The Limits of Friendship

Golden Retriever puppy and adult

Hold on there, Mister. You're a little forward, aren't you?

Spending so much time online has gotten me thinking about friendship. What makes you someone’s friend? When you meet people online, you can only know about them what they choose to reveal.

But isn’t that true for all our friends?

Friendship with Dogs

I’m never quite sure how to describe my relationships with dogs. But I think it fits the term “friendship.”

We enjoy spending time together. We get to learn each other’s habits. We can read each other’s body language.

But there are limits.

No matter how much time I spend with Honey, I’ll never know what it’s like to experience the world of smell. I just can’t understand a very major part of how Honey interacts with the world.

And her lightning fast ability to read another dog and respond accordingly is amazing to me. I find myself watching the ballet of motions between dogs, the resulting tiff, the “calming signals” that follow and I know our friendship will always have limits.

Friendship on Facebook

I recently joined Facebook, reluctantly. I hated the use of the term “friends” for the associations. And I wasn’t sure about mixing up my work life and personal life into one big mash up (which is funny because I’ve always formed closed friendships among my co-workers).

But I’ve started rethinking friendship on Facebook.

It’s allowed me to see new sides of people I only knew casually. So while I’ve always known E was a nice man who did an important job for a business I really admired, thanks to Facebook I’m learning about his love of music and wry sense of humor. And I love learning those things.

Facebook has also made it easy for me to renew old friendships injured by distance and time.

But there are limits.

Facebook is the home of the wise a** comment, the quick snippet, the “like” button. It’s a world of impressions.

Facebook is where you’ll find out who likes Pink Floyd but not why. You’ll discover that absolutely no one you know agrees with your list of favorite films (c’mon, guys, what’s not to like about a 2 hour film of two men talking over dinner?!). And you’ll be teased with information you can’t really follow up on–or if you do, your friend will already have moved onto the next thing.

Two black dogs at the dog park
Shadow didn’t make friends easily but she loved Sally.

Friendship in the “Real World”

Even having someone standing in front of you is no guarantee that you’ll understand them or that they’ll understand you.

As someone with the dangerous habit of talking (and sometimes writing) to think, I can hurt people without meaning to. My mouth usually works faster than my brain.

I recently hurt a friend with insensitive comments. I still feel terrible about it. Especially because it wasn’t the first time I’d hurt someone without meaning to and I assume it won’t be the last.

You see, friendship has limits.

Even with the benefits of standing right beside someone and having time to observe them in real life, I’m still me. And I still do all the emotionally retarded (no, I mean it; I’m very slow to process emotions) things I’ve always done.

Friendship in Blog World

Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of Something Wagging This Way Comes. At first, I was writing all alone. But eventually, I formed connections with others writing blogs and who come by here to read mine.

Some folks are like acquaintances. I’d smile at them in the elevator or chit chat about the weather or the news if we met up somewhere.

Others cause me to wonder when I can call someone a friend. I’m rooting for their success and I’m sad to learn of their suffering. I look forward to hearing from them even if hearing from them is just reading their latest post or short comment.

But there are limits.

I realize that I know very little about many of the people whose writing I enjoy. Some protect their privacy and so I find myself caring about people without necessarily knowing their real name. (Did you ever notice how quickly you can guess someone’s age by how easily they reveal their full name online? Growing up with the internet makes a big difference.)

I often don’t know much about bloggers’ lives outside what they write. And yet, is that so different from other friendships?

People become friends with fellow dog walkers and never talk about anything but dogs. I have friends whose tastes are so different from mine that we never talk about movies or books. And I once had a friend I didn’t like so much but whose tastes were so similar to mine that I’d go to a film she recommended without even reading the description.

Friendship with Limits

My husband is my best friend. He’s seen me at my worst and he roots for me to do my best. And yet our friendship has limits too.

I know (although I was slow to learn) not to make blasphemous jokes around him. And he doesn’t always understand what’s really important to me (although he supports me cheerfully once I tell him).

So maybe limits aren’t so bad.

Maybe friendships without limits would be too limiting. We couldn’t seek out friends in different areas of our lives because one or two could meet all our needs.

And maybe I can call someone friend without wondering if I’m allowed to just because I don’t know their real name, or what they like to do on a Saturday night, or what they’re smelling when they approach another dog’s hind end.

“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.”

–William Shakespeare

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  1. Hi there, Georgia here! Your post had me smiling from top to bottom. What an inspired topic :)

    So true about facebook (whose account I still have, I wonder why hrummph). So true you can guess someone’s age by how fast they reveal their name (which would make me…..17?). So true you can have “real” friends standing next to you and not really know them at all. Sometimes, it amazes me how much I know about what my fellow bloggers are up to…from baking dog treats over the weekend to visiting the grandparents. Hell! My neighbour’s away for the week and I don’t even know where they’ve gone.

    Well, I hope none of you are psychopathic killers. I bet you’re hoping I’m not too :p Good night Friend Pamela. Nanoo nanoo.

