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the friendship road less traveled
is sometimes better off that way
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)
1.16.08
humor

Here's a little story to celebrate the close of 2007, otherwise known as the Year of the Facebook, and to welcome the new year.

Once upon a time, a long time ago during my first few years of elementary school, I had two friends who bullied me. They bullied me constantly, even though we grew up together outside of school. Our Moms and Dads were friends, too. I suppose in a way we were forced to be friends because we found ourselves always around each other, even at holiday gatherings. Though the reasons why these two girls bullied me in the first place are still lost on me, I still knew that I was being bullied and that I didn't like it.

I eventually reached a boiling point with both those friends and their bullying ways, and decided to do something about it.

One of them I punched in the stomach one hot day at school during lunch break, knocking the air out of her, and landing myself in the principal's office.

The other one I threw a shoe at while playing in my room, giving her a black-eye, and landing myself in hot water with my parents who were both embarrassed and disappointed in me.

Things weren't quite the same between me and those two girls after my acts of retaliation. We stayed "friends" on the surface, but deep down, there was tension that tainted everything we ever did together afterward. I never got to see how dangerous that tension could get with teenage-hood, because I moved to a different continent and I lost touch with each of those girls. We exchanged a few letters the first year I was away, but those tapered off pretty quickly and I never bothered to revive those friendships once they seemed dead. That was long before email and Facebook ever became the #1 way to get in touch with long-lost friends. Or enemies for that matter.

Years later, I reconnected with one of these old friends through email; the one I threw a shoe at. The emails were usually just forwards. The few that weren't forwards were unanswered hellos from me. Though I've kept in touch with this so-called old friend through email the last five years or so, there hasn't been much progress in our friendship. Even before I actually matured mentally, I still thought that perhaps this friend would've found herself laughing at the airborne shoe incident. I feel it's important to mention she just turned 30 this year. By my estimation, maturity should've set in by now and childhood mistakes should remain in their place... in our childhood.

Of course, with the 2007 Facebook phenomenon, I've increased my contact with the "shoe friend" and I've gotten in touch with other people I hadn't seen or talked to since I was ten years old.

Facebook has offered me a mixed bag of sorts, and given me a wealth of knowledge and wisdom about friendship. Though the bag is full of good things, I've made a ton of realizations about the real reasons why I let some of my old childhood friendships die in the first place.

The good things acquired through using Facebook are plenty. For instance, I've found that one of my elementary classmates I barely saw outside of school is someone who might've become my best friend had I stuck around long enough to build a friendship outside of school. In fact, I can see myself sipping Starbucks with this friend for hours talking about nothing and everything and having a blast in the process. On the mid-flip side, I've found that the girl I spent most of my time with in elementary school was perhaps not the best match for me, yet she is still a person I enjoy being friends with, even after the huge gap in our communication the last 20 years or so.

On the complete flip side, I've found that some people I lost touch with would've been people I would've gotten rid of even if I hadn't moved to another continent. Those are harsh words, I suppose, but Facebook makes communication so easy, that when someone can't even maintain their communication or friendship with you through its convenience, then you know distance isn't the only thing stopping you from being their Starbucks buddy. I'm not saying everyone on my list is like that, but a large chunk of the people on my list are.

Don't believe me? Take the last few holiday-filled weeks. All the long lost friend people that fall into the category I just mentioned above did not bother to write a simple email, or even a simple statement on my various walls on Facebook to wish me any happy holidays, despite the fact that I've sent out greetings for every holiday you can imagine taking place in the last few weeks. The only people that acknowledged such effortless courtesy were the good part of the mixed bag I received through Facebook.

Additionally, thanks to Facebook being the ultimate big mouth about every move you make, I have even found that the same people who didn't acknowledge my holiday greetings had sent out multiple greetings to multiple people on their friend list, and inadvertently missed my name. No kidding. Several people did this, and my Facebook friend list is not that big! (I have a whopping 28 friends on my list!)

I admit that when I first signed up for Facebook and watched my list grow each day and the number increase, I felt good. I've never been much of a social butterfly with more friends than I can count on my fingers on one hand, so Facebook gave me the illusion that I was more social than I might've thought. I've been using Facebook since September, and I must say that my social life has changed very little since then. The illusion and the high I got from the world of Facebook has worn off.

Sure, I've revived and improved on childhood friendships that did not have the chance to bloom until now (albeit through the Internet and across oceans and continents, but not any less special to me). But also through Facebook, I've confirmed that those with arrested development at six years old, will continue to suffer from this maturity debilitating disease way into their 30s and beyond.

