In today’s social media–saturated world, no analysis of relationships would be complete without proper attention to the criteria you set for your friends—online and off. If you are engaged in online relationships that you consider to be a prominent source of support and companionship—lending them as much weight as you would any offline friendship—do yourself a favor and be sure to hold the relationships up to the same standards you should expect of anyone you call a real friend.
I have an entire book devoted to the topic of media, technology, and social networking. Below is the list of descriptors I give in my book, Hooked, for determining the strength of friendships, online and off:
- Trust: Friends trust each other because each has proven to be trustworthy. When tempted to betray the friendship in some way, they have held fast to the needs and feelings of the other person.
- Honesty: One of the hallmarks of true friendship is living within an atmosphere of truth. This truth, however, is not a harsh, brutal presentation but one done in love, compassion, and tenderness. To a friend, the truth is not a weapon; it is a balm. There is safety in the honest words of a friend, even when those words hurt.
- Understanding: True friends understand each other. They know the background and context of each other’s lives. They know the “what” of things, but they also know the “why” of things. Friends know which way the other will jump and how far.
- Acceptance: Friends understand the precarious position they put themselves in by being a friend. Proximity sometimes equates to pain where human beings are concerned; friends acknowledge this pain as an acceptable consequence of the friendship.
- Mutual Benefit: True friends add to each other’s lives. Often the benefit isn’t always equal, but it is mutual. True friends monitor the relationships to ensure there is both give and take, refusing to allow it to become consequence of the friendship.
- Sacrifice: There are times when friendship calls for sacrifice. It can be a sacrifice of time, money, energy, and resources—a reordering of priorities to put the needs of friendships first.
- Affection: At the heart of all friendship should be genuine affection for the other person. Friends enjoy each other, they like to be together because of the way they feel about each other.
This is not to say you should discount any online relationship that does not live up to these standards. It is simply a means of helping you keep relationships in perspective. You could very well develop a genuine friendship with someone you meet online, and you may already have. But the chances of this happening with multitudes of people is unlikely, and if you feel otherwise, a more rigorous assessment of these friendships is probably in order.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.