In the social media age, the definition of “friend” has changed dramatically. Now a person can have a thousand, a million, maybe even a billion friends. Nevertheless, we are lonelier than ever.
Strangers that just met will call each other friends. There is a social pressure to call someone a friend, even if they aren’t. It’s rude to say, “They’re my acquaintance”.
The most destructive element in all this is the increasing confusion between networking and genuine friendship. Networking is business, it’s building your influence and connections. Nowadays, people do networking under the guise of “making friends”.
We’re afraid to call business, business. Instead we have to make it sound nicer, friendlier.
Even when people are at a business conference, where it should be perfectly acceptable to admit, “I’m networking”, they’ll say “This is my new friend, Steve. Hi Steve.”
Everything is now becoming networking, a game of jockeying for power and influence. Putting this under the disguise of “friendship” is destructive not just to society, but to people in less understood ways. When we confuse the two ideas, we’re bound to end up heartbroken and disappointed.
Networking is about a gain, an exchange of sorts. Friendships isn’t without gain, but it’s not as clear cut and dry. There should be more equality in a healthy friendship and less social-climbing. We’re afraid to admit that we’re just networking because we want our motives to sound more pure and less selfish.
With the two ideas increasingly blended together, people increasingly don’t make time for friends that aren’t going to “get them ahead”. Friendships circles become homogenous and full of people to be seen with. Hanging out just to hang out is a waste of time and money. No, that time should be spent on cementing social standing and building a firm connection to an influencer.
And this attitude of “What do I get out of this person?” is leading many into dangerously imbalanced relationships and unhealthy social environments. Misery is spreading as a result of this confusion.
In today’s post I want to discuss why this is happening and what you can do to protect yourself. I’m going to focus more the living abroad side of it since that’s what I’m more familiar with.
Don’t confuse networking and friendships.
Here are three reasons why this happens and what you can do to protect yourself…
1.) Friendships After College Are Costly
Unless you end up living near your best friends from childhood and university, you’re more or less going to spend a lot of money to meet your BFFS.
In Tokyo, the foreigners live scattered all over the city and surrounding areas. Most of us did not know each other before moving to Japan. I’ve only once lived within thirty minutes of one of my friends in all the years I’ve lived in Japan. Meeting up involves planning out a day and time. We both will end up spending $60 that day for travel cost, eating out, and doing stuff when all is said and done.
You can’t call them up on Friday night and be like, “Hey girlfriend, wassup? You feel like hanging out for a couple hours?”
It’s not happening. Their answer is more likely going to be, “I’d love to, but I’m beat and I’ve got work on Saturday. I can pen you in for… let’s see… are you free next month? I get my paycheck then.”
When I was in college, I could walk across campus to my friend’s dormitory and play video games with them. We’d hang out a couple hours, then walk to the school cafeteria and use our meal cards for pizza. Those days are long gone.
Meeting friends in Tokyo can eat a whole in your wallet like hydrochloric acid dumped on ceramics.
This is your savings on friendly meet-ups.
Say you have four really good friends and you meet a different one each week in Tokyo, that’s over $200 a month. Ouch. Most people on an English Teaching Salary in Japan struggle to afford even that. What if they have more than four? Pretty soon they have to say, “no”, and that’s doesn’t go down well when you have lonely, homesick friends who really, really needed a friend.
Even if you meet one in the morning and one in the evening, you’re likely going to spend $80 instead of $60 because you’re going to a different restaurant or cafe or place to hang out.
And it’s not just the money, it’s the time. Hours in the crowded, popular weekend spots in Tokyo can wear anyone down.
What about meeting all your friends in a group? That might work, if they all get along. However, the intimacy of the conversation goes down in most cases when the group gets larger. There is also no guarantee they’ll like each other that much. Most likely, they want to hang out with you, not Cindy.
Cindy is great. Once you get to know her.
With such prohibitive costs, no wonder modern friendship (especially for those living abroad) have evolved more into an affair to network than to have fun. Most want to spend that kind of cash on the type of friends who they’ll get something out of, something more than just a nice time. They add up the costs and think, “Yes, this person’s fun, but Billy there has influence. He’s someone to know and be seen with. I’d rather spend my $60 buttering up Billy. He works at a great company and good connections. I need more out of this investment than a friend till the end.”
We need to accept some realities. The cost of friendship needs to be a consideration. Most people don’t want to admit that they are flat-broke and can’t afford to meet you as much as you would like.
Unless you’re these type of friends:
Let’s do this every night. Money grows on trees.
Deep down, I just want to hang out with someone (usually between 8pm -10pm). No one lives close enough to hang out when I’m free. My hours are odd.
