One of the few things, and there aren’t many, that I’m too scared to say on Facebook or Twitter is that I feel lonely, and that’s because I’m worried people will think I’m weird. In truth, they probably would. Saying you’re lonely implies that you don’t have enough people in your life. The word ‘lonely’ paints a picture of a person with no actual friends, and someone who isn’t close to their family. At least, this is how I feel I would be portraying myself if I were to confess publicly to feeling alone, but it isn’t necessarily the case.
In the modern world we tend to be surrounded by hundreds of people, but most of them are acquaintances, rather than real friends. It’s especially the case with students. We add hundreds of people to our list of ‘friends’ on Facebook, but how many of these people could we actually ring up (if we even have their phone number), and ask for help with a problem, or ask for a shoulder to cry on, even ask to come out for a drink? Last Christmas, the one just gone, I sent out a message over Facebook to about forty of my friends, asking for their address. It occurred to me, as someone who is reluctant to yield to modernity, that I see these people every day, sit next to them in lectures, go out with them for evenings of drinking and laughing, share stories and jokes with them, have real friendships, and yet I don’t know where they live. I had phone numbers for a few of them, but no postal addresses. So I sent out this message, and received a fair few answers, and so I compiled an old-fashioned address book (I bought a Filofax. I’m very happy with it), and when December came I sent out Christmas cards to all of them, just like grown-ups did in the olden days.
Our friendships, and most of our day-to-day lives, are conducted entirely over the internet, through social networking sites like Facebook. I for one feel that we’re losing the traditional relationships and friendships that we used to have. I miss the days when you had one phone number, and you would say things like ‘find me in the book’, and would have to make sure you took ten pence with you when you went out so you could ring home. In those days, friends were friends. These days, we get along with people, we see their holiday pictures and know what they had for tea, we offer advice or support when they need it, we share their ups and downs, and all the details of their life, but if I’m being honest, of the people on my Facebook list, there are only a few that I feel able to ring up and ask to come out for a drink. That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of people on that list that I’d love to ask for a drink; there are, but I feel that if I did, they’d think I was weird. It’s a new social boundary. These new friendships aren’t based on solid foundations, like the old ones. Being someone’s Facebook friend often means you met them once when out in the pub, or you know them to say ‘hello’ to from some extra-curricular club. These people aren’t prepared for you to suddenly invite them round for pizza… are they? Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe they’d be delighted and flattered, and would love to build a more personal friendship. Maybe it’s me who’s too cautious. Maybe I’m the problem.
I have less than ten really good friends. By ‘really good friends’, I mean friends that have been in my life since I was thirteen, eleven, even four in some cases. These are friends I trust, and who really know me. I have 176 friends on Facebook, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in years. They are Facebook friends, but are they actually friends? There are so many of them who I’d love to meet up with, have a drink and a laugh with, who I’d love to know better. There are girls I’d love to go shopping with, but I always feel that if I invite them, they’d wonder why the hell I was asking them to go out, when they barely know me. Maybe that’s the point. The friends I’ve know since I was eleven already know whether or not I’m funny, weird or normal, how I feel about certain things, whether I’m being serious if I take the piss out of them, they know my sense of humour. It’s a frightening thing to suddenly talk to people who don’t know those things. Often, I post a comment on someone’s facebook then panic in case they don’t realise I’m joking. What about those people who have 700, 800, 900 friends on Facebook? How many of those hundreds of people would really classify as friends?
So, where did this all start? This blog wasn’t supposed to be about Facebook, but why it isn’t acceptable in today’s society to admit to feeling lonely. It stands to reason that most of us are. If we’re single, especially if we’ve been single for a long time, and we don’t get out as often as we should, and if our friends live at other ends of the country, as most of them often do, why is it so shameful to utter the word ‘lonely’? Is it because it implies weakness? It is because we think other people will automatically assume that we’re lonely for good reason, that we’re boring, horrendous people, who deserve to be lonely because no-one could bear to be friends with us? I don’t know, actually. I wish I did. What I do know, is that it should be easier to reach out to each other. There shouldn’t be a barrier between us, like there is. We should be able to hold out a hand to anybody, anywhere, and say ‘Hi, do you fancy a drink?’. Maybe that would make us even weirder, and even lonelier, I don’t know.