’m still friends with one of my exes, but I use that word tenuously to begin with (ex, not friends!)… plus we dated around a trillion years ago (okay, ten but who’s counting? I’m not, because it makes me feel old).

There were a couple of others who I stayed close with for awhile, but in my experience it was only because one or the other (or both of us!) were holding onto a bit of a flame for the other, sometimes years past the break up. Once that was well and truly extinguished, that was the end of all contact.

Even if the break up is amicable, sometimes it’s best to put a bit of distance between the two of you. At least at first… that’s not saying a friendship can’t be resurrected at a point further down the track.

Sometimes it is better to have loved and lost and have firmly moved on from the situation. As with friendships, it can help pave the way for someone new and wonderful.

Make an effort with the people you care about

Cherish your friendships. Send gifts for birthdays, Christmas cards at obviously Christmas time, postcards when you travel. Call or text them just to say hi. Take photos together, when you do see each other.

Plan trips. Make an effort to go to weddings, even if they’re overseas. Celebrate their victories with them. Mourn their losses. Talk for hours over a bottle of wine or sometimes, don’t say anything – just sit and listen to them while they vent or grieve.

…But don’t necessarily expect the same in return

Friendship is certainly a two way street, but at the same time, don’t put pressure on those you care about to behave or act a certain way.

We’re all human and we’re all fatally flawed. There will be times when they’ll forget your birthday (for example, I’ve mentally placed one of my best friend’s birthdays two days after his actual birthday for the last fifteen years. I… don’t know why this keeps happening and he doesn’t either), buy you a gift that you don’t think you’ll ever use, or get excited by a new romance and go AWOL for a little while, or completely forget to reply to a text.

Be forgiving. Unless of course there are many repeat offences, then it might be time to move on…

It’s never too late to make new friends

This is the best bit! There are always new people marching in, to fill the spaces left in your social circle.

There are people I was great friends with in Sydney and London, who I don’t really talk to anymore. Yet, I’ve met some wonderful people while living in Melbourne who are now buddies, as well as online, such as through this blog.

Out of my closest friends, some I’ve known for 10-15 years, but others I’ve known less than two years. It’s led to a wide and varied array of people in my life.

Nothing beats the feeling of meeting up with someone new and starting a conversation where you get that buzz – you’re thoroughly enjoying being in the moment there with that person, discussing plans, telling stories, sharing ideas, so much so that you wish that time could stand still.

Referring back to point one, I try not to be too disappointed when some friendships die. I know there are probably some even now in my life that are situational – so I’ll enjoy them to the fullest while they last. Regardless, you’ll keep meeting people throughout your life who you connect with, which is something special indeed.

Is there anything you’ve learnt about friendship over the years that you’d like to share in the comments?

Other posts like this:

How to Avoid Being Lonely in a New City

13 Reasons Why You Should Never Become an Expat

15 Things to Remember When You’re Almost (or Over) 30

Which is Harder – Moving Abroad or Coming Home?

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It's interesting how friendships progress throughout your life, as you meet new people and lose others who have been around for a long time. It's particularly intriguing in this digital age, where some friendships can be maintained through the click of a mouse and others will choose to cut you off from their online lives, as well as in person. Here are some other thoughts about modern friendships.

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  1. Hey LC! Friendship is such a good topic to write about. What you said about finding out who your true friends are when you move away is a hard lesson to learn. It’s one thing to have situational friends fade away when the situation changes, like old work friends who you don’t keep in touch with once you leave a job. I get it, the connection was work, so the bonds get weaker when you both don’t work together anymore. That is normal and I can deal with that, but what I didn’t expect upon moving abroad was that people I thought were LIFE friends just cut ties. Ghosting is never cool. Have the balls to say what you want to say with conviction, to my face or via email. Don’t just unfriend me on FB out of nowhere. Anyway, all I wanted to say was that I can relate to a lot of what you’ve said.
    Despite losing some friends from back home, I’ve made a few via my blog and choice to be abroad so there’s always a plus side.

    1. Hi Diane! It certainly is an interesting topic to think/write about. I was actually thinking of your past comments while I wrote it, of your friend who you found out was pregnant via FB. That still blows my mind. Some ball growing would be helpful to the general population – you don’t even need big cojones to send an email in any case! And yes – always a silver lining, if one is willing to look for it!

  2. I would add, after living overseas for a few years now in a non-English speaking country, that inter-cultural friends are possible but also require a lot of understanding. The way you make friends in your home country is different to how you make friends abroad. There are new social codes you have to learn and if both of you aren’t open to doing things a bit differently, it can lead to friendship disaster.

    1. Agreed, so many social faux pas committed overseas! As with dating, it’s so much easier to make friends when you have a shared cultural understanding.

  3. You’ve somehow managed to take all of the thoughts that have been milling around in my head for a while now and formed them into something so much more eloquent than I could ever write! Brava, my friend.

    I’ve actually felt a bit down recently about certain friendships back home dissolving into oblivion, but this post has snapped me back to reality and made me realise that it’s all part of life.

    This part in particular somehow calmed my up-and-down friendship related anxiety:
    “It’s nothing personal, it’s just for some people that once you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. It’s just how they operate.”

    So true!!

    Also… Gijin has more than 3,000 friends on Facebook and it gives me and my 200ish-long friends list a nervous twitch.

    1. Oh, thank you! Yeah, can pretty much guarantee that 90% of the friendships will resume as soon as you head back home. I don’t think people mean to be oblivious… it’s just something that happens. I found it interesting that in my experience of living overseas, it was those who either was also O/S at the time, or had been either expats or long-term travellers in the past that made the extra effort. The power of empathy, right there.

      Also, I felt stressed just reading about Gijin’s FB friend situation. His news-feed must be bananas.

  4. Some lovely thoughts, LC. Really loved the reminder to send postcards – that’s such a dying trend, fortunately my family still seems to be bucking it (though I’m not sure when I last received a postcard from a friend…).

    1. It’s such a small gesture that can mean so much! I’m lucky, I have a handful of friends who always send them when they travel. I do love sending them – they’re fun to seek out!

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