Especially during my time in the MLP fandom I came across some weird concepts and understanding of friendship. Now, who am I to call the idea of somebody else about friendship weird?
Well, I dare to say that I have experienced many different kinds of friendship first hand and even more through friends who told me their own stories. In addition I have a rather analytically working mind (with all the pros and cons… mostly cons -_- ) However, all that is not really necessary to know that sending somebody you literally never interacted with before a PM asking “can we be friends?” is not the way how you start a deep and meaningful friendship.
I personally blame facebook for this mindset, since it suggests that you can literally become friends by pushing a button.
Real friendship that goes beyond a label you give everybody you connected with via social media requires sympathy for and actual knowledge of each other. “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet” sounds nice in a fortune cookie, but even this idealistic saying implies that you actually have to meet somebody first. And from there on out the friendship is only as deep as both sides are willing to invest in it.
Now what got me to write this journal?
Well, recently I got involved in another case of somebody struggling with the interpretation of friendship to the point where they made so many disappointing experiences that they seemed rather done with friendships as a whole; to the point where they cried for help (not exaggerating here - there was a journal literally titled “help”)
After reading some of the cases and inner thoughts of this person I could easily tell what the problem was: This person made some friendly connections on the internet within the fandom (so far so good) but placed far too much expectations on those casual, impersonal relationships they made. Upon meeting those friends irl, the person immediately entrusted them with something for this person very intimate: their real name.
I am probably not the only one who doesn’t think that’s a big deal, but especially since it was for this person I have to ask: “Why jump the gun like this?” The majority of those have been mostly strangers you had a few friendly chats with and follow their content. Since sharing my real name to somebody I consider a casual friend in real life is not so meaningful for me let’s take another example that might be relatable to more people: If I met an internet-friend I only had superficial interaction with for the first time irl, I don’t give them the login to my online accounts. Or the key to my home. Or my credit card. I don’t expect them to abuse any of those, but then again: I literally don’t know them. For all I know them dirty youtubers could run off with my stuff.
Now I have friends I gave unsupervised access to my accounts, who have the spare keys to my apartment, and for certain projects I even shared my credit card info - but all of them have been friends for a while, I knew them personally and I had founded trust into them.
In addition there is a second issue with this kind of overestimating the profundity of a relationship: While it is your free will to invest so much into a friendship in advance, just because you do so, you can’t expect the other side to share your openness in return. If they don’t feel as trustworthy towards a stranger (what you you kind of are to them at this point) as you did to them, they won’t give you their logins or flat key back, and you have no base for a claim at all.
And that’s what happened to the fellow: he entrusted those people with his name, but didn’t receive any special treatment in return.
Even though I would say, it could have been worse: Due to the fact the guys didn’t realize the meaningfulness of him revealing his identity they didn’t thought too much about it either way. Now if I would walk up to a casual acquaintance and shared something I consider an intimate secret, let’s say: my most perverted fantasies, that would probably make them rather uncomfortable and the little bit of friendship we had would probably have come to a sudden end… Oo
So, I pointed out to the aforementioned friendship student that they have to learn to have realistic expectations in regards to friendship. That those friends they “would walk through an post apocalyptic wasteland for” seem to be rather superficial friendships (I was able to make this claim, since they tagged me as well and I have never even spoken in a call to them let alone met).
While the concept of a superficial friendship seemed to help the fellow with their ongoing crises, this seemed to spark another misconception I wanna address here today: They came to the conclusion that a friendship without many shared interests is automatically a superficial one - not completely true, but close enough.
However, the person concluded that since the Mane 6 have diverse interests they can only be superficial friends as well.
While I will agree that given their different personalities they are probably not as super close friends as the show tries to make them out to be, they are far beyond the superficial friendship e.g. this fellow and I share:
They actually spent a lot of quality time together (picnics, pet play time, saving the world…), they do know each other personally, and they have founded trust in each other and their abilities.
It is true that differences/similarities in interests and character traits play a big role in how close people can get and stay, but they alone are not a sufficient indicator for the depth of a friendship. This is an counterproductive oversimplification of the issue.
If you widen the concept of superficial friendship so far that it includes „internet acquaintances you are on friendly terms with“ and the Mane 6 at the same time (so it basically only excludes soulmates and completely neutral relationships) it more or less becomes pointless as a concept to begin with.
Now since my buddy I talked about so far was not the first, not the only and by far not the one with the strangest concept of friendship and realistic expectations, let me give you a short idea about my understanding of it. Given that this fandom is a haven for the socially awkward in the search of companionship this might be handy for some out there.
