The title of Joe Battaglia's new book, "Unfriended: Finding True Community in a Disconnected Culture," uses a word which until this modern age of Facebook, did not exist – the verb "to unfriend." If it is possible to end a friendship at the mere click of a button, then by this same logic, a friendship can be formed at the click of a button. It begs the question as to how we would define a friend. According to the Collins English Dictionary, a friend may be defined as " a person known well to another and regarded with liking, affection and loyalty...."
According to a report in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships by Jeffrey Hall, Professor of Communications Studies at the University of Kansas, it takes about 50 hours of time spent with someone before a mutual regard for each other as friends will be established. Furthermore, it takes an estimated 200 hours to become best friends with someone. Perhaps this is a clue as to why most of our friendships don't last longer than seven years. In fact, we tend to change most of our friendships every seven years.
It's the sign of the times that more meaning is attached to friendship than anything else. The common view is that you might not choose your biological family, but you can choose your friends. This theme was further explored and helped to define the cultural zeitgeist in the hit sitcom "Friends" where a group of young people lived and socialised with one another to such a degree that they became like family. This US sitcom captured the imagination of not just America, but the entire world, and ran for 10 years.
Indeed, friends are the ultimate safety net in the age of the dysfunctional family and the cynicism with religion. We can find friendship in the most unexpected places; it can cross barriers of gender, race, culture, even language and religion. Also, if we are fortunate, we can discover friendship in familiar places as well, such as with parents, children and siblings. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case, for blood ties and obligations can be wearying when compared to the easy feel of a friendship that refreshes like water. Yet we all need the security and predictability of family life and the adventure and ease of friendship.
Every friendship is a unique organism with its own rate of development, weaknesses and strengths. For example, we can share certain confidences and engage in certain activities with some friends but not with others.
Because relationships are based on mutual give-and-take, so much is beyond the individual's control. There are a host of potentially clashing variables to deal with, such as differences in family background, culture, values and personality.
The problem of many online connections such as with Facebook are that people expect instantaneous connections even though they have never met face to face—and so have established not one iota of trust. Trust cannot be demanded; it has to be earned, and earning it takes time. Furthermore, how can you even know for certain whether the online profiles of others are an accurate reflection of who they really are? There is a popular truism that states "soon hot, soon cold" which warns against a rush to intimacy with strangers. Proverbs also cautions that, "He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning,It will be counted a curse to him"(Proverbs 27:14, NKJV).
If we are unfriended by online connections, how we react may say more about us than them. Do we expect that a friend will agree with us at all times, want to communicate with us all the time, and like all the same things we like? The fact remains that understanding someone takes time, often more time than we have at our disposal, so it is best when in doubt, to give people the benefit of the doubt. This humane approach was encouraged by Jesus when he told his disciples, "... pray for those who ill-treat you" (Luke 6:27-28).
Jesus set the ultimate example of "forever friendship" – "No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends" (John 15:13, AMP). You do not have to die for your friends, but certainly you will need to invest some of your lifetime or life's time into your friendships, particularly if you want them to last. Our friends need to know they are loved and cherished, and this comes through consistent communication, intimacy and shared experiences.
Intimacy, or "in-to-me-see," means we can share our innermost thoughts and deepest desires fearlessly. Intimacy means that as friends we have a deep understanding of who we are as unique individuals and what makes us tick.
Here are some friendship principles to guide you:
- Cultivate friendship with soul-mates/kindred spirits.
- Always be honest in relationships.
- Make your beliefs known without feeling the need to justify them.
- Accept friends as they are without condition, and expect the same treatment in return.
- A friend is someone who fully accepts you the way you are but is willing to benevolently correct you if necessary.
- Always respect yourself and others – never do something against your will.
- Never do anything unless your conscience/instincts give you the green light.
- Know that your primary accountability is to God. Having fulfilled that responsibility, you are then free to live without fear of reprimand or misunderstanding.
- Love should be by invitation and not obligation. Inspire others to return your love, but let them always be free to choose not to.
- Don't try too hard as this smacks of desperation.
Ultimately, the pain of being "unfriended" will not last, and it might be a blessing in disguise. It will free up your time and attention to focus on meeting people and forming friendships in real time. You just might be about to make the best connection of all – meeting your BFF face to face.
—Dr. Carla Corneliusis a Director and Editor at Jesus Joy Publishing (www.jesusjoypublishing.co.uk). Her Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling has equipped her to trace humanity's problems back to faulty thinking and values which fly in the face of the Maker's instructions. She has a passion for exposing the distortions of truth spun by the media and popular culture which leave sick souls in their wake, souls desperately in need of spiritual detoxification. She is the author of five books including "Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking," "Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains" and "No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide."