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After the Friending
Connecting on Facebook is easy. It's what comes next that's hard.

By DeNeen L. Brown
Sunday, August 30, 2009

I'd like to be friends with you on Facebook. Really, I would.

But then what would we do next?

I'm flattered that you want to be my friend, but I wonder why didn't you just pick up the phone and call me.

I know.

I know.

We promised to get together in the new year, and already it's summer and you haven't been to my house and I haven't been to yours. You haven't seen how my kid has grown. And I haven't seen yours. We never had that lunch we both promised we would set up. We never went out for drinks after work, as we both said we would. And here you are on Facebook, wanting to be my friend.

I am eager to hit the "confirm" button, but I wonder what will happen after that. Will we have a virtual lunch or virtual glass of wine? But then how would you notice that I got my first crease around my eyes? Or that I am trying to lose weight? Would you notice my pretty sandals? And that killer purse I just bought?

Oh, you are right. I could just send you a photo, and then you would know. Or would you?

What about the pregnant pauses in the conversation where really good friends go to fill in the blank? What about the story that I can't hide from you when we are face to face? Okay, yes, I know I could tell you all about it online. But where would I start, and who else would be listening?

Making friends back in school was simple. You just wrote a note: "Hey! Do you want to be my friend? Yes (Check the box). Or No (Check the box)." Then we were friends or we weren't.

The difference is the friends of my childhood knew what to do next: Go draw on the sidewalk with chalk or swing as high as we could on the swings, then jump when we were as high as we could go. At lunch, we would trade bologna sandwiches from the free-lunch boxes. In eighth grade, Regina would stand up for me against girls who wanted to fight me because they thought I thought I was pretty. And in 11th grade my best friend, Lisa, would swing by my house. We were cheerleaders then, practicing our jumps, looking at our reflections in the glass of my storm door.

We were still friends even after I playfully sneaked up behind her in the cafeteria and thumped her on the head while she was talking to the cutest guy in high school. I didn't know that was uncool. Somehow she understood.

Friendships become more complicated over the years. Adult friends don't see each other every day. Adult friendship requires a tenuous, complicated dance through the stages of life. One friend gets married, another has a baby and all of a sudden she can't hang out Wednesday night. There is no time, and there are more excuses.

Adult friends come with baggage and without maps to show why they ended up where they are. I heard a radio report recently that announced that a break in a friendship could be just as devastating as a divorce. Suddenly a friend stops calling or won't talk, and all you are left with are questions and memories.

Perhaps that is why we resort to virtual friendships. They are plastic and easy. Clinical, almost. You can ignore a friend request. Or if a "friend" starts acting strange or posting weird stuff, it's easy enough to delete her.

I see somebody on Facebook whom I want to "friend."

I send a message. Days pass and I am sure she is ignoring my request.

I still feel as uneasy as I did in first grade, waiting to see if she would check the yes box or the no box.

My mind races over all the things I did wrong or could be perceived as having done wrong.

I can't decide which would be worse: silence or rejection.

A few days later, I refresh my account. And there she is, wanting to friend me after all. I realize I didn't give my friend time to collect herself. To find pause.

I send her a message confirming her confirmation. I wonder what we will do next.

Then one day she drives by my house, and I happen to be outside.

And she stops and says, "Hey, you want to go for a walk in the park?"

And I say, "Sure, just let me put up the groceries."

"Take your time," she says.

Just like the friends of my childhood, we walk to the park and sit on the bench under a clear sun.

And the breeze blows as we talk and talk until the sun sinks.

No e-mails, no posted photos, no tweets.

Just night birds fluttering and two friends talking face to face.

E-mail: xxfiles@washpost.com.

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