I have never been particularly cyber friendly and I came very late to the party where social networking is concerned. I am still to embrace Facebook but Twitter has, not only wooed me, it’s won my heart. My initial foray was very mercenary; I’d written a book and needed to promote it. Within weeks, however, Twitter had become so much more than that, as I discovered a world full of people who, without it, I would have never been fortunate enough to connect with.
Now at the risk of sounding sappy, I love all of my Twitter pals and enjoy following their news and, when I can, helping them plug their wares. None the less, it has to be said that some stand out more than others. There are a handful who I feel more keenly connected to, people who I’m convinced if I knew them in real life I would want to be friends with. It’s nothing tangible that I can put my finger on, just a feeling that draws me to them. But how real is this connection? Is it
any different for instance to the feelings that draw us to people in real life?
With most of my ‘real’ friends, I knew from the second I spied them that I was going to like them, be that across the playground, pub or in later years workplace. Obviously not all friends weather the course and life’s journeys bond us closer to some friends than others but generally, it’s been my experience, that the spark that says you’re going to be friends is there from the beginning.
Just like with cyber friends, that spark is never anything definable, just a feeling. The friend, who became my confidante throughout our school days, endeared herself to me by throwing up on the first day of secondary school. We were in a flock of other eleven year olds being screamed at by a tyrant form master for our inability to form a line straight enough for his approval. My friend threw up in fear and won my heart forever. Likewise, my dearest college friend caught
my eye when she was called upon to read aloud in our first ever English A Level class and read the word Dauphin as dolphin. Maybe it was as simple as the, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ relief, that made me want to be their friend forever.
Not everybody is captivated by the same charms which has to be a good thing because it makes our friendships unique. A beloved American friend won me over the minute I saw him, wearing a sleazy red shirt. He was pretentious beyond belief, adopting the letter X as his middle name in homage to Malcolm X, despite the fact that he was a middleclass white boy. He tore my essay to shreds in our first class discussion and I should have despised him but I knew we were going to be firm friends. He is now a successful lawyer in Orange County and his wife simply cannot believe that our thirty year friendship was born out of a pimp shirt.
The same could be said for the people who we don’t like; often there is no rational reason for it, merely chemistry. I remember once having an unsuccessful interview and during the feedback, the Head Teacher, who I’d loathed on sight, proceeded to list everything that he’d found lacking in me, proving that the feeling was mutual. When I got my first teaching job and moved to Brighton, a friend suggested that I share a flat with another of her friends, someone whom I had never met. Despite my friend’s glowing recommendation, it was a disaster, six months trapped in a flat with someone I not only had nothing in common with but positively disliked. Looking back my reasons, which included the fact that she collected Tetley’s tea memorabilia, was a Cliff Richard enthusiast and wore an Alice band, seem ridiculous and petty. I have friends who have committed far worse transgressions and I love them none the less for it. If I were to go back now, older and maybe wiser, would I be any more forgiving and tolerant or would it boil down to the chemistry thing, this girl and I just did not gel?
It’s these human complexities that make me a massive fan of human nature. I’d be a
liar if I said that I liked all people but, as a concept, I think people are pretty amazing and endlessly interesting. That’s probably one of the main reasons that I enjoy writing. I love to be able to explore characters and unpick their motivations as they crash through life often taking casualties as they go. Surely it is these seemingly chaotic interactions with others that make us who we are.
The best stories for me are the ones where the characters are a mishmash of good, bad, strong, weak and so on. The straightforward characters be they heroes or villains hold little interest, I’d much rather have a complex human being, who may do bad things but we can’t help but like them anyway. It’s why we are drawn to characters like Don Draper in Mad Men, whose life choices result in pain for other people but who, beneath his dapper charm, is in abject misery himself. Literature, film and TV is littered with characters who conform to society’s notion of what is right and wrong but, it’s the ones who deviate from this and force us to question what it is to be human, that are the most compelling.
Likewise, maybe our friendships, be they ‘real’ or cyber, raise questions about who we are. What is it that draws us to some people more than others? I have no answers I’m afraid but does that really matter? Is it not the fact that we each have our own ideas and philosophies that makes life infinitely fascinating?