It’s great meeting my friends for a day out in Tokyo, but I always go home feeling worn and the crowded train ride never helps.
Recently, I found a solution: hanging out on Skype. It’s cheap, affordable, and we both get what we want. With my friend T (in Canada) we meet for movies, video games, or just a girl’s TV show time. We have snacks, wine, or coffee. It’s night for her and morning for me. Even though we are thousands of miles apart, it feels like we’re there.
A couple weeks ago I introduced her to the movie Coraline. We both synced up our copies to play at the same time, ate snacks, and chatted while the movie played. It worked great.
Cheap, affordable, and emotionally satisfying.
I don’t have to worry about the cost. We still have to plan things out a bit, but it’s enjoyable and stress-free. I’ve been doing this more and more with friends, even ones in Tokyo.
For some it was a strange idea, something they’d never considered before. You are supposed to physically meet a person, right? Well, it’d be nice. Do you want to spend the money to meet?
When the cost of hanging out goes down (like when you walked over to your neighbors’ house to play games), you worry less about the gain. There is no need to justify your spending habits. You can relax and have a good time without feeling guilty or worried about your bank account.
Another solution I recommend is using Group Interest Sites like Meet-up.com. Sometimes you want to have people to do fun things with. They’re more reliable than a flaky friend who always seems to catch a cold the day before. You don’t have to over rely on that person. Besides, if they really want to be your friend they’ll come to you. A healthy friendship is a two-way interaction of give and take.
Those are my solutions. They work for me. If you have other great ideas you’d like to recommend than please share in the comments below.
2.) MODERN FRIENDSHIPS HAVE UNFAIR POWER DYNAMICS
A dark side to networking is that it involves “monkey-branching” or social-climbing. What’s the point of networking with someone with no gain? You’re either the ass-kisser or the one having your ass-kissed. We don’t call it that. We call it “friendship“, but let’s be real. Wait, no let’s not. You don’t want to piss off this important person.
Disguising networking as “making friends” helps us all feel better about what’s really happening. It lets us pretend and comfort ourselves that we’re not in this for gain. Even just admitting it is tough for most people. The denial is incredibly strong.
But you know you’re not in a genuine friendship when you feel yourself being pushed into “place” on the social hierarchy, when you feel terrified of the consequences of alienating them or burning that bridge, and/ or when you are more focused on their stats than their person and their character.
It is this lopsided power balance that sets networking apart from regular friendship. There is a sense of controlling others or being controlled yourself. Words must be twisted and behavior modified to please a select few who rule the roost, the ones who act as gatekeepers to the influence you want (i.e. a boss, a celebrity, a politician, a CEO, the most popular kid in school, ect.)
If we lose the ability to distinguish between networking and friendship, then this warped power system will become normal to us. We’ll think, “That’s just what ALL friendships are like. You have to play this game. Forever.”
Friendship becomes a game, a struggle to be the top follower or the one being followed. You either become one of the elite or you chase them around for scraps of influence. No one wants to admit to engaging this. It comes with feelings of shame, anger, and humiliation.
Networking at its most viscous can become something hideous.
When THIS was the ultimate influencer to catch a big break
People can get so caught up in network, so devoured by it, that they lose all sense of self and morality. They lose sight of real friends, and everything and everyone is just a stepping stone to get a little further ahead. They judge you by what they can get out of you.
Even worse, the elites at the top of the heap were likely once toadies themselves. They are likely some of the most bitter of any because of what they had to do to get where they are. The cycle continues as they look at lower-rung people as potential threats or potentials uses.
It can get pretty messed up at it’s worst, and downright illegal at its absolute worst. Once you’re sucked in, it’s hard to realize what kind of situation you’ve joined. Things you’d never tolerate in a friend become “same old, same old”.
Getting too caught up in the concrete gain and power dynamic of a relationship will make a person isolated and unhappy. It normalizes such negative thinking and convinces us that a friendship is no good if we can’t just defy what we’re gaining from it.
This mindset takes a costly toll on the psyche.
When you live in the world of networking you only have friends if you have influence and status. You have to impress and convince people you’re important enough to seek out. Otherwise, they’ll toss you aside like yesterday’s garbage.
It’s living in a mindset that sees people has investments that you hope will give big returns. This, of course, is unhealthy and leads to power games. It’s easy to get jealous if someone is out-influencing you in a group or being sought after more strongly by others.
Not easy since you must first admit to what’s going on. Since most have become very normalized to networking, they can’t even see that it’s not really friendship. The most important step in making healthy friendships is learning to set limits and boundaries.
Does the other person want to be your friend? Are they showering you in attention to hook you into chasing after them? Or do they seriously see you as their equal and a friend?
