Look through my News Feed and you’ll quickly realize that my Facebook friends have plenty in common. They enjoy posting their relationship statuses online for all to see, regardless of how good or bad. They will constantly check in while shopping, leading you to believe that stores like Club Monaco, Ray-Ban, and Burberry are constantly packed with people who couldn’t possibly have the kind of money to spare shopping at places like Club Monaco, Ray-Ban, and Burberry. Something that they each share, however, is much more compelling: the majority of them are not actually my friends.
The funniest thing about social media is how alone you are while socializing. Although its, retrospectively, a fairly obvious fact, I’ve slowly come to realize that I have nowhere near as many friends as Facebook claims. The mere thought that I don’t, in fact, have over 700 real-life buddies I can have a beer with at any time was a crushing blow to my ego and once-so-natural impassivity. After obsessing with the notion, repeatedly analyzing my Friends List, and contemplating on whether or not to go through and ultimately unfriend people, I am left to ponder: How many friends do I actually have?
I decided to find out. My plan was simple: send out individual messages to completely random Facebook “friends” inviting each one out for a drink for the sole purpose of catching up. After all, a fine bar has always been the original social network. So here I delve into my own network, the various types of Facebook friends I have, and I try to decipher whether or not we are actually friends.Case no. 1
She walks in, nonchalantly telling me, “Good morning, Christian.” She is looking at me with these eyes, I happen to notice out of my peripherals as I take out a notepad and pen, that seem to strike a familiar chord. I’ve seen this look before. The look that lies somewhere between kindness, terror and killing boredom.
“So,” she starts off, “what’s new?”
“Well…,” I start to respond as she abruptly breaks into laughter, interrupting me.
“Okay, I’m sorry, but”–pauses. Gets it together–“I always knew you would call me back. You know, sooner or later. You’ve missed me, haven’t you?”
I legitimately think my ears are deceiving me, like when you order a mixed drink at a bar and the bartender tells you that you owe her eight dollars. And then she starts cracking up and at the same time sort of moves closer to me, grabbing my arm in a cross between a gesture designed to comfort me and an effective move to keep me from running the hell out of this Starbucks we’ve agreed to meet at for breakfast before my work and her class.
This girl, I’ll have you know, is a girl I dated approximately one year ago. A wonderful girl by all means, really. Well, sort of. I mean, she probably isn’t all that wonderful, right? Or else I would never have dumped her. Or been the jerk that I was. But in retrospect, it’s probably entirely (somewhat) my fault. This is something she’s quick to remind me of.
“Christian Rangel, what ever happened to us? You were quite the charmer, weren’t you?”
Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling at this moment–sitting here facing a girl I’ve dumped one too many times as she asks for me to do it all over again. Awkward would have been a vacation. And it is through my visibly tired and worn eyes that I can see her start to realize something. The devilishly euphoric prankster sitting at this Starbucks across the table from her is not sticking around. I sit here watching her smile fade. Smile, eyes, teeth, lips, this is it. I’ve felt this feeling a million times before. I have sat at both ends of the table, on the side of the executioner and on that of the departed. There’s an almost terrifying sense of freedom that comes to someone who has faced a very finite truth. And it’s a sense of freedom that scares the hell out of those of us who haven’t had the guts to face a very finite truth yet. Those of us who are still running from it; those who are hoping that whatever efforts we’re putting forth every day of our lives is going to add up to something special with that special someone. These are all things I explain to her, finishing with this.
”And so you see, I have to put an end to whatever it is you think this is leading up to, because, honestly, I just wanted to see if we were friends.”
“For my website.”
You never truly understand how hot coffee can be until it is thrown directly at your genitals. I cannot stress this enough.
Result, Case no. 1: I started writing this part as soon as she left, coffee stains and all; Realized when checking Facebook that I was abruptly unfriended, probably something she did from her Android phone. Case no. 2
I had her number already (for the sake of the story let’s call her “Julie”), so I decided to give her a call. Making an innocent joke to break the ice, I instead had the following interaction:
Me: What’s up? Okay, so I’m working on this piece about women and I need you to tell me how it is you like to be turned on.
Julie: This is Steve, Julie’s out right now. Who is this?
Result, Case no. 2: Julie didn’t “get” the joke; She unfriended me.
Case no. 3
Okay, down Grand Avenue to this place called Downtown Bar, late, damn it, late, Jesus, late, why, late.
I speed-walk from the Grand Red Line to this bar where I’ve planned to meet her and her friends. I’m especially excited for this night because she has read The Plaid Tie and plans on picking my brain over drinks. In an effort to pass myself off as a much more serious, invested, and legitimate writer, I decide to stop at home after work to gear up. I grab my black plastic binder, sensible leather notepad, pen and a highlighter pen (brilliant). Dude, what else, a stapler? Three-hole punch? Just get going.
