We have all been through it in some form or another.  We have clicked that unfriend button or have had it done to us. It may have been because they offended you with something they posted; or you just weren’t clicking in the virtual friendship arena.  Maybe you posted something that they took offense to. No matter what the circumstances, both of you are down 1 less friend; or, are you really?

There are many reasons why we cultivate online friendships.  Of course, the most popular reason is that we are friends in the real world and that friendship carries over naturally to the virtual world.  More on that later; first, let’s explore some of the other reasons.

  1. Mutual friends – Having mutual friends is probably the most common reason we friend someone online.  We rationalize this as, “If Jeff can be friends with Joe, then why can’t I?”  Unfortunately, Jeff may be friends with Joe only because they also share a mutual online friendship with Sally.  Eventually, we find that we do not share anything in common with Joe other than Jeff, making it extremely difficult to maintain a positive and fulfilling friendship.
  2. Shared social and/or political values – Many of our online friendships are based solely on shared social and/or political values.  Are we shutting ourselves off to learning and understanding other cultures, religions and political values when we only surround ourselves with like-minded online friends?  What becomes of these “friendships” when the issue of the day is no longer relevant or conversation worthy?
  3. Networking opportunities – There are those that collect online friends like they would business cards at a real world networking event.  They rationalize it as “You never know when the relationship will come in handy”.  Nine times out of ten, these friends will sit idly by on your friends list just as their business cards will sit in a pile at the bottom of your briefcase.  Friending someone solely as a possible way to advance your career may have its place on sites such as LinkedIn; however, when it comes to Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, which are inherently more social in nature, all it accomplishes is an increase in your friend list count.
  4. Real World Family or Friends – The ultimate reason to friend someone online is that you are actually friends (or blood related) in the real world.  It is a way to remain in contact and share the good, bad and, at times, ugly that life tends to throw our way.  There is a special connection that carries over seamlessly between the virtual and real world.  If either one decides to perform an online friend purge and you find yourself one of the purge victims; the relationship is not affected in the grand scheme of things.

With the exception of number four, these should truly be considered connections rather than friends.  Facebook, in particular, has led us to believe that everyone of those listed on our “Friend” list are in fact friends in the true sense of the word. Can we honestly say that we maintain a close bond with everyone on that list?  Is it truly possible to have a meaningful relationship with, let’s say, 1,000 people?  In reality, if we are the victims of the inevitable friend purge; are we really losing a friend?  Even in the case of a real world friend dropping you from the list; you have only lost that friend if they have dropped off your radar in the real world. Then we must ask ourselves, were they truly a friend in the first place?