Defining Friendship in Today’s World

My blog today is contributed by Sherrey Meyer, a good friend and fellow writer who is working on a memoir about growing up in a matriarchal culture.


Nouwen quote on friendship

Henri Nouwen’s quote defines the foundation of a friendship. In looking at online definitions of the word “friendship,” they are many. Not one encompasses the qualities necessary to move from “being friends” to a true and lasting friendship.

The definition found in Urban Dictionary is worth reading and understanding as it relates to today’s ever-growing cybernetic society:

“Something that is much underrated in our society. Friendship is actually a form of love (here I’m not talking exclusively about erotic love). It’s not a lesser form of love than erotic love, only a different form of love. In fact, the ancient Greeks had a word, “phileos”, more or less equating to fraternal/brotherly love (friendship). …” [read more here]

With the birth and exponential growth of social media, we use new words to define or describe friendships and how they are created. As the 2000s rolled by, social media networks burgeoned and we began to meet new people online. “Friending” someone on Facebook became commonplace, an action most often based on a prior relationship. “Friending” a stranger may occur because you know someone who knows someone who knows someone.

But, “friending” or “following” on social media is not as companionable as meeting up face-to-face.  Chatting with old friends over a meal or making a new friend as the result of attending a conference or workshop, or even at the coffee shop where casual conversation begins.

Questions loomed around “friending,” “following,” “linking up with” online. Could we build “friendships” via social networking? Could you become friends with someone you couldn’t see? What impact is there on the definition of friendship?

In an article by Phil Barrett of Burning the Bacon with Barrett, he states his answer to the question of defining “friendship” and the impact social media has had on it. Quoting Barrett here:

Social Media has changed the definition of friends.  Just as media consumption and interaction has fragmented with new technology, so [have] our relationships and how we define them.

Best friends and trusted business associates will always be there for you – but social media has allowed us to cast a wider net personally and professionally – and thereby expanding or evolving who we consider a friend.

My response to the question of defining solid friendships is simple. Along the way in my online writing journey, I have made many friends. This summer I had the opportunity to meet in person three women I met online because of our shared interest in writing. The three just happened to be travelling through Portland at various times in the summer months, and I was able to meet each one face-to-face. Those intimate interactions, one-on-one, changed nothing of how I felt, except this: Face-to-face, intimate sharing of conversation and personality instilled in me a greater fondness for each one of them. When I’m online, I know who they are and what they do, but I don’t receive the pleasure of seeing the twinkle in the eye, hearing the laughter, or grasping other emotions shared during personal conversation.

Those are individual characteristics that for me encompass the definition of friendship. Getting to know the real person.

Coupled with Barrett’s widening net theory and my real-time meeting with my online friends, I can say the expectations I have held for decades with respect to making and keeping friends have not changed so much. I can still find and enjoy sharing interests, values, and mutual support and encouragement with all of my friends, both online and the ones I can reach out and touch.

Maintaining online friends, just as in keeping nearby friends, requires the same give and take of a real-time friendship. Intentional and authentic support, encouragement, caring, and honoring the other’s privacy and space are still important factors.

What about you? Please share your thoughts on defining friendship and what you think social media’s impact has been on friends and friendships.



sherrey2013_2A retired legal secretary, Sherrey Meyer grew tired of drafting and revising pleadings and legal documents.  She had always dreamed of writing something else, anything else!  Once she retired she couldn’t stay away from the computer, and so she began to write.  Among her projects is a memoir of her “life with mama,” an intriguing Southern tale of matriarchal power and control displayed in verbal and emotional abuse.

You can reach Sherrey on her websites:  Sherrey Meyer, Writer, on Facebook and/or Twitter, or via email at


  1. I am fortunate to have many friends, the face-to-face variety and online, including the two of you. I don’t have to weigh words with my oldest friends who will blow away the chaff and understand my intent and meaning. Also, they don’t push me to get to “happy” too fast, knowing the full range of emotions matter in one’s life.

    I have an ambivalent relationship with the word FRIEND applied to online associations, and I think the word LIKE is about to explode or mutate into something else. Don’t forget either their close verbal cousins: Meet-ups and Hang-outs which come close to being impersonal in my opinion. On the other hand, I have met students from long, long ago in my Mennonite days and maintain friendships with writing partners not possible without social media. “Ambivalence” sums it up. Great topic!