I walk in and she’s staring right at me. I think. Her head is pointed at me, anyway, but it’s hard to tell if her eyes are actually focusing on me since she’s wearing sunglasses. At 6:30pm. Inside a bar. With dim lighting. I consider turning around and unfriending her from my iPhone on the way back home, but decide against it.
Anyways, it is because of my speed-walking that I’ve developed some minor perspiration under my hair and, as I make my way toward the open spot at the bar next to her, I am rewarded with a refreshing cool feeling on my scalp from the A/C directly above us, which, to my surprise, makes me smile pleasantly. I order a Makers Mark while shaking her hand, then those of her counterparts (1 clubrat woman, 1 trendy/hipster guy). The guy especially has taken note of this A/C-caused grinning expression and starts grinning back. The hipster orders a round. Nice guy I think to myself.
The girl I’ve come out to meet compliments my hair, which I’ve recently cut.
“Awesome, you did something with your hair! I love it, you look so much better.”
“It does look good,” says Hipster Guy as he runs his hand across the top of my head. Well, alright then. Wasn’t expecting that, but it’s fine. I’m fine.
I’m about to start conversation, but pause because Hipster grabs my tie, holds it up, and asks where I bought it. He’s admiring it in a very close, very dude-I’m-seriously-not-homophobic-but-c’mon sort of way. Slowly the puzzle starts to piece itself together inside my head and I become more aware that it’s because of this refreshing breeze/grin/charm (I have charm, too!) that this guy thinks I maybe like him or something.
There’s no way now for me to explain to them that I’m simply refreshed by the cooling sensation on my scalp, so I just sit there with a half-assed smile. Not knowing what to do. Or say.
Hipster and Clubrat go to the bathroom together, something I didn’t think was weird until typing this very sentence. Anyways, as they leave, some more of this girl’s friends arrive.
First question they ask me: Are you gay?
Second question they ask me: So have you ever been to a gay bar before this?
The rest of the night isn’t really out-of-the-ordinary. The girl and I had lots of beer, conversation about what was on The Daily Show that night and which Strokes album is best (Is This It, obviously). Hipster kept hitting on me, but I’ve been hit on by gay dudes before. There was a little point in the night, though, when the gay guys in the group sort of grouped up on me. Like, they were all complimenting me and saying how much trouble I must be with the women. And I kind of…liked it? I mean, not the flirting or anything. But, like, the idea that the group was under the impression that I was this rock god. Well, I mean, not rock god, but…whatever. You know what I mean.
Result, Case no. 3: Ego-boost? Check. Made me feel a little emasculated? Check. Got drunk off of Blue Moons? Check. All the makings of a great friendship; We are still Facebook friends.
Case no. 4
Me: I need to ask you about…
Her: Yeah, um, Julie told me that you were calling up girls drunk and asking them questions about sex.
Me: What? That’s a complete lie.
Her: What were you going to ask me then?
Me: About—why does she think I’m drunk? This is for an article.
Her: Since when do you write for a magazine?
Result, Case no. 4: She didn’t believe me. Friends don’t play that. Also, why has she never looked at my website!? This thing is awesome! Unfriended her.
Case no. 5
Leaning back in my bedroom chair with my feet up on my desk, as I believe one is supposed to be posed at moments like this, I stare up at the ceiling pensively. On my computer’s desktop is a single Facebook chat window, open and with someone on the other end awaiting my response.
“Yo kid really glad you wanted to hang out. I’m f—ed man..read some of your blog posts (Ahem, it’s actually published articles, but whatever) and they seem pretty legit. Think you could help me out with this paper that’s due?”
I said yes, that I’d love to revise his paper and check for prose, grammar, punctuation, stylistic structure, and…what’s that? You haven’t even started the paper? Well then, yes, I’d love to help you, an African American guy, out with a 35-pg paper on African American history and the struggles currently faced by them. Never mind that I had never written anything about African Americans or their centuries-long history with our country, let alone something relevant to that topic at or around 35 pages long. Oh, and kind of tie it to a thematic summation of what I thought it meant to be black in America. Our struggle, if you will. I mean, how hard could it be? Here is what I say to the children who are our future: never underestimate how denial and a good, old-fashioned mild learning disability can team up to come off as unwavering confidence.
I get to his apartment that’s right off DePaul’s campus and there are a few other, um, black? Can I say black? I’m going to say African American. Anyways, there’s a few other African American guys there and they’re all sort of working on this paper together. First thing that comes to mind: should I try a normal handshake? Or should I try and kind of throw it down with fist bumps and finger snaps in my sensible little J. Crew ensemble? I ultimately resort to the Awkward, Ass-Out Bro-Hug. That is, I shake their hand and lean in for a bro-hug while simultaneously patting their backs. What makes it even more awkward is that they all remain sitting while I, still standing, lean down to bro-hug all of them.