    • The good thing about the internet–your friends can be psychopathic killers and you’ll never be bothered with the mess. :) For all we know, psychopathic killers make great friends–if you can get past all that killing stuff.

  2. Oh look, I’ve been rude and forgot to wish you Happy Bloggerversary (I bet I spelt that wrong)! xox

    • Thank you. I missed it myself. It wasn’t until I read that Kristine at Rescued Insanity was planning her blog’s birthday that I realized I had just missed mine.

      Of course, I forget my wedding anniversary every year too. I have some kind of mental block going on.

  3. Happy Blogiversary! It seems kind of a silly milestone to celebrate sometimes, but now that I know exactly how much work goes into it, I think it deserves a lot more than just a brief mention. It is a pretty big accomplishment.

    I have never thought about friendship this intently before. Truthfully, I don’t have that many real-life friends. I have moved a lot and I am shy. Those two things have always stood in my way. Most of my real-life friends live far away and our relationships are maintained via email and Facebook. Without the latter site I may not have any connection with some people at all. In that way, my friendships are often very limited.

    Also, I feel I am a lot more open about myself online than I ever could be in person. It is much easier for me to express myself in writing than it is face to face or even over the phone. I wonder if people online don’t know me better than people offline.

    • As a formerly shy person (I still have my moments but few people who know me live would call me shy now), I know that the way you become un-shy is to pretend you aren’t shy at all.

      Of course, I don’t think everyone has to be un-shy. That would make for a very boring world. So appreciate the people who get you, like your PH and other friends, and appreciate yourself.

      Maybe that’s why online life is so freeing–we can present the parts of us we like to share without feeling burdened by those we don’t.

      And at Rescued Insanity, you’re a prom queen of popularity. Just look at all the people who are thrilled to read about you and Shiva!

      Thanks for the blogiversary greetings. My goal for this week is to tweak some things on the site and to create a badge page that will serve as a history of the site (ever the historian). I’m trying not to sweat missing the actual day.

      • Good for you! The technical side of blogging is a challenge, but it is also really rewarding when you figure something out. My goal for the next month is to actually switch to a self-hosted site. I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of late nights. And a lot of fantasizing about smashing my computer against the wall. I hope your changes go a lot smoother!

  4. Happy blogiversary! It’s funny, I was thinking about blogging and friendship these days too and thinking I need to write about it. My online friends know a lot more about one aspect of what’s important to me these days than my childhood friends or my family (I have real life foodie friends who know about my other major day-to-day interest, and sometimes the categories overlap)….

    Well, I’ll write that post. But you are one of the people I’ve come to consider a friend, even though we may never meet. That’s just how it is.


  5. You’ve said what, I would think, most of us feel about friendships and thank you for that! It’s quite a milestone to know you’ve been blogging for a year. Happy Blogiversary!! I think about all the new friends I’ve made in the 8-9 months I’ve been blogging and it’s a great feeling. I too have moved a lot and know that making real-life friends is like blogging–you have to just keep at it!

  6. It is good to have different kind of friendships. Real word friends tell me to euthanize Viva and get a new dog. My viral friends provide comfort and support me that it is absolutely not time yet. I find it enriching to have so many kinds of friendships.

    I enjoy your blog posts, your comments to other blogs, and now recently also your comments on FB after I “found” you. That is a pretty great deal to me. You can make me happy or sad like any other “type” of friend can do. I learn a lot from you and always find myself read twice whatever it is you write. I don’t hope the fact we protect our privacy stands in the way. Real world friends make us do that :)

    • Thanks for the kind words. It’s true that we need to put ourselves in the way of different kinds of friendships.

      And I don’t take the privacy decisions of any of my online friends personally. I understand. And it’s something I often wonder about for myself.

      See ya around the internet.

  7. Congratulations and great philosophical read on a Saturday morning! I tried to read C.S. Lewis’ essay on friendship not too long ago, and frankly, yours is better. 😉 Must be because Lewis was from Mars.

    I also find facebook shallow in many respects, but agree it is wonderful for rekindling lost or distant relationships. Ironically, since I recently caved to the “marketing” pressure to create my own blog “fan page,” I’ve found that some people are just more comfortable talking about themselves on that medium (vs. my blog). Hence, the marketing advice was well-heeded. 😉

    I’d love to know how many bloggers consider themselves shy in “real life”. I do. Why is it that speaking to mostly total strangers over the World Wide Web is so much easier than talking to an aquaintance over the phone about nothing in particular. I don’t know, but I’m so thankful that it is!

    P.S. I’m not a psychopath.

    • Wow, a favorable comparison to C.S. Lewis! I can’t wait to tell my husband–he’s a big Lewis fan.

      Maybe I’ll do a poll someday to see how many of my blogging friends consider themselves introverts and how many are extroverts. I think it’s human to want to be “known” by others. And writing online helps both the innies and the exies meet that goal.

      For shy people, it’s a way that allows you to take your time without being rushed about what you want to share. For outgoing folks, we get to share things with pauses in between so we don’t overwhelm other people with our verbal diarrhea. It’s a great way for introverts and extroverts to come together.

