What makes a good friend?

A cloudy and dark December morning, I got the train to the north of the country.  I was going to meet a group of good friends for a surprise birthday party celebration. We had been planning this excitedly for a few weeks, plotting all the finer details to make sure that the unsuspected birthday girl would not find out about her very special birthday present – a weekend gathering in a cottage away from our children, husbands and household chores.

It was going to be a relaxing and fun break, chatting and joking and not getting any sleep. And it was just that and even better. A typical ladies’ get-together – old friends living in different parts of the country meeting to have a good time, catch up and connect.

Except I had never met with any of them before.

Our friendship originated and flourished online in a closed facebook group. There are currently a few hundred members and our little group has grown into a lovely space for mums to talk and connect. Inevitably through our posts, comments and attitudes several virtual friendships have been created.

Virtual friendships are not new. They existed well before facebook was even conceived. Chat rooms and computer simulated worlds provided the first spaces to bring people from around the world together. In their initial conceptions, virtual worlds were text based with no or limited visual content. Inevitably, they were not particularly user friendly or engaging. But with technology geared towards making them user friendly and intuitive, they have now become part of the pop culture. Thank goodness for this!

With the demands of modern life, the internet has probably become the best place for mums to make friends. As our lives become busier and our family commitments are increasing, facebook and other social media platforms are filling in a gap, providing safe places for us to engage and get to know each other with the click of a button.

We are no longer restricted by geography or luck or job or social environment to meet people. Virtual spaces are full of smart, interesting, amazing human beings. And we are simply in charge of getting to know these people, engage and connect with them in safe non-threatening spaces. How wonderful is that? Technology allow us to meet people with similar interests and sense of humour; people who share our concerns; people who may be in a very similar situation or may experience similar hardships so that their words can resonate with us.

Humans may be designed to be able to only maintain a limited number of friends as stated by Dunbar’s number. But we are fortunate enough to live in a point of time where we can truly choose those friends.

It is a concept that the older generation may be struggling with. Especially as it seems like that this kind of connection only makes it to the news in connection with criminal investigations. Puzzled by my facebook friendships my mum asked me the other day, “Can we really develop deep and meaningful connections with people we have never met?” This is just a great question. After all what does it really mean to be “friends” with someone? Is it time for us to reconsider what makes a good friend?

The Internet has certainly provided ample opportunities for me to connect with people either professionally or personally.  Are these connections meaningful?

When I saw the girls at the train station for the first time, I instantly knew that it was them. We did not have to introduce ourselves and there were no awkward moments. We hugged and start talking like we have been known each other for a long time. Which we certainly have.

Do you have virtual friends? I’d love to hear your stories xx