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Thanks Marian … I too am ambivalent. I have, like you, met some wonderful people through social media, but to the extent they are becoming “friends,” it is because of conversations that take place in person, on Skype or by phone, or by email. I don’t think you can really be friends until you know quite a bit more about someone than you can possibly learn on FB.

    • First of all, forgive my delayed response. Yesterday I prepared for class, and today I attended. This student’s head is exploding with information.

      Marian, I tend to feel the same as you. So much more is experienced when you spend time with someone either in person, via Skype, phone or email. I couldn’t agree more with the words you have used to express your feelings and thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. Dear Sherrey, my favorite line here is how online communications need to be handled like in-person communications -with respect, authenticity and caring. Making meaningful connections with friends online has been a very rewarding and nurturing experience for me. Meeting online friends in person is the icing on the cake. I am looking forward to meeting Carol and Mary this week and surely hope you and I get to meet someday. There’s nothing like a real hug! Thank you both for a wonderful post.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Hi Kathy … I am so looking forward to our lunch … as I noted to Marian, for me getting to know people requires the opportunity to link their words to sound of their voice, their facial expressions, and their body language as you share experiences and perspectives. It should be a wonderful day.!

    • Kathy, thanks for your always encouraging and gracious words. I am a bit jealous that you’re meeting our online friends, Carol and Mary, this week. Some day I hope to do the same and to meet you and Marian. Enjoy meeting online friends in real time!

  3. Mary, thanks for allowing me to share your blog space. I thoroughly enjoyed writing on this topic and discovering just how much building friendships has changed over time.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Sherrey … I loved this piece, as I told before I ran it … it addresses a fundamental dilemma we are all dealing with in the face of ever more intrusive social media. Thanks for such a lovely contribution to by blog.

      • Mary, I agree with the use of the word “dilemma” in this new social context. I’m glad we had the opportunity to share our thoughts with others. Enjoy meeting Kathy this week!

  4. Hi Sherrey,
    Since blogging, I’ve been delighted to find friends online, like you that I probably wouldn’t have met in real life because of distance etc.

    And I always appreciate Henri Nouwen’s thoughts and also your words 🙂

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Dolly … I agree … I made some delightful new friends through social media … something I never expected to happen.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I’ve come to accept that friendship has many layers, whether on line or in person. I can have book club friends, go to movie friends, coffee or lunch friends. I’m also fortunate to have a few friendships that are deep and have stood the test of time, whether we see each other or not. My on-line friendships have many layers as well. I appreciate that friendships don’t just happen, they require attention and nurturing by both parties. I value all my friendships in all their infinite variety.

    It’s a treat when an on-line friendship moves into the real world. See you for lunch, Kathy!

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Carol, The distinction that I have always drawn is between friendships of convenience (for me, most often people I worked with), or and friends that, as Sherrey notes, are based on shared values and shared experiences. I think the ones that stand the test of time are those in which your shared experiences force you to deal with multiple aspects of the other’s personality, so that you can “connect” more easily when you do not know the players or the specific circumstances. I think those friendships are few and far between, and I am most grateful for those I have.

  6. Thanks for directing me to this post, Sherrey. As a writer living in a rural area – and only having moved here a few years ago – I would feel totally isolated without my online/email friendships. I’m lucky to have a few ‘virtual’ friends I’ve managed to meet up with in real life, and as Mary says, this has only enhanced my appreciation of them. Maybe it’s easier for writers to be friends via email – we’re comfortable writing, after all – but it’s also sometimes easier to be your authentic self with people who have no expectations of you. For example, moving into a new area with a small child should give a reasonably outgoing person (me) some chance of making friends with other mums. If only it were so! In the main I found cliques impossible to penetrate, I found myself feeling judged as an older mum, and I found the coffee mornings and mum’s nights out to be – if I’m totally honest – just not what I wanted to be doing with my time. I have very few real friends, but those I do have are precious to me, whether I ever get to actually meet them or not.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Joanne … thanks so much for stopping by. I love your comment about the ability to be honest with people who have no expectations. It’s why we often have soulful conversations with perfect strangers … a way to hear our own thoughts and get them outside ourselves … but without the potential consequences of sharing with someone who will expect you to do it differently. A very nice insight, for which I thank you.

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