Now they’re in the same class and because the guy I’m trying to befriend said he was having someone over who wrote for a living (not true), they all came to have their papers critiqued. My God, I think to myself, all of these guys want me to critique their paper about something they’re not even sure I know anything about. I start soft-selling myself for the entire project a little, mostly out of nervousness, and I think it accidentally comes off as confidence. They say something to the effect of, “You know, this is about more than us. This is about community. This is about their past, our present, and our kids’ futures.”
I’m freaking out inside, so I just sort of stare out the window, trying like hell to think of something—anything—to say to them. And then calmly, almost catatonic from fear, I would say something like, “Well, you know…”—long pause, debating whether or not I should just tell them the real situation and how they’re going to need someone who is more than just a grammar and punctuation junkie—”… it’s more than bl—African American history. It’s about American history; I mean, it’s the American Dream we’re talking about here.” Ooooh, that one even impressed me a little somehow.
(Side note and full disclosure on how I was accidentally able to summon self-confidence during this period: I was still getting used to wearing my prescription glasses for the first time in my life, and they were really working some magic. Aside from being able to read more than a few pages of text without falling asleep instantly, I was taken aback by how smart they made me feel in moments like this. You say something like that without glasses on and people might be all like, “You’re not really paying attention; stop staring out the window daydreaming and focus on what we’re telling you.” But when you do that with glasses on, it’s more like, “Oh, look at him staring out the window, then down at his shoes, then out the window again. Shoes, window, shoes, window. What’s he thinking? What makes him tick? What’s he about tell us?”)
What these guys (and maybe even you) didn’t know is that I spent last summer teaching a Service Learning class in Englewood, a south side neighborhood in Chicago that is roughly 98% African American. A lot of what I said about the current crisis of self-identity faced by many African American kids was something that these guys had all felt at some point. It was really something, connecting on a level like that with someone for the first time. I couldn’t help but think that if more interracial experiences can go that great the first time, then we, as a society, can make it.
And I don’t hesitate to express these sentiments to them. That while we’re here writing this paper, there are white kids out there writing a paper of their own. While we’re here listening to The Notorious B.I.G., there are surely some Mexican youths out there blaring Tupac. One of the guys is watching an old re-run of Pimp My Ride and I’m confident that there’s an Asian kid out there racing his tricked-out, nitrous-laden Honda Civic. You see? You see how we’re all similar, but our tastes are just a little varied? My God, we’re all just humans! We’re all just…just innocent children. We can co-exist! This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed—why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent country, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before us to take a most sacred oath as president. With our eyes fixed on the horizon, we can carry forth this great gift of freedom and reengineer society one man at a time! You see?
“Dude, you need to get off that bitch shit.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, ok.”
Result, Case no. 5: At one point he said, “You alright, kid,” which I’m pretty sure is a good thing; We’re still Facebook friends.
I’d like to think that there was a point in time when the souls who comprised my Friends List weren’t always so varied; that the List used to be made up of jocks and nerds, the popular and the un, cheerleaders and the ugly. Just simple clusters of very similar people without any ideas about the world out there and what it had in store for us.
But it’s not true; it never was.
When I first pitched this idea to people, a lot of them laughed. “That’s funny. Will you be my Facebook friend?”
“No, really,” I said.
Everyone got quiet. Like: Um, I’m not really qualified to say if that’s an awful idea. That’s been pretty much the reaction of all the people who hear it. And all of them had hundreds, if not a thousand (hell, even thousands of) Facebook friends. But they’d stop talking. Maybe because they didn’t believe that their Friends List included someone who was not a real “friend”. Maybe because having 900+ friends makes them feel relevant. But my feeling is that unless you’re willing to define the situation, you’re part of the problem.
It turns out making friends is easy. I put half a mind to it and found a few people I’d gladly share dinner with a few times a month talking about random, random, random. Sure, it’s scary at first. Not in the way I was terrified about having something I said being taken out of context among a group of Afr—black guys, but in a simple way of, say, asking myself What do I do when it comes time to shake their hands again? (Which, I’ll have you know, is not only a serious dilemma, but harder than winning a game of rock-paper-scissors.) Regardless, one of the most hopeful results of this experiment: No one punched me in the face, whatever faux pas I committed. I came close and, admittedly, at times was very much asking for it, but everyone was kind enough to agree to participate in Operation Facebook Friend. There is a tremendous amount of goodwill out there. All you need to do is turn off the television and walk out the door.