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Strangers You May Know: The Sociology of Facebook Friending

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Life in the Internet age is funny. Not in an "LOL" sort of way, but in a "WTF" sort of way.

We love our Facebook friends. We want more Facebook friends. Instead of secretly spying on our Facebook activity, the government should've just sent us a friend request. I'm pretty sure most of us would've accepted. And, yet, the world of Facebook friending is just so... perplexing.

Friendship was hard enough before computer social networking. The rules have always been so confusing; sometimes you love your friends, sometimes you hate them, sometimes they have your back, sometimes they let you down. For example, if I borrow money from a friend, am I supposed to pay it back? Or... what is the "rule" about my friends' children? Am I supposed to know all of their names? I'm pretty sure most of them are named Austin or Tyler or Mandy or something like that. Is that enough? Or am I required to know every name? That's asking a lot.

But Facebook friendship is even more delicate, even more complex. If I make a joke in the presence of my real friends, when we're out to dinner, I receive an immediate reaction. (And usually the reaction is "Waiter! Check, please!" Cue rimshot. Ba-dum-DUM .) But on-line? I mean, if I write something funny, and it takes two days for a "like", what does that mean? If it takes two days to "like" a couple of sentences, then you didn't really like it that much. And as my mother often asks, angrily, in regards to her Facebook status updates, "Just a like? No comments? And these people pretend to be my friends?!"

Here are a few more thoughts about Facebook friends...

You have your friends, the people who transcend a descriptive adjective. But then you also have your high school friends and your college friends and your work friends. If you stay in touch with a high school friend, but you only see him or her, oh, once a year, you will forever describe them as your "high school" friend. That's what they will always be to you. But if you remain close as the years pass, you ditch the "high school" part and you describe him or her as simply a "friend", without the adjective in front. The same goes for college friends and work friends. But Facebook friends never make the transition. Thirty years from now, through all the ups "likes" and downs "likes", you'll still refer to your Facebook friends as your Facebook friends. (And in thirty years, when we're all desperately grasping for attention on BuddyTube or GoogleFriend or LookAPictureOfMeAtARestaurantBook or whatever stupid new website we're using to stalk our ex-girlfriends, you'll still refer to those on-line friends as your Facebook friends.)

And yet, there aren't really any "down" likes. One of the problems with Facebook friendship is that it's all positive. But real friendship is never all positive. The person who encouraged me to blog for Huffington Post is a guy named Mike. We have known each other for years. I refer to Mike as a "frenemy". I call him my "frenemy" because sometimes he acts like my 'enemy', but yet other times he acts like he's from 'France'. But that is friendship. Right? Let's be honest; we love our friends, warts and all. But we need the warts. Without warts, a person is just an acquaintance. Facebook should have a "sending an acquaintance request" option.

Here are more thoughts about Facebook friends...

When you think about it, 'death' is just God's way of 'unfriending' you from His Facebook page. (And on that note, aren't the Ten Commandments basically just the world's first ten Tweets?)

Do you have any real life friends with whom you're on Facebook, and their Facebook posts have made you like them less? I suspect those annoyingly ironic eCards are putting a strain on a lot of friendships.

Some people feel very close to their Facebook friends, even the ones they've never actually met in person. When those people get married, and they invite their Facebook friends, where do they seat them? "You're at number 8. That's the Facebook friends table."

Do you know how you're on Facebook with so many of your high school classmates, and most of them you barely spoke to in high school? And now you Facebook chat and post comments on their site and compliment their pictures? So now you're thinking that when you go to your high school reunion you'll have so much to talk about with these people? You won't. Be prepared for long conversations about the weather.

It is said that men and women can't be friends because the sex thing gets in the way. On Facebook, men and women can't be friends because the sex "ting" gets in the way. Ba-dum-DUM.

Here's more...

Facebook, just like real life, involves a social hierarchy. For the "friend requesting" system is not random. It's a popularity contest. If a good-looking person and a less conventionally attractive person are Facebook friends, I bet it was the less attractive person who initiated the friend request. If a successful person and an unsuccessful person are Facebook friends, I bet it's the less successful person who comments on the successful person's posts, and not vice-versa.

The most popular, most attractive person on Facebook probably doesn't even know how to send a friend request. (But don't take my word for it. Let's ask him. Does anyone here have Dick Cheney's phone number?)

When my attractive female Facebook friends post about their trip to the grocery store, they're immediately bombarded with dozens and dozens of "likes." That doesn't seem fair. There is nothing interesting about going to the grocery store.

I have about 350 Facebook friends. That's a pretty good number, I think. Overall, I think I've sent/received about an equal number of friend requests. And I've accepted all 350 of the friend requests I've received.

But now I'm a Huffington Post superstar. I've finally made it. Hooray for me! I'm like the Kourtney Kardashian of the Huffington Post. I might not be a Kim. But at least I'm not a Khloe.

And so now I expect to receive millions and millions, if not billions, or even dozens, of Facebook friend requests. And I suppose I will accept them all. I wouldn't want to be snobbish. But it will be difficult to keep track of so many people on Facebook. So I apologize, up front, if I don't always "like" the pic of your kids getting on the bus, or if I don't comment on your inspirational post about beaches. It's not that I'm a bad friend. It's that I just don't really know you. But I still like you.