THE BLOG

Facebook Is Not the Problem: Friendship in an Online World

11/20/2012 07:00 pm ET | Updated Jan 20, 2013

When I'm interviewed by reporters about friendship, I'm often asked about my feelings about Facebook. And then they seem surprised, and a little disappointed, when I simply answer, "I love Facebook as one of the tools we can use for our friendships."

Facebook Is a Tool, My Friends

I have read many others rant and decry how Facebook is ruining our relationships, but I don't agree.

Can Facebook ruin a relationship? Yes, I suppose so. But I wouldn't say that it is the fault of Facebook, but rather the responsibility of the people who are using Facebook. After an awkward face-to-face conversation with someone, we don't then declare that we should never meet a friend for dinner. After a phone call ended with someone in tears, we don't then say that phones are the demise of friendships. And the same is true of Facebook. It is a tool that we can use to maintain (or damage) our friendships.

To say that Facebook can be an amazing tool to help our friendships is not the same as saying that it's the perfect tool for every setting and situation and person. But that's the responsibility of the people using the tool, not the fault of the tool. (see my link at the bottom for a post about some Facebook limitations.)

Facebook is Not to Blame for Your 5 Complaints
Here are the five most common complaints I hear from people who have either closed down their accounts in protest or have refused to ever join:

  1. "Facebook is too shallow-everyone seems to only brag about the good in their lives or talk about inane things like what they ate for dinner." Yes, that can be true. But how is that different from most of life? Many family get-togethers, high school reunions, networking events, and dinner parties can fall prey to that trap as well. But those events are still valuable for other reasons. There is still a level of bonding and connection that can happen in this realm. We may not be hearing all aspects of someone, but we're still learning about them. We can't just refuse to engage with everyone unless it's really intimate and meaningful- truthfully we can't maintain more than a handful of those relationships and we need more support in our lives than that. Rather than blame Facebook for simply capturing what we do in real life, react the same way you would if you were at an event- find a couple of people you want to get to know better and engage with them. Comment on their photos, write them a personal message, ask them a follow-up question to their status update.
  2. "Facebook makes me feel bad about myself." No,that shows you your areas for growth. A tool is not responsible for your feelings. Yes, Facebook may show us how many more people are having babies, retiring, going on vacation, or hanging out with friends, but the goal isn't to shut out everything that makes us feel insecure as much as it is to do the work of feeling secure and happy. That is not Facebook's fault unless we only find our worth in comparing our lives to others. And that is not the life we want. We want to be people whose peace isn't dependent upon what someone else is or isn't doing. Rather than blame Facebook for making us feel bad, we can use it as gymnasium for our souls to practice cheering for others (give thumbs up, say congrats!), gather information about what we want more of in our lives, and get clear about how we can show up online and offline with more self-worth.
  3. "It's offensive to find out big news from friends through Facebook." While I do think there are some conversations and friendships where Facebook may not be the best choice of tool, I will say that when it comes to a friend announcing something- that is her moment, not yours. You feeling offended means you're making this about you when it's about her. If she gets engaged and just wants to shout it on the Facebook rooftops- then let her. Let her have her moment and express it however it feels best to her. That isn't about you or your friendship- be very careful that you're not taking personally what isn't meant to be taken personally. Rather than blame Facebook, I'd suggest that we remember that the way we find out doesn't limit the way we respond. Be sure to comment and celebrate her when you see it on the wall- she undoubtedly wants people to know. But if your friendship is deeper than that, be the one who drops a card of congrats in the mail, leaves an enthusiastic voice mail telling her you can't wait to hear all the details, or shoots off an email to schedule a time to take her out and celebrate her.
  4. "I hate seeing my friends out doing things without me." Okay, I get it- it's never fun to feel like the uninvited person or an outsider. But, again, getting off Facebook doesn't mean it won't happen, it just means you won't know about it. And you're stronger than that. It's the meaning we give to those moments that hurt us. If you believe your worth is in being her only friend, then we have bigger issues than Facebook. I always champion that the healthiest friendships are where both women have other friends. It would be nice to get to a place where you could be cheering for her as she builds up her support system, and where you know you're doing the same. Rather than blame Facebook, be appreciative that you can use Facebook to get ideas of fun things you want to invite people to do, be inspired by her making new friends, and do what you can to keep contributing to that relationship with her. Giving her the space to make friends will benefit you in many ways down the road- she'll demand less from you and soon enough she'll be able to introduce you to the people she's meeting.
  5. "I got my feelings hurt when she de-friended me." The number of articles written about this just astounds me. In my opinion we are being way too dramatic about this de-friending option. If you are de-friended- this isn't your new title, doesn't reflect your worth, nor does it speak to the future of the friendship you can still have with her. What it does say is that the two of you having something going on between you that isn't resolved and forgiven. Rather than reacting from your wounded ego, what can you do to help repair this friendship? Facebook is not to blame for our petty fights, disagreements, and frustrations with each other. Every relationship has them whether we're on Facebook or not. Being de-friended is the equivalent of needing some space- it doesn't need to be permanent. Much like the shutting of a door or the hanging up of a phone- it simply says that we have work to do in this relationship.
So there you have my thoughts on this subject! (Not that you asked me! LOL!) I'm looking forward to your comments and reactions... (I think?!) :)

And, if you're up for it, be a friend of GirlFriendCircles on Facebook. It will keep you updated with friendship articles in the news, updates on my books, alerts to friendships events in your area, etc. And we'll never de-friend you. Promise. :)

On a similar note: A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about the five best purposes of Facebook and the inherent limitations.