When I was in junior high and high school, we all kept mental tabs on the number and types of friends we had, the idea being that, the larger the number, the better person we were. Obviously, if a lot of people liked you, then you were a great person, right?
Time and experience have taught me that true friends are rare gifts indeed, and one does not get many of them throughout one’s life, and certainly not too many at one time. Logic also decrees that the human body and psyche are capable of interacting on a close level with only so many people, and that the aptly named social butterflies perform as their namesakes — flitting from one person to another and spending as much time with each as the butterfly does with individual flowers.
Frequently, such an individual defines himself as a “people person,” when in actuality he or she is just smoothly skilled at working a room. A true “people person” interacts with others on more than a superficial level, and this demands time. (People, with all of our complexities, needs, and exuberance, demand time.)
For years I resisted, but I finally capitulated when I realized that I could, indeed, maintain contact with a variety of people throughout a busy day, keeping communication lines open that might otherwise have fused shut. That’s the good side of Facebook and its assorted cyber kin.
The bad side is that back-to-junior-high mentality of counting one’s friends. When I troll through someone’s site and see that they have 555 Facebook “Friends,” I think — how do you keep up with all of these people? And, because the number of friends is open for others to see, there is the very public pressure to add to one’s list so that one does not look pathetic. Do we ever get over the desire to be Popular?
Lately, I have come to realize that there are a lot of people who operate on the outer circumferance of my social circle (my real life, not Facebook) — I don’t know them very well, and, quite frankly, some of them I don’t even like. And yet, as in junior high, I find myself being concerned about what they think of me, whether or not they are impressed by me, if I intrude into their thoughts as much as they do into mine.
And then I think, “My God, girl, it’s been more than 30 years since junior high, and you haven’t advanced beyond that? Do you even remember the people in junior high and high school who occupied so many of your thoughts?”
And I realize that, no, I can’t remember the names or faces of those people, because they weren’t my friends; they were just people milling around whose lives touched on mine remotely, and who were bothersome in their grasping demand to be noticed, to be popular, to be at the center of things.
What is amazing is that these people grew up and continued in their quest to be in the center of things, and that I have grown up and allowed them to continue to do so. The names are different, but the attitude is the same.
I remember how clusters of what we then called Preppy Girls would sit in a clump, giggling, and in this group of eight or so, only one or two were the Alpha Girls around whom the others orbited like little planets. The other day I came upon a group of six adult women, sitting in a clump giggling at a public school function, and I could clearly identify the one Alpha Mom and Beta Mom around whom the other four twittered. I imagine that if their daughters could have been pulled in from the game and set beside them, a similar pecking order would have been established.
There is nothing wrong with social butterflies, per se — we are all different, and we all interact as we see fit. The problem lies in ascribing normalcy to one type of being and abnormality to another. I am a quiet person, with a limited circle of people about whom I care very much. Around that circle is a larger one of people I know on a shallower basis and interact with on a business or aquaintanceship level.
And then there’s that outer group — the one I was so concerned about in junior high and found, to my surprise 30 years later, that it still exists. I can’t do anything about these irritating people, but I can do something about how I react to them — and just identifying the situation goes a long way in fixing it.