My best friend from home sends a Snapchat that flashes across the screen for three seconds: “We should FaceTime soon!” I tap the screen with my thumb a few times and quickly shoot back, “Yes! Definitely!” with the image of my excited face blown up behind the floating letters. A week later, after she sends a shot of her dog barking at a wheezing vacuum cleaner, I reply with another wide-eyed photo of myself: “We still have to FaceTime!” I receive a “YES!” featuring a zoomed in picture of her pup’s face in response, but of course we never actually FaceTime.
You’d think with all of the apps and technology constantly at our disposal, it would be incredibly easy to “keep in touch” with our close friends and loved ones. But does scrolling through someone’s Instagram feed, pondering where they are consistently spending time and with whom without ever actually asking count as “keeping in touch?” Better yet, is there even need for direct conversation when we can all keep tabs on one another’s activities through social media?
“I saw on Facebook you went to Missouri this past summer!” a family friend exclaims when she sees me for the first time in a year. “It looked wonderful! So glad you had a great time!” It hadn’t been a good time. During the road trip on the way to Missouri, while stopping at a campsite for the night, my father had stepped on a scorpion and lost all feeling in his foot, leaving him incapable of driving or even walking. The next day our car was broken into, and the two obviously-valuable “family-sized” bags of cheese puffs we had just bought from a local mini mart were stolen. This, of course, occurred while we were stopping to ask for directions at a rickety gas station in a seemingly abandoned town in the middle of Nevada’s dusty, shrubbery-speckled desert because we were so dismally lost. When we finally arrived in Missouri, we realized our cabin had been flooded, and there had been no one around to clean it, so we spent our trip scrubbing out the mud and muck.
The only pictures my mom had posted on Facebook from this god-awful trip were the meticulously staged ones of our family smiling while standing along a riverside, giving the impression of a nice lil’ trip to “Dad’s old stomping grounds,” when in reality we were all actually grumpy and exhausted from cleaning all day and frustrated that we were forced to take the picture eight times because someone kept blinking.
There’s no way good ol’ Martha, in her well-intended attempt to feign interest in my life and the life of my family, could have possibly extracted any of those gory details from a Facebook photo album. We only see what’s on the shiny surface.
How do we measure proximity to a person who lives far away? Obviously it’s different for everyone. But something I have personally found in my attempts to “keep in touch” is that doing so doesn’t necessarily indicate the degree of affection or care in a relationship.
I have another friend who I don’t speak to for about three hundred and fifty days of the year, and yet she is still one of the people closest to my heart. I see her photos when I scroll through Instagram. I comment occasionally. I rarely send a text, and she rarely does either. We never call unless things are truly serious. And that is totally fine. When we are both back in town, we talk for hours. We sit and unload every emotion about every event that the other had missed in our time apart. Even when we don’t catch up on each other’s lives, if we meet, we pick up right where we had left off the last time we had spoken, and we care for each other as if we see one another every single day. Last I saw her, I told her the series of escapades comprising the Missouri road trip fiasco with vivid detail and intense disgust, speaking to the truth behind each one of my mother’s Facebook photos and talking hours into the night.
Maybe scrolling through uploaded photo albums or flicking through Snapchat stories is not always enough to be considered “keeping in touch,” but the concept of “keeping in touch” itself doesn’t always determine the quality of a friendship.
None of this is to say that one should never bother to reach out to one’s friends from far, far away. I don’t mean to delegitimize the notion of feeling guilty for never reaching out or feeling sad when others aren’t consistent about checking in. I have simply observed that we, as human beings, are busy creatures, and as long as when there comes an opportunity to meet with a loved one after a long stretch of time, there are still moments where you sit and reconnect — laugh about an old joke, scream about new life developments, cry about hardships, new and old — then you’re doing something right. The number of texts sent while apart does not reflect the quantified measurement of a friendship.
Contact Clara Spars at cspars ‘at’ stanford.edu.