Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Breaking Up with an Imaginary Friend

I was thinking about my friend Robby. About how we enjoy sailing together on the Chesapeake, how he teaches me the finer points about wine, and how irritated I was when he brought his new dog over to the house and it immediately jumped up on the kitchen counter and broke my favorite coffee mug. Then I remembered that I haven’t seen Robby in over six years and that the last time we went sailing was around 1985. The intervening years had just collapsed, as if that long gap didn’t exist. In my mind, there’s a thin line between the distant past and yesterday.

My world is populated by people from my past. I have conversations with them, I give them advice, I count on them to be sympathetic when I’m down. Only on occasion do I acknowledge that they are not here. I think it might be a trait of lonely people. We have imaginary friends when we are children. In adulthood we are not supposed to have relationships with imaginary people. We become too cognizant that therein lies the world of madness. We have seen such people wandering the streets, having animated conversations with invisible companions. That is a road we do not allow ourselves to travel. Eliminating the voids of time that separate us from friends we were once close to, allows us the equivalent of imaginary friends without necessarily crossing the line into mental illness.

But now there is a more acceptable form of surrogate friendship – the online buddy or Facebook “friend”. With the click of a mouse we can collect a network of friends most of whom we know very little about and most likely will never encounter in person. We can regale these friends with the daily events of our lives, links to the oddball internet sites we have found (always forgetting that thousands of other people are disseminating the very same links), and basking in the support and praise that our pretend friends will be sure to lavish on us.

But unlike ghosts of friends or imaginary friends, our online surrogate friends can be very fickle. There are unwritten rules of etiquette and failure to adhere to these rules results in immediate expulsion from the circle. Apparently one of the rules is that you must never respond to a comment with anything that could be construed as disagreement, or worse, sarcasm. So when I read a comment from one of my Facebook friends – one who I actually met in person before becoming friends on line – trashing the MTA for service cuts, the ingredients were in place for an eventual clash.

The friend’s comments were long on whining and very short on facts. If there’s one thing the Bitter Old Queen can not tolerate, it is intellectual laziness. If you’re going to trash something at least take a few minutes to gather some information. In the case of our transit agency, a public non-profit operating authority, all of the financial information is on their web site. So even if it is not obvious to my cyber friend that, by definition, a non-profit agency is not making big profits at the expense of it’s customers, he could have checked the plausibility of his rant by a quick review of the financial statements.

In all events, by calling him on his assertions I crossed a line. One never disagrees with a friend, even when said friend is barely a casual acquaintance. He responded by deleting me from his friends’ list. I no longer see his presence on my home page, and I presume I have become invisible, or rather, nonexistent, to him. Well, so be it. My Facebook screen is now somewhat less cluttered with annoying whining and duplicate links to “must see” and “really funny” sites. One less person posting every detail of his mundane life as if it could possibly be interesting to anyone else. One less person basking in the adoration of his assumed fans.

I know my sailing buddy Robby will agree with me.

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