The Changing Face of Friendship

I read a short article in Psychologies Magazine the other day about friendship.

Apparently new research has suggested that being able to predict how a friend would react in a given situation is a sign of how strong your friendship is.

Now, if you know me at all you know that in Real Life I’m not the most sociable, being chronically shy and having only a few close friends rather than a large group. By far most of my contact is online with friends I have made through Twitter and Facebook, with some existing relationships BF (Before Facebook) being strengthened through the confidence boost I get by not having the pressure of face-to-face contact (Funnily enough, in a professional capacity eg when I was working as a nursery nurse or a guide at Beamish Museum, this pressure was actually relieved. Will blog about this in its own right I think). And you do wonder, every now and then, whether the doom-predictors and nay-sayers are right and that our relationships are becoming more shallow and suffering through not having more face-to-face contact. Until now I’ve rather timidly disagreed but this research is making me stick my neck out and disagree more emphatically.

If this is a good guide of friendship, then I have made some very real, lasting and solid friendships and I have a big network of friends. I can say that there are many people I count as online friends that I could confidently predict their reactions to a whole range of situations. Up until now, I may have mentally categorised these friendships as Online Friendships (other than a few), or had an argument prepared in my head in defence of these relationships for those who’d say they were less valuable than real-life ones. On the contrary, I cannot think of many Real Life friends that I could do a similar exercise with with the same confidence.

Of course, this is assuming that you accept this as a good test of how well you know someone. I’d say it’s an extremely good test, as it indicates an empathy with someone. I might not know where someone went to school or who their first crush was but I’d bet I could tell you their reaction to a piece of news or a government policy. I’d say that was far greater depth of friendship and understanding than most people have with some of their work colleagues who they see, in the flesh, every day. It’s merely a shift in understanding of the concept of friendship. A computer doesn’t have to be a big clunky tower and monitor, a book isn’t necessarily a bunch of paper within a cardboard cover. Friendships don’t need face-to-face contact to thrive and blossom.

So, to all my online friends reading this, here’s a toast to the changing face of friendship. And to you.

Let’s talk about it…

I’ve just been joining in a friendly debate on Twitter following news that the morning-after pill is going to be freely available over the counter in Ireland. While I enjoyed the debate, it’s very hard to get my ideas over in a few characters, especially when putting in five or six usernames too!

NB Whilst I have some strong religious views on some of this stuff, this isn’t what the post’s about. Just so you know.

I have long been of the opinion that sex is being totally devalued, and this just confirms that. There are so many deep emotional links to sex, and there should be, it’s the most intimate experience you can have. It should be special and important and romantic, and whether that takes place in marriage or not is a whole other question and completely down to the people involved. But the fact remains that it should be valued and taken seriously.

Quite apart from the health risks in promiscuous sex – yes HIV but also STDs and the Big P, Pregnancy – what kind of emotional fallout is there from not valuing your body or affections enough to take sex seriously and treat it as a big deal? I understand that people want flings and no-strings-attached affairs, but I don’t, personally, think it’s healthy. I understand that people want sex to be fun – it can be, and it can and should be better in a monogamous relationship. Trust and affection are a huge part of what makes sex fun and these are things that are overlooked but should be highlighted. You are opening yourself up (if you’ll pardon the expression) to an awful risk by being that intimate with someone – they can see all the parts of you that are normally hidden, both physical and emotional. Wouldn’t you rather that person was committed to you? And that that trust was being taken seriously?

I think one of my biggest worries in the whole debate is the question of pregnancy. It’s a huge deal, but it’s used far too much as a cover-all.

My husband went along as part of his job to watch a local company deal with the issue of sex in a secondary school. He came away shocked that by far the biggest emphasis of the training was about not getting pregnant. The overriding message being sent home with some pretty young kids – if I remember rightly there were some under 16s there – was that sex was fine in any context as long as you didn’t get caught, and that’s how pregnancies can be treated – getting caught. We talk about ‘unwanted pregnancy’ as if it was crabs or syphilis or even HIV – an undesirable illness to be avoided. I’ll leave aside for this post the whole issue about life before birth, it is much more than that, and repercussions can come out years later. But reducing sex down to the possible bringer of unwanted consequences totally devalues it, and THAT’S my problem today with the morning-after pill debate. It’s been available for years as a contraceptive, and if you needed it you had to go to a little extra trouble to get it. You had to just think that little bit more about what you were doing.

It’s as if sex is a hobby that can be fun but dangerous. Like rock climbing. You don’t want to fall off the cliff but if you know that extra rope is there it’s fine, take whatever risks you want. Sex isn’t a hobby. How many people will now have more and more casual sex, knowing that that pill is there if they want it, and regret it later? And if it’s available over the counter, what are the restrictions on it, for example age-wise?
*edited from original*
On the other hand, someone’s sexual choices have to be their own. I just think it’s important that they are educated choices. I’m basically saying it should be as freely available to use as it is needed but while the current phase of celebrating casual sex is in full swing (again, pardon the phrase…) can we make sure we’re upping the education as much as the celebration? Talk about it, but take it seriously.

A Helping Hand

I’m coming to the conclusion that writing can be a teensy bit frustrating. You can be flying high one moment and then totally without inspiration the next. Now, I realise this is groundbreaking stuff that no-one has ever written before. You may need to sit down to carry on reading. But joking aside, you don’t actually grasp the reality of it until you are doing it, and it’s a lot like parenting in that respect. A complete shock to the system.

I have also realised, however, that writers as a breed are supportive, caring and genuinely want to help each other. I know, this is a sweeping generalisation and there will always be the odd recluse who likes to tuck himself up away from the world and avoid contact with other human beings as much as possible. In general, though, through my experiences mostly on Twitter and my own fledgling blog, the writers I have encountered are caring people who want to help you through sticky patches.

In a world where publishing seems to exploding – everyone is writing and blogs and sites like give opportunities to anyone to be heard – it is a huge challenge to get anywhere. I am always reading advice on how to stand out in the slushpile, descriptions of mountains of manuscripts drowning publishers and agents, warnings that for every success story there are x number of rejections. It would be natural that in such a competitive world, every writer would be out for themselves, and offering help to someone else would be akin to shooting yourself in the foot. I remember auditioning for Oklahoma! once in a local dramatic society, and another girl had missed the rehearsal where we were given scripts and set audition pieces. I typed out the pieces for her and emailed them to her in time to practice for the big day, and she actually got the lead part and I was in the chorus. If I hadn’t done that, who knows? I could be on my way to the West End right now (probably not, but since we’ll never know I can daydream a little).

But there isn’t that kind of mentality at all. Everyone I have come into contact with since calling myself a writer has been kind, encouraging and genuinely pleased at their colleagues’ successes. I would like to take advantage of that a little.

I have set up a social network on Ning called Writing Cafe – – where I’m kind of hoping to start a sort of online writing group. I know there are probably lots of these already, but my Google searches haven’t really brought any to light so they must all be hiding somewhere – perhaps run by the miserable recluses I mentioned earlier. The idea is to connect with other writers  (with a little more intimacy than Twitter allows), publish pieces of writing to receive feedback (with a little more privacy than sites like Helium allow for the more bashful among us), and basically see what else people would like to get out of such a group. I also had the idea that there could be a regular online chat time.

Anyway, that’s my little contribution towards helping writers connect together. And it’s completely selfish, I felt so touched by the support I had during the week on Twitter I want to take it further. Have a look and sign up!

Writing Cafe