I know a woman who has 2,000 friends on Facebook and she is proud to tell you so. What I would never tell her is that she is one of the most awkward -- even tactless -- of people, with a minimal social life.
I also know young people (some related to me) who are thrilled to count up all their Facebook birthday greetings and yet, I don't see them deeply connecting with 90% of those well wishers the other 364 days.
By now, it's a tired complaint or concern, particularly among those of us of a certain era: technology is changing how we communicate and thus, the very essence of what it means to be a friend. The handwritten thank you note is all but a thing of the past. The landline is being gradually replaced by the cell, replaced by the email, replaced by the text, the tweet. Instead of networking, we can link in. Hey, I do a lot of those myself, but I also see old and new friends frequently, occasionally pick up the phone to talk, and hopefully have not lost the skill of bringing people together and being there when needed. When I make a commitment to meet someone, it is not considered "soft" in case better gatherings pop up.
Then there is the genderational component. The long held theory goes that women, in general, make better, and have more, friends. (I certainly know every time my husband ends up with a second Yankee ticket, he panics.) Guys felt, to quote the main character of the popular book (soon a movie) One Day, "Friends were like clothes: fine while they lasted but eventually they wore thin or you grew out of them." Our culture and media still skew heavily male (Based on the belief that girls will more willingly see anything with Bradley Cooper than boys will with Anne Hathaway who, by the way, stars in One Day) with testosterone the main ingredient.
But I am sensing movement. If you get past the action, the profanity, the subject at heart is often need for a friend. Movies like I Love You, Man and The Hangover (s) are ultimately about male bonding, as is the smash Broadway hit The Book of Mormon. And for us gals, Help is on the way, with the filmed adaptation of that best seller about women of all colors and classes finding real connection. I recently saw a reading of a new play by Wendy Kout called Naked In Encino, about five women who come together for a seminar on Ethical Wills. They hate the topic and get caught up in their own fractured and long standing relationships. But 90 minutes later, the beauty of what it means to be a friend has been reignited and reaffirmed.
Female friendships are not without backbiting, competitive complications. Mean girls, let's face it, are the new alpha guys. Which makes me wonder, if boys, left alone, have the basics for the most profound and pure friendships. Watching my college-bound son bidding his close posse temporary farewell, I have been constantly touched and impressed. These feel like keepers. When one of his friends lost his father a few months back, none of these boys had to be told it was proper to sit Shiva. They dropped whatever they were doing, some traveled across state lines, to sit and hang for five days solid.
Even men of older, supposedly stoic, generations likely had it in them My late father -- whom I do not recall uttering the words "I love you" (though we never doubted he did) -- was quietly part of a monthly men's group for more than 30 years. I have since learned of other such groups in which guys are able to get past their normal pressure points and talk intimately and freely.
I will always cherish my deep relationships with other women. I fully expect we will end up on cruise ships together. But I also feel things are evening up in that department. My son and his pals check Facebook and still won't pick up a real phone to make a call unless under strict orders. But I think they have learned to understand that just because you have befriended someone does not mean you are a real friend.
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