Clickclick... you have got a friend? Not really!

A college student told me the other day, “I have never met most of my friends.” He was not joking; he was dead serious. His friends are real people, but the friendships are ‘virtual’!

In these days of Facebook and Twitter, multiple other social networking sites and chat apps, many young people have a constantly expanding friend circle. Your friend’s friend is also your friend because you ‘like’ the same things.

Of course, this young man also has more conventional friends — college friends, cricket friends, computer class friends, etc. Each category in a separate compartment, each with its own unique time and place. He is a gifted juggler — this young man, with these multiple friends he keeps track of. But how often does he think about what ‘friendship’ means and why it is important? Probably never!

Nurture it

Making friends is a social skill, but nurturing meaningful friendships is a life skill. It is worth the effort to get it right, because it can lead to a richer and more satisfying life.

Each of us is a product of both nature and nurture; that is, we have our own unique hard-wired traits of personality as the scaffolding on which we build our persona from our relationships with family, friends and others. As young people grow and spend more and more time away from home and family, they are increasingly in the circle of influence of friends or acquaintances. Our friendships during college life etch permanent patterns on our characters and psyches whether we are aware of it or not. Each of these relationships leaves its brush-mark. Friendships can paint the portrait of one’s life.

Forming a friendship is seldom a conscious process. “We met and became friends” is the common description of how it came about. No one analyses why they became friends; why did they not just meet and walk away, for instance? But when it comes to breaking a friendship, it is a conscious and often, traumatic process, depending on the length and depth of the relationship. Ironically, this goes totally against the received wisdom that making things is much more difficult than breaking them. In the case of friendship, it seems to be the other way around.

Many friendships just wither and die with the passage of time, rather like the unused neural connections in the developing brain of a toddler. These are relationships that have outlived their significance and just melt away with no pain to either party. But they too have touched lives, they too have had their part to play.

No formula for it

Since friendships are so important, should we select our friends carefully? Should we list our requirements mentally and try to find a match, like a matrimonial website? Of course not! The charm of friendships is that they can come to life anytime, anywhere. Their strength is that there is no formula or template for them. Their beauty is that we cannot always tell why they flourish or survive. We have friends who share our ideas… and friends who don’t. We have friends who like the same kinds of food or movies as we do…and friends who don’t. We feel generous with some, jealous with others.

With some we feel safe and comfortable; with others we feel energised and enthused; or at times we feel protective and tender. Each friendship is a unique relationship, and each makes different demands and offers different rewards. Not every friendship can be, or even should be, of the intense ‘Damon-and-Pythias kind’; just as not every friendship should be of the ‘Facebook kind’. In real life, one can’t just press a button to ‘like’ and another one to ‘unlike’.

How can you be a ‘good’ friend? Of course by being considerate, unselfish, and empathetic... and, even more importantly, by being non-judgemental. But these things don’t happen automatically, not even by pressing the ‘like’ button. You will have to travel inwards and discover where friendships belong in your values pyramid and what you will be willing to invest in them.

By understanding ourselves and our values better, we can understand our friendships and their value better. After all, friendship should mean more than the casual click of a button.

Malini Seshadri is a freelance writer. Email: malini1seshadri@gmail.com