A short disclaimer up front: every friendship is different and there are infinite possible version of how deep a friendship is and what qualifies for deepness; therefore the following 5 levels of friendship I came up with are a very rough model and will not do justice to all friendships out there. With that said, let’s dig into it:
The “haven’t I seen you before?”-Friends
Friends of friends, people you recall being at the same event and so on. Somebody you barely ever had direct interaction with and if you did it was more coincidental. You might not even think of them as friends but rather as strangers you are on friendly terms with.
The Superficial Friends
Those are acquaintances you know and recognize, people you can have a friendly talk with. But you don’t really know them beyond the touch-points you have in common like comments on the internet, occasional tweets and maybe even a shared but barely used Skype connection. You might even have been on a podcast together or something. People you regularly meet at the gym or go to the same self-service laundry. The typical „Facebook“-friend. It sure is a friendly relationship but without any deeper commitment.
Let’s face it: this is the majority of friendships we make in the fandom. This is also where I see my relationship with the fellow above at, and where I suspect most of their disappointing friendships have actually been at. If you are a content producer this number can be ridiculously high, because you eventually start interacting with your followers so the relationship is not completely one-sided anymore. During my truly active time in 2013 this number was probably between 200 and 300 for me. Nowadays I would not even reach the three digits if you would count them
The Good Friends
I know, like and recognize them; they are people to play games with, party with, hang out with. Maybe I don’t know all there real names and addresses, but we would share those without thinking twice if it came up. The wider circle of friends you make at school, college or work. They are people I generally like to be around. Overall a more casual relationship - I trust them not to trash my house when I invite them over, but I don’t expect them to donate their kidney for me.
The amount you have of those probably changes strongly depending on how social a person you are. So my personal number is rather small nowadays but at least it used to be up to 50.
The Trusted Friends
Those are close friends who I know well enough that I would let them house-sit, that I can be open around them and that I know I can count on them when needed. Friends I can even meet again after years and it feels like it used to. People you also can give honest feedback without the need to sugarcoat it. They are the friends I wanna have around when times are NOT good. Even from my cynical point of few this is the minimum level of friendship the Mane Six are at.
The number for those is hard to pin down but I would say maybe somewhere about a dozen, above that if you are a more open and trusting person than me.
The Best Friends
The ones you trust blindly. The ones you can be completely honest with without having to fear they might think bad of you afterwards, because they already knew you anyways. They are to you “like family” (assuming you have a healthy relationship with your family).
I can count mine on one hand and I doubt that many people need more than a second one, given the time, energy, and commitment such a relationship requires.
Now you might look at your superficial friends and think “I wish I could be Good or even trusted Friends with them” and you might even be willing to bring the necessary commitment and trust to the table, however, as I hinted to before: If the other side doesn’t return those your friendship can’t advance.
I would say a certain asymmetry is fine and manageable like a Good Friend who sees more in you asks you to house-sit for him or who shares their private problems with you because they trust you. I myself had a longstanding Trusted Friend who once told me I was his best friend. I thought to myself “Boy, if an asshole like me is your best friend, you really are in a bad spot” but we have been close enough that it didn’t really matter. I tried to be a bit less of a dick towards him from then on, tough.
But if you are more than one level apart this is probably problematic - like some Good Friend you enjoy partying with, but they see you as their Best Friend and therefore expect a lot more attention and commitment than you are willing to give; or a “haven’t I seen you before?”-Friend who wants to get invited to the private gathering at your place and tries to invite himself; or a Superficial Friend who wants to be a Trusted Friend, willing to walk a wasteland for you and inevitably gets disappointed.
What brings me to one last note: You can’t force or demand deeper friendship or the associated trust, time and commitment!
And I have seen and experienced myself people trying just that in many different forms.
Trying to force a bit of intimacy into your friendship by revealing your real name is harmless against some other stuff!
People making monetary presents through patreon, gofundme or any other form of donation and throwing that into their face when you don’t treat them as nice as you want them to (subtext: “You owe me”)
Bugging somebody through PMs to give them your Skype contact and then urging that you call them. Repeatedly.
People outright demanding to share secrets with them, quote: “you want to become more social, don’t you?”
In retrospect the little teenage girl asking me on facebook if I want to be her friend suddenly doesn’t seem so bad anymore, now does it?
But it all shares this aspect of an unrealistic understanding of friendship.
Hopefully I could shed some light on that issue.