This most important (most difficult for me) is letting go. Walk away.
I wasted my youth chasing after people in these networking circles, chasing after the elite members without even realizing what I was doing. I thought for a long time that this was how friendship worked. I was very puzzled how I was treated. Why would they be so initially interested and kind, then take it all away after they’d hooked me? Why did they make me and others feel like we were beneath them?
They would say “don’t judge me” and “accept me for who I am, warts an all”, yet never do the same for others. They operated like the rules they set in place did not apply to them.
It was only when I had the courage to let go and walk away that I found the way to free myself from the networking trap. When I see this change in “manners” and these power games, I walk away and keep my distance. I don’t pursue or chase if it feels one-sided. Or, if I do, I’m aware that’s just business.
Friendship to me should have a relaxed feeling. I should not feel silenced or like I need to always impress them and watch my words — what if I lose my influence!
Above all, learn to let go and politely decline.
It’s easy to feel helpless when you get too involved in clusters of people who network and do social-jockeying.
You know when it doesn’t feel right.
3.) NETWORKING CREATES SKY-HIGH EXPECTATIONS
This is tough to explain clearly, I hope I can. Don’t expect too much from me.
It’s good to have standards and limits in any relationships. Expectations are tricky. You might expect your six year boyfriend to marry you, only for him to dump you for another. An expectations has been broken.
Friendships have fair expectations. I lend $10 and you repay me later.
Business deals have clear rules. We agree to this.
Unfortunately, when we refuse to call networking for what it is and pretend it’s friendship, we also must lie about our real expectations. We can’t admit what we want. After all, we said we we’re totally in it for the friendship.
I see this happen a lot.
People who network lie about their real expectations. This lying creates anger, resentment, and confusion when they don’t get what they really wanted. They can feel cheated, like the other party reneged on an unspoken arrangement.
The worst scenario is when one person believes it is just business and the other believes it’s a genuine friendship. No one is left happy.
Society teaches us that popularity matters. We are unlovable if others don’t love us. Their opinion tells us who we are. This is the trap of external validation and it drives a lot to network and social jockey.
I used to believe that if I was loyal, others would repay that loyalty. I know have friends who do, but most of my experience in college and in my early years in Japan were around large crowds of people networking. They had no interest in someone like me who didn’t project status and influence. They had their eyes on the top of the social heap. They had expectations of being at the top.
They saw stars in their eyes. They saw the most popular groups as people who would elevate them. They didn’t see the people at the top for who they were, but who they thought they were. They idolized them and wanted to become those people.
A tough one.
How does one navigate a social media landscape that are built for networking? Many social media sites were created for networking. It’s the confusion of what we’re doing and the grey area in between that causes a lot of the problem in my opinion.
The problem with sites like facebook is networking and keeping up with friends and family are all blended together. What do you do when you hang out with Cindy, and Mandy finds out because you posted on social media. Mandy thought you were friends. How could you just leave us out? You’re surprised because you thought Mandy understood that you were just social contacts who shared a love of art and music. Mandy is furious and hurt that you’d say that.
You didn’t know Mandy wanted a serious friendship. In truth, Mandy doesn’t, but she doesn’t want Cindy to have more influence since you’re an important social connection. Feeling guilty that you hurt Mandy’s feelings give Mandy control over you. You can’t say no without dire social consequences. Mandy doesn’t want Cindy being closer to you. Either you can’t share on social media or you need to invite Mandy.
Don’t put with this kind of manipulation.
A few months ago on some social media accounts there were a lot of upset “friends” of mine because one group held a birthday party in Tokyo. Only a select few were in invited. Pictures were posted of the “chosen”, and guess how the ones not invited felt?
What was the big deal about not being invited to a birthday party of people they barely knew? Well, because they expected to be treated as equal to the others in the group. It didn’t matter that they weren’t friends or close. What mattered is being treated as equals in the hierarchy. By not being invited, their followers could see that they were left out and to them, it lowered their status. Being left out damaged their image as being high-up on the community rung. It made them look weak.
I am happy if a friend invites me to a birthday party, but I wouldn’t be happy if they only did so because I guilted them into it.
Learn not to depend on others for your image and brand or your sense of self-worth (which is easier said than done). I’ve struggled for years to overcome this. These days I’ve mostly learn to let go and not get caught up in these games. I used to feel real beat up over getting left out by people I thought were friends.
It takes time and practice. Learn to start expectations low in the beginning, and not expect too much out of it. Maybe they’ll be the greatest friend you’ve ever met or maybe they’ll only be a person you knew for a few months. Either way it’s okay. Some of us our meant for our lifetimes together and some of us are not.