Tanya Leach-Haye, Contributor
Yesterday, a friend sent me pictures she had taken of us in 1983 when we were in high school. Those pictures reminded me about my definition of a friend: someone with whom I share common interests and values, who knows the real me, yet still likes and accepts me. In high school, you knew who your friends were, and 'the others' got a wide berth. That didn't mean animosity, but there was distance between you and them because you had a clear definition of friendship.
Then entered Facebook with a new definition of the word friend. A friend became someone you 'added' to your list or someone to whom you sent a friend request. So, by a simple click, you became friends; and friends no longer needed to meet your usual requirements. But, when did friends stop being people who actually cared about us? Those high-school pictures brought on a wave of nostalgia, forcing me to examine if I, too, had succumbed to this new definition. So, having made it my new year's resolution to re-evaluate my Facebook friends' list and to delete the ones who really were not friends, the pictures of the high-school friends accelerated the process. To do this, I first categorised my friends, and I found a pattern. I found two broad categories - the fiends and the friends.
Let me tell you about the 'fiends' category first.
They say actions speak louder than words, but in 'Facebookland', it's comments - or lack of them - that speak volumes. Nowhere is this more evident than in this category - the fiends. These fiends are either the haters or the curious, and everyone - on and off Facebook - has some of them. The haters are pseudo-friends who have some grudge against you. They may have been friends at one time before a fall out. They are very interested in your life, but only because they want to compete. However, the curious were never really friends, but sent you a friend request to see what's going on in your life. The pictures told them, so they no longer keep up the pretence of wanting to be your friend. They didn't want to befriend you. They just wanted to see your pictures to assess your life. They did, because you gave them access by accepting the friend request. And now, they've moved on.
The two groups display the same behaviour: They both ignore your comments and any achievement you make, so I guess it means you're doing something good, which they prefer to ignore. They will never give you the pleasure of a compliment, which begs the question: Why are you on my 'friends' list again? Here's the thing: They're really not friends. And, if they're not, why give them access to the intimate parts of my life just for them to 'creep', gawk, and rummage through my life, yet contribute nothing? Would I allow such a person into my home? I think not. Fiends are a part of life, but don't need to be a part of my Facebook life, where I have the power to choose who to let in and who to keep out. My solution? I'm deleting them all. My Facebook page is only for friends. Real friends.
After I decided on the fiends, I then started to look at the friends group, and what I discovered was that I had a great group of Facebook friends, most of whom I've known for more than 20 years. Matter of fact, some of them go back to prep-school days. Even though I've got to know some of my Facebook friends through Facebook, most of my friends are from years way back, and I am grateful for their affection, support, and friendship. Even though most of our contact is online, it's beautiful. It is. They're in the category of (real) friends, and I've divided them into three subgroups.
The first group is the infrequent visitors. They visit Facebook maybe once or twice a month or maybe every six months or so. When they do, they review many friends' pages and try to catch up. I'm always delighted when I log on and see evidence that they were there. Sure, they may be months late, but they 'stopped by'. They may not really like the whole online friendship/social networking concept, but they are happy to be connected, especially if we reconnected after many years. These are the ones who generally are satisfied with their lives, and don't have the time or energy to be envious or curious about mine. And don't we all have real friends like this? We may not talk for months or years, but when we do it's as if we had talked yesterday. Friends like these, on or off Facebook, are keepers.
And then there are the silent ones in this category. They may be on Facebook frequently or infrequently, but in person and online, their words are few. So, when they are silent, they're just remaining true to themselves on Facebook. They tend to be more introspective than expressive. Or they just hate the superficiality of Facebook. But once or twice a year, they just MAY make a comment on my page to let me know they're alive, and they're thinking of me. They don't care to comment on my page or anyone else's page. And they certainly don't need any of my friends to like their comments. But when they need to make a comment, they will pick up the phone and chat. And when they see that I've posted a 'victory', they'll email me, text me, or even make a comment on Facebook. They are the same face to face as they are online. When there's something to say, they'll say it. These friends are genuine. They, too, are keepers.
And then there's the other group that I call my peeps. They are the reason I am happy to have discovered Facebook in 2010. They are mainly my high-school sisters, my weight loss "sistahs" (don't even ask), and my COTR and UWI/UCCF friends; but the most vocal group is my high school sisters. We go way back to days when we had acne, wore ugly, green uniforms which were never tight or short enough, and had thick, unprocessed hair. Like me, they tend to be on Facebook often. They are there most days, even if briefly. They are there for major events: Olympics, US elections, Grammys, Academy Awards, Scandal (Oops. Did I say major events?) etc., when we clog up each other's newsfeeds with minute-by-minute 'wanna-be tweets'. (Why aren't we on Twitter, again? Oh, yeah. 144 characters are just too limiting!) We keep each other up-to-date with information, especially anything related to Jamaica. We share about the drama we encounter daily and "like" each other's comments.
I know they're there because of their frequent posts and comments. We don't ignore each other's status, updates or comments. My 'accomplishments' do not make them insecure. They know 'today for you, tomorrow for me', so there's no competing for dominance. If I were to get a promotion, they'd rejoice with me and vice versa. If their daughter gets an A or their son makes the dean's honour roll, I feel proud for them, and I acknowledge it. If ever I were to visit the city where they live, I'd call them or even try to visit them and they'd make the effort to see me, even if only for 17 minutes at the local Starbucks, as my childhood neighbour, Lisa Wee Tom, did in Florida during Christmas 2011 after we reconnected through Facebook. Needless to say - these friends are keepers.
Truth is: Unless you use Facebook for business, then it should be for the pleasure of staying in touch with people who like you, the keepers. So, if you go through your friends' list, you may want to re-think those 'fiends'. Of course, I believe all relatives should remain as Facebook friends. So what if 'Aunt Gloria' is embarrassing with those weird-looking weaves or 'Uncle Bill' is always posting 'the most inappropriate pictures' or 'Cousin Joe' can't spell, yet insists on daily (sometimes thrice daily!) status updates? They're family! They'll be there for you in a heartbeat. Family - we don't delete. We just don't.
So, back to the question: Who do you cut from the friends' list? Well, to simplify the process and not quibble over the semantics of the word friend, ask yourself two questions: Does this person like me? Do I like this person? And I mean genuinely like. Their actions speak volumes, so it's not hard to tell if they really like you. If you can answer yes to both questions, then this person should not be cut from the list. But if the answer is negative, why expose your life to people who do not care for you? Why give them access to your life online?
So, I guess if I put all of this in perspective, Facebook hasn't really redefined friendship. It has helped me to see more clearly what people are made of. It is really a social mirror, which begs the question: Mirror, mirror on the wall, which of these 'friends' are really 'fiends'?