Back in the old days before Facebook or Twitter, people met and talked (and argued) on message boards.
It was on a message board that I met a group of women. I’ve now known these women for almost fifteen years. We moved together from board to board and eventually to Facebook. We know each other’s histories and hopes, triumphs and failures, kids’ and spouse’s names. We’ve argued. We’ve sent holiday pictures. They’ve offered friendship through isolated years when the demands of home and work didn’t leave time for anything else.
In the last couple of years, I’ve met another group of people, mostly thanks to Twitter. Connected by our nonprofit profession, we’ve laughed together and shared information – so much to learn! As these relationships deepened, we moved to Facebook as well – where we’ve shared vacation pictures and kid stories and what’s for dinner.
My family teases me about both groups, calling them my “friends” with air quotes. They don’t understand that while these friendships aren’t the same as those from my childhood, they’re still meaningful to me.
Unlike my close childhood friends, they don’t share growing-up memories, good and bad. Unlike my Connecticut friends, they haven’t dropped everything to pick up my kids or welcomed me to family events.
But no air quotes. They’re very real to me.
I think about how they’d react to something I read. I wonder what this person or that one would do. I’ve learned from their hard-won wisdom, and I try to emulate their good example.
I started thinking about this during an online conversation about boundaries in our relationships with donors. (You knew I’d get to donors somehow, didn’t you?) Some people felt that professional behavior demanded a careful line between donor relationships and “real” ones. And they made very good arguments.
But for me, those lines are always fuzzy. What about the donors who’ve become friends? Whose homes you’ve visited, whose kids you’ve watched grow up? They’re very real.
I understand and respect my peers’ opinions. But I’m happy to welcome anyone as a friend, however we meet. And because people are different, I know I’ll have a different relationship with everyone.
Of course, professional behavior is always important. But I don’t find that hard. I don’t feel compelled to share too much, because when we talk, my focus is on them. I enjoy listening more than talking. I’ll always look for the things we share – both professionally and personally. Do we have friends in common? Did their daughter attend my alma mater? Do they love chocolate too? Those are the building blocks of real relationships. And I love that process.
So, whether you’re an old friend, a new friend, or even a “friend” friend, I want to thank you. Your humor and kindness keep me company. Your ideas keep me thinking. Your generosity spurs me to be a better person. And your warmth teaches me to be grateful for friends wherever I find them.