Friend or Frienemy?

If you didn’t know any better you’d think I have a ton of friends. Exactly 633 of them according to this morning’s Facebook tally, though I’m sure to have a few more by the time you read this.
That’s a heck of a lot more than the 38 friends my husband has accumulated and even several hundred more than the 171 our youngest daughter has amassed, although she is widely-regarded as the social butterfly of the family.
But compared to many others in the media business I barely have enough friends for a game of Red Rover. Author/speaker Beth Moore has 11,737 friends. Journalist/author Thomas Friedman has 3,654 fans on one of his pages. There are a total of six Facebook pages dedicated to Friedman, one of them is called “The Disciples of Thomas Friedman.”
Jesus’ closest friends were known as disciples, too, but I’m not sure that the Disciples of Thomas Friedman are the same kind of friends that Jesus had. But then not all of Jesus’ friends were really friends either. Judas turned out to be a more of a frienemy than a friend.
A pastor from South Carolina explained frienemy to me this way: “That’s the person who calls you up and asks how you are doing so they can go back and tell everyone how much your life sucks.” I’d wager that South Carolina Governor Sanford and his wife have spent a lot of time lately sorting out their frienemies from their friends.
My Facebook friends do not bring me pound cake when I have a hard day. They don’t call me up and offer to take me out for coffee to see if I want to talk about it. Only a handful of them even have my phone number. They do send me cyber hearts and rake my little green patch from time to time but that’s about the extent of their efforts, and to be honest, that’s a lot more than they get from me. I’ve never even offered to rake anybody else’s little green patch.
Facebook reached a milestone this week when it signed up its 250 millionth user, yet, according to a new book, The Accidental Billionaires, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg turned out to be a real frienemy. Author Ben Mezrich says that Zuckerberg shed himself of his best buddies all in an effort to become the youngest billionaire ever. Mezrich maintains that Facebook was originally intended as a frienemy site: “Mark Zuckerberg, after a particularly bad date, was home in his dorm room. He was a sophomore, he was drinking some beers, and he hacked into all of the computer systems at Harvard, and he pulled pictures of all the girls on campus and he created a hot-or-not Web site where you could vote on who the hottest girl at Harvard was.”
My girlfriend Connie didn’t have any Facebook friends, but when she passed away last month after a 10-year battle with breast cancer over 600 people showed up at her funeral. I’m still in awe of that.
By Zuckerberg’s standards, Connie wasn’t anyone special. Although well-educated she never pursued a career. Instead, she focused her energies on being the best mom she could be to her four children. She worked part-time at the private Christian school her children attended so that she could be more involved in their daily lives.
Connie didn’t join a slew of civic organizations. She didn’t campaign for or against anything or anyone. She didn’t write newsletters or carry petitions door-to-door. That’s not to say she didn’t have strong opinions about things – she did. But she didn’t go around sharing those opinions with just anybody. You had to be her friend first.
Lately, I’ve been reading The Friends We Keep by Sarah Zacharias Davis (no relation to me but the daughter of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias) and thinking a lot about the kind of friend I lost when Connie died.
Connie was the person who’d show up with a tray full of annuals and a shovel in an effort to cheer a grieving widow. She didn’t just imagine raking someone’s green patch, she got on her hands and knees and did it.
When Connie’s oncologist mentioned that her own mother wasn’t well, Connie bought the doctor roses and wrote her a sweet note of encouragement. From her own death bed, Connie passed out gifts that she had been collecting for her friends. She gave me carved redbirds and a note thanking me for a lifetime of girlhood adventures. Some of those adventures included long walks where we would count the redbirds and life’s many blessings.
I’ll never be a billionaire and I doubt I’ll ever have a Facebook page dedicated to the Disciples of Karen Spears Zacharias (it creeps me out to even think about that.) I don’t have a clue how many of my 633 friends would actually show up at my funeral, if any. But I have been blessed beyond measure to have known the love of one redheaded friend


  1. This is all so true. I think I have around 61 friends on facebook and about 150 on myspace and when I need somebody to talk to I have only a handful of folks that are there for me. a few weeks ago I posted a bulletin on MS asking if anybody could do me a favor and dog sit for me. you know how many friends (out of 150) replied? ZERO! last week I had a horrible day and I posted a status update on FB that asked people to "encourage me w/o knowing the specifics." you know how many replied? 2! and those 2 people are people i don't even have a relationship with aside from facebook. the whole Social networking scene is very superficial. I love the last line of your post though and I agree I also have those 2 friends that I am blessed to have known for a lifetime. :)

  2. Great post, Karen, and great follow-up, J.

  3. I tend to clean house on FB once in awhile for much of what you have said - that many of those "friends" are not.
    And yet, when a real friend had a stroke 2 months ago, I created a FB group to communicate info and updates, and now serves as a memorial since she died last week. There are currently 440+ folks on that group page that have rallied around the family in some form or another from all over the world.

    Sometimes FB is nothing but facade and other times it surprise me. weird animal.

  4. Good article. Very enjoyable read.

  5. Karen, thank you. And thank you for introducing us, ever so slightly, to someone beautiful named Connie. Carved redbirds? My lord.

    Like KR, my jury is still out on all this; some days a diamond, some days a stone. But I have pondered lately if what you're referring to could be a pornographizing (is that a word?) of this glorious word/reality known as "friend"...one click of the mouse and I can "have" a friend or a disciple or whatever, all on the privacy of my own laptop. I realize FB is a "tool" but...

    Some of us would get real nervous if folks found out we were jiggling around on porn sites all day long...could it be we've just traded hips and breasts and washboard abs for the "face"? My lord.

  6. Boy, do I know what you mean. Facebook is a very easy place to be friendly, but never be your friend.

    Karen, you have written something beautiful.

  7. I've found Facebook to be a great way to reconnect with friends that live far away, fellow alumni, relatives, fellow writers on BWC, and people at my church. In fact, it's because of connections on Facebook that I was able to meet up with one of my very best friends from middle school when I went to Japan at the beginning of this year, and also connect with some cousins I barely knew and fly out to Minneapolis and form a tight bond with them just this month. There are days when I don't get comments back from my buddies, but maybe that's when it's important to remember the principle of "you have to be a friend to have a friend," and then I reach out to one of my friends on FB to encourage them.

    Still, you are right, there are plenty of people on FB that are not friends and who probably never will be.

    All in all, it's important to remember that these are social-networking TOOLS. They help us meet and interact with people, but it's up to us to actually form and develop true friendships.