When friends go from IRL to URL

I’ve seen P. in person maybe twice in the past three years, but I see her every day on Instagram.

She was once a close friend of mine, someone I could confide in and drop in for impromptu dinners. She was practically an older sister, giving me sage advice even though she’s only six years older, but whether it was our diverging paths in life or just a gradual disinterest in being friends with each other, she began to fade away from my life like an Instagram heart once you’ve “loved” a photo.

In a sense, we’re no longer friends. I can’t turn to her when I’m feeling down, my requests to hang out with her are met with radio silence and I don’t even have her new address. Friends grow apart, that I can accept. But in the times I have ran into her, she has greeted me with a warmth and familiarity, as if she had just seen me the other day. Which, I guess she did: on Instagram.

P., like many other people, uses social media like Instagram as a tether to friends she may not see in real life. The act of remaining friends with someone online has become a new aspect of our weird social media-driven lives. We may grow apart, but we’re tied together online because, let’s face it, “unfriending” someone is a ginormous and cruel step. Most of us would rather just let it be; nonchalantly walk away and eventually let algorithms bury them away in your feed.  Of course, places like Facebook were designed for us to stay in contact with our friends, but when you’re no longer friends, these social medias seemingly turn on us. Instead, we feel trapped with the people of our past.

Almost all of my photos are still “loved” by P., and I wonder if this is her way of keeping up with me. Upon running into her at a music festival this past summer, she asked me what was new in my life to which I told her I was working full-time now as a writer for an online publication. Delighted and visibly surprised by the news, she hugged me and told me she was proud of me, something she used to tell me routinely whenever I presented good news to her. I basked in her joy and enthusiasm, because I missed her comforting personality so much, until it hit me: I Instagram photos from work all the time and she has repeatedly liked these posts. She should’ve known about my job.

Had she blindly liked photos of mine without actually paying attention? Or is this just the nature of this new type of online friendship—you don’t acknowledge what you see online IRL?

When you look at your friend list, you’re most likely only close friends with a fraction of those people; the rest of your list probably consists of random affiliates, family and, of course, friends you are no longer close with. Perhaps you accidentally lost touch with them or your schedules just stopped aligning, but after a while, it becomes awkward to look at their timelines. It feels like spying.

Trying to stay friends with people after college is a tough task that requires effort and when that effort isn’t made, it falls apart. It’s important in these situations to not put blame on anyone. Friendships are not a science. There are no formulas to explain how friendships dissolve through time, but social media has added an extra step to the equation: a hazy grey area that may never see an end.

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