Happy New Facebook Year.


ABOUT REEM AL-OMARI

Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari

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COMMENTS

robert melos
12.28.07 @ 4:04a

I never attended any of my high school reunions. I bumped into someone from my high school about 10 years ago, and they asked me why I didn't attend the reunions. The truth is, high school wasn't a great memory for me, and I was still in touch with those people I did want to be in touch with. I have some friends who recently connected with me via e-mail, and they are people whom I do want to remain in touch with, and will.

I agree with you, that some friendships are ones you just don't keep. I have a Facebook, but don't find it as easy to use as LiveJournal or some other sites. I also have a MySpace, Yahoo 360, and a couple others I don't even keep up with. The Internet has made connecting easier, but in many ways it's harder because we all change with time but at different rates so some of us aren't ready to connect.

juli mccarthy
12.28.07 @ 11:02a

Facebook is really not much of a communication tool for me, but it is a nice, not-too-deep way to keep track of those people with whom I am friendly, if not actually friends, in my social circle. Same goes for MySpace. I use LiveJournal a LOT, but a ton of the people in my social circle do too, and LJ simply supplements our meatspace lives. I think the phenomenon you describe here was borne out for me with Classmates.com. I found a lot of old friends and acquaintances, and a bunch found me, but there were only one or two with whom I was willing and able to really reconnect.

reem al-omari
12.28.07 @ 12:39p

There's really nobody from high school I want to find and reconnect with again. The only friend I might've wanted to reconnect with from those years is very much a part of my life now, and we are the best of friends... practically sisters, so I didn't really use Classmates or feel anykind of excitement over it when I found out it was an option.

Elementary school, however, was a different story for me. Moving away to a different continent made the getting in touch part so much more exciting for me, so when I found people I rememember from the days when we had to stand in the corner for being bad, it was super-exciting.

Whatever you use to reconnect with long lost friends and/or acquaintances, it's not gonna change your disposition or DNA. If you're not much of a social butterfly, Facebook won't change that, and so on and so forth.


beth clement
1.2.08 @ 1:11p

I totally agree with reem. There's only one person elementary through high school who I wish to remain in contact with and we just finished a lovely vacation in Vegas.

I literally moved half-way across the country to get away from those people who I went to school with and I have no inclination to EVER move back there.

Online friendship is a good thing, but I recognize the limitations and try to respect boundaries that are set in place (no responses to facebook, just as well). I might be old in my thinking but I keep track of those who I want to and keep in touch personally with visits and face to face communication.

lucy lediaev
1.16.08 @ 1:38p

I went to my 20-year class reunion and discovered it was attended by people whom I hoped never to see again and avoided by the people I would have liked to have seen. There were two exceptions (out of a class of 520 people). I haven't attended a reunion since, and I'm approaching my 47th year out of high school.

[edited]

juli mccarthy
1.16.08 @ 7:16p

In an example of perfect timing, I received two notes via Classmates.com this week - one from a girl with whom I have exchanged sporadic, but friendly "touch base" notes through the years, and one from (woot!) a gorgeous but troubled boy I had a crush on way back when. The gorgeous boy and I are are having fun getting to re-know one another.

reem al-omari
1.17.08 @ 3:01a

A couple years ago, I was found by an old middle school thru high school freshman year friend, and had no choice but to meet her for lunch one Sunday. That time also happened to be around the 10-year reunion. Not only did I re-iterate the thought in my head that I had no intention of going to the reunion, but I also realized that this girl was totally and completely stuck in high school... imagine talking to someone who's been married AND divorced already, yet still has the hots and is in the process of pursuing her high school crush! After that lunch, I never communicated with her again, but it was just so clear that we had nothing in common. The internet puts you in such awkward positions... I can't decide if these blasts from the past are essentially good or bad.

[edited]

tabitha brown
1.23.08 @ 11:28a

High School was almost 15 years ago for me and being a product of military life I attended 5 H.S. in 4 years...I remember some 'friends' but only keep up with a few now.

I'd have to hunt for days in my mother's garage to find my elementary school yearbooks to even begin to remember any kids from that time period.

Like that's going to happen.

I have a facebook, myspace, tagged, linkedin etc.. and with all that I haven't re-connected with some childhood friend that i thought of fondly or couldn't stand.

Plus i think it's a bit weird to contact someone that you didn't really like anyway to see how their life is going???



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