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Social media has removed a very important word from common use

Social media uses the word “friend” as a tag for adding someone to a list of people from whom we desire to see the posts or other shared media. This gives many a warm feeling to know they have a lot of friends who they follow and who follow them – even celebrities can be our “friends” in this way. Unfortunately, such use has desensitized the minds of many to the actual deeper meaning of the word friend.

Because of the broad spectrum over use caused by social media, the word friend has replaced the word acquaintance. Unfortunately, the two words have very different meanings and, for some, this can cause issues.

If you are reading this, then chances are that we are acquaintances. We might be friends, but the odds are far greater that we are acquaintances. And that is okay. There is nothing wrong with being an acquaintance of someone. It is not a bad word, it does not mean that those who have made your acquaintance feel less toward you than they feel toward others. Quite the contrary, those who have made your acquaintance probably view you with deep respect and would love to get to know you better… perhaps there is a chance that you could even become friends, but that takes time and a far deeper level of communication than acquaintances share.

Acquaintances are those people with whom we have things in common. Perhaps we work at the same place, share interest in the same hobbies, enjoy sitting together in the cafeteria at campus and talking about the day. An acquaintance is the term for all of the people we have met and know and get along with because of shared interests. They are the people in our book club, the people we chat with in our favorite MMO, the people we enjoy talking to in the parking lot after church, and the people we share drinks with after a long day at work. We like our acquaintances, we share interests with them, we enjoy hanging out and hearing about their perspective on the things we share an interest in. They are not ALL our friends.

Friend was once a specialized term that was applied to only a select few. It was special. It was something that all acquaintances had the potential to become. For some it still holds a very special meaning and to have such a person call you their friend is something to be cherished, not because you are special, but because the term means so very much to that person.

A friend is that person with whom you feel a deep level of connection that does not require you to share the same interests. Friends may not work at the same place, they may not go to the same social spots, they may not like the same hobbies… but there is something… something special and undefinable that makes them want to be around one another anyway. A friend will go to a sporting even with you even if they can not stand the sport – simply because it is something you would enjoy. Friends are those precious few for who we give of ourselves not because it benefits us in some way, but because of a desire to share experiences with that person. A friend is someone who you enjoy talking to so much that the two of you will walk six blocks in the wrong direction, and not even realize it, because you were enjoying one another’s company more than you were interested in the shared interest you were going to see. A friend is someone you say goodnight to twenty times and still have just one more laugh to share before you actually part ways for the day.

On a deeper level: an argument with an acquaintance can leave someone feeling hurt and cause them to step away, to avoid being around that person for fear that the hard feelings will only get worse. What separates out a friend is, no matter how bad the disagreement, the ability to come back together (perhaps with a mediator) and talk. To see, if not the other person’s perspective, at least that they do not share your perspective, and to be okay with that. To get beyond the issue and be able to accept the difference and not have it drive a wedge between the two of you. A friend is someone you have no fear in yelling at because they will accept you still, because they know sometimes things build up and you need to scream or rant or verbally hit something or someone and they are able to take the brief explosion and still want to be your friend. This, perhaps above all else, is what makes a friend truly special and worthy of being cherished.

Social media has reduced “friend” to mean acquaintance, and that is a disservice to the true value of what a friend means to so many. So, if you are reading this, know that you are a valued acquaintance and I would love to spend some time with you in whatever area of our lives our interests cross paths. I cherish your insights and enjoy spending time getting to know you better, be that in person discussing our day or simply reading the posts you have made that are read by so many fellow acquaintances of us both.

And if I have called you friend… I hope you have a better understanding of just how very important that term still is to me and maybe you understand I do not use the term lightly.

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