      Glad to hear you’re not a psychopath, BTW. :)

  8. Happy Blogiversary!

    I’ve always had a hard time making and keeping real life friends. I never really connected with anyone from high school, and the college I went to was a fragmented city college where everyone commuted and lived off campus. I had one great, close friend who was everything to me, but she had lots of issues and left one day – no idea where she is.

    But I guess it all depends on what your definition of “friend” is. There are many people in my life I would call acquaintances – but very few I would consider friends.

    And in truth, the animals I share my life with are really my best friends. I guess I haven’t met people quite as nutty as me in real life, but like you pointed out, that’s where the internet (and blogs!) really steps in. But again, are these really friendships?

    • I guess I wrote this piece because I’m wondering what makes a friendship. But I find I care what happens to the people I meet online and if that isn’t friendship, I’d have a hard time coming up with a better definition.

      Glad you got the book. Hope you have a great time with it and that you had a wonderful birthday!

  9. Oh, P.S. the book came in the other day and I LOVE it! Thank you so much, it’s really great, and such a wonderful birthday present!

  10. Congratulations on your blogoversary! I totally missed my second one, it was March 4! lol

    Your words strike a chord with me because it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. I don’t know if I’m really a terribly shy person, but I am very quiet in real life. I also grew up in a rather dysfunctional home, and so I tend to listen more than I talk. But I love to hear more about other people. The truth is, people who “know” me online probably know me much better than my family. I feel like they don’t know the “real” me, and if they did, I don’t know that they’d like her. My closest friendships are with people I’ve met online, even though we haven’t met in person.

    One thing I love about the blog community that I’ve met is that they have similar passions to mine, but also have a variety of interests that I can learn about. The world fascinates me, and I hope that I never get tired of seeing new things. I don’t know if you want to call me a friend or not, but feel free! I always admire the heck out of your words! :)

    • Wow, two years! I guess that’s what it means to integrate something fully into your life–you don’t even notice the anniversaries.

      I agree with what you like about blog world. I meet people because we share a common interest in dogs. But as I follow a blog or see them comment on other sites, I learn more about them all the time. It’s very cool to learn the different facets of people’s interests as I see them more and more online.

      And I wonder if people who know me online know me better than folks from “real” life. You’ve given me something interesting to ponder. Hmmmm.

  11. What an awesome post! I have so much I could say, I wish we could go out for coffee and talk about it in person! :)

    I also joined Facebook very reluctantly (my husband is a computer consultant, and the privacy issues frightened me), but now I just have fun with it. I’m just very, very cautious not to post anything that could come back to bite me should I ever enter politics. :) I have worked for DECADES to watch my big mouth. It’s a work in progress still.

    Some days I think I have the best friends in the world, some days I think no one understands me, and some days I thank the good Lord for the dog park and the Internet, where all you need is a friendly attitude and decent comment or two.

  12. Wow, that was quite a post to read after such a trying day. LOL! I suppose everything has limits to some degree or another, but I think it can also come down to having an open mind. I have always been stunned by emails from blog friends that were in a completely different tone, style, etc. than how they write. I always find that interesting because it is usually more personal. There are blog friends that I thought would work out through emails and such and they didn’t while others I’ve become very close with that are 1,000’s of miles away. I’ve been learning to take it with the territory.

    Now what do you mean you can’t understand Honey’s sense of smell?? Do you really need to know what poo smells like??? :)

    Congratulations on your one year Blogaversary! Keep smashing that key board, cause I can’t wait to read what you are going to come up with next!

    • I think it’s certainly true that a blog post can be very different from a personal email. I’d be curious to hear more about your thoughts on this.

      As for the poo smell–it’s gotta be much more than I’m smelling. I just get that awful scent but Honey soaks it up to get all the information. What am I missing? :)

  13. Happy blogiversary!
    Such a thoughtful post… it is true that although I was so resistant to Facebook, it has given me insight on friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Some of my friends are more witty than I ever gave them credit for, and some have fascinating interests that I never knew about! I do like the opportunity to connect with them on a more regular basis.
    As for the blogging world… you and many of the other pet bloggers have definitely become a big part of my life. :) It’s nice to find so many wonderful people who share my interest and bring so much to the table!

    • A co-worker of mine says she hates Facebook because everyone tries so hard to be clever. I think that’s what’s fun about it.

      And knowing someone loves dogs is good. But knowing someone loves dogs and can turn a really wicked pun is terrific! :)

  14. What a great post! I’m really lucky to be in the unique position that I can make friends in the bloggesphere or on Facebook, and then meet up with them as we travel around the country. In fact, that’s one of my favorite things about traveling.
    I think it’s true that we use the word “friend” a bit more loosely in this era of Facebook – I think that might be a good thing. In our society we’ve put so much distance between ourselves and others, we spend so much time focusing on our differences. In the face of that, spreading the “friend” term a little thin is fine with me.