Friendship is a recurring theme for high school children and it is referenced constantly in the education literature about hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum is a term for those things that children learn at school outside of the curriculum mandated by any Department of Education. Friendship is an important contributor to mental health and self-esteem for teenagers and it can also be a badge of popularity. For many students, it is not the quality of the friends they have that is important, but rather the quantity of friends they share moments with, or the quantity of photos taken and posted to social media. Most people will agree that it is important to have friends and that it is important to be seen by others as having friends.
As a school student, I would have said that I was friends with a great many people, and those I was closest to, I termed ‘best friends’. As an adult, my perception of friends is very different from that teenage view, and I often feel that I have very few friends. In fact, despite giving advice about quality relationships and correct treatment of others, I have plenty of people I deem ‘friends’ who do not treat me well, and there are other people that I am sure I do not treat well due to a lack of interest in them. I sometimes find myself wondering if they would call me their ‘friend’. The Book of Faces thinks that I have 300+ friends, and yet I socialise with a small group of people who do not share the same interests, beliefs, morals and viewpoints as me. It is wonderful to interact with and learn from such a diverse range of people, but there are times when I hide my own thoughts and opinions from them so as not to cause offense or seem lesser than them. As a teenager, I would have said that honesty was the most important aspect of friendship.
My teacher alter-ego takes from me a great deal of emotional energy and so I have fallen out of those circles of people who socialise by partying in night clubs every weekend. My friends and I have physically moved apart from each other as well, sometimes to different countries, to chase our careers, and we have deprioritised our commitment to each other. By moving out of my family home and into share accommodation, I have taken on the responsibility of maintaining ties with my family as well as the responsibilities of caring for myself and the share house. Social interactions with housemates are usually polite, but extended politeness is a mechanism for masking discord.
Who are my friends then? When am I being friendly and when am I being polite? How do I measure how much I care for someone and how can I measure how much they care for me? I think that it IS important to find a measure for the level of friendship you have with someone, because that measure dictates the acceptable intimacy and frequency of interaction. This measure becomes particularly important when cementing friendships with attached members of the opposite sex. I have always found it easier to converse with males. I have a simple biological answer for why this is, but it may not be the correct answer: I am not competing with males for mates and therefore I am not intimidated by them. Since this is a fairly candid post, I should also admit here that I do find the males I want to mate with intimidating and I avoid all conversation with them where possible! The only other time I struggle with males is when their mate would prefer them not to become friends with a female. I then have to find a way of keeping my distance and acting ultra-appropriate. That is definitely NOT friendship. I find many females intimidating and it takes me longer to form firm relationships with them. Perhaps that is why I forgive so many of my female ‘friends’ when they neglect to make time for me or when they do not reciprocate the effort I put into organising social events or asking after their wellbeing. It took me so long to make those friends in the first place that I do not want to let them go.
At the moment, I have no easy answers for which of my friends are actually friends and which ones are not, but despite experiencing only transient feelings of intimacy with others, I still have people to go climbing with, people to go to yoga with, and people I love teaching with and eating with. I have people to discuss novels, movies, politics and environmentalism with and I have plenty of people with the expertise and life experience to enrich my knowledge and challenge my opinions.
The Book of Faces reflects these relationships and displays many photos and check-ins attesting to my status as a friend of many who frequently enjoys outings with others. I am not condemning social media as a facade of friendship because I do not believe that this is so. Many people do take that point of view, but I think that social media has given opportunities for relationship development that would not exist outside of these websites. Social media allows friends and families separated by distance to converse regularly and it also helps with ice-breaking during the early stages of any friendship or co-worker interactions.
I am grateful for social media, and for the people who take the time out of their lives to share some company with me, but most of all, I am grateful to the rare few who ask how I’m going, chat to me for no purpose and acknowledge me when I am sad. Thank you to the people who share their inner thoughts with me as well as a movie theatre, staffroom, novel or climbing rope. I hope I am meeting your standards of friendship too.