As International Day of Friendship looms (Thursday, July 30), many will write about the positive aspects of friendship or give tips on how to be a fabulous friend.
In a world where we spend much of our time online, it is perhaps even more important than ever to learn how to spot fake friends. And to teach our children these tips as well.
Without the benefit of body language to give us important clues about people, spotting fake friends online can be tricky.
When we get it wrong, it can be heartbreaking.
FAKE FRIENDS IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD
Of course, it can be easy to misjudge friendships in the physical world as well. Sometimes we miss the clues because we are seeing what we want to, rather than what actually is.
Eventually, the clues become glaringly obvious and we are forced to re-evaluate and decide where the friendship will go.
Friends come in all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of personality traits. Some, we will choose to hang onto even knowing they do not provide the love and support we need. We do this because of a shared history or because they have endearing positive traits that make the friendship worthwhile despite the lack of support. We learn to accommodate the differences and protect our hearts from pain.
Some, we will keep at arm’s length, setting down clear boundaries to ensure they don’t take advantage of us, particularly if they have done so in the past.
Others, we choose to prune from our lives, knowing their words and actions only serve to destroy our confidence in ourselves and make us feel unworthy.
ONLINE FAKE FRIENDS
If you take people at their word (I usually do) then it is truly difficult to spot fake friends online. You really only have their words to go by and it’s easy to excuse the occasional lack of expected action here or there.
I was a member of an online blogging support group and for more than three years believed the words of friendship written by many of the other members.
I felt truly surrounded by love and support within that group and it was easy to overlook a lack of reciprocation when at times I went the extra mile.
Their social media posts would often expound the importance of showing kindness, respect and compassion and I was entranced by the virtue and wisdom of the group members.
It took years for the alarm bells to start ringing – clues I chose to ignore. It wasn’t until fires ravaged virtually the whole country of Australia that I saw through the hyperbole.
The clue I couldn’t possibly ignore was that not one member of that group, all from other countries, reached out to see how the fires may be affecting me, despite being well aware I lived in a bushfire-prone area.
REAL VS FAKE FRIENDS
True friends reach out. They show support and concern. I believed in these women and their friendship but their total lack of interest in our disaster proved there was nothing genuine in those friendships.
Aside from feeling the kind of disappointment you feel when you stop believing in Santa or the tooth fairy, not too much harm was done. Perhaps I was silly for believing real relationships were possible in a group primarily designed to promote businesses. But then their words kept speaking of friendship…..
Anyway, I extricated myself from the group and its members, preferring to surround myself with genuine people and friendships.
What really struck me though is how easy it is to get sucked in, especially with online relationships. Learning to spot the clues and acknowledge, rather than ignore them, is an important skill. This is not only true for friendship love, but also for the many people seeking romantic love online.
According to a survey by Statista around 50 million people in America have tried online dating – 43 per cent to find friends.
There are no official statistics for how many Australians use online dating but industry bodies claim it stands around 4.5 million people.
This number is sure to continue to grow and if we want to avoid heartbreak, for us and our kids, we need to spot the signs of fake friendships.
CAN YOU MAKE REAL FRIENDSHIPS ONLINE?
According to an article in The Guardian, you can’t make real friendships online. I’m sure there are many who would argue this.
However, the article quotes psychologist Will Reader, from Sheffield Hallam University, as saying that in order to develop a real friendship, you need to see that the other person is trustworthy.
“What we need is to be absolutely sure that a person is really going to invest in us, is really going to be there for us when we need them … It’s very easy to be deceptive on the internet.”
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A REAL FRIEND
Not all friends can be all things to us and each is likely to fulfil a different need. And no one is perfect, which means each of our friends, ourselves included, will have traits that are less desirable than others.
However, at the very minimum, we should be able to trust real friends and to feel some level of caring from them.
Maybe some friends have a tendency to take advantage, but if we find their personality uplifting, we can choose to maintain the friendship with clear boundaries in place.
Others may be more negative but are so loving and caring that we choose to be their uplifters.
There are foul-weather friends – those who seem closest to you when your life is going to hell. These friends tend not to rejoice as much in your success but can offer a wonderful shoulder to cry on when needed.
There are fair-weather friends – those who really only want your company when all is going well. These friends tend to celebrate your success with you, making them fun to be around when all is going well.
There are friends who are awesome listeners and those who tell wonderful stories.
Whatever shape and form they come in, we can choose to be flexible around various personality traits if our minimum friendship requirements are met.
HOW TO SPOT A FAKE FRIEND
Fake friends may wax lyrical about your wonderful friendship, but when it comes to the crunch, show absolutely no caring or interest in your life. They tend to disappear when you need their friendship the most.
They may say things about you, either in private or public, that embarrass or shame you and cause you to lose confidence.
Their friendship is conditional and if you are out of sight, you are out of mind.
We’ve all been given a wonderful tool called intuition. It helps us spot danger and judge possibilities.
The first step to spotting fake friends is to trust your intuition. If you feel something isn’t quite right about the friendship, then it isn’t.
The next step to spotting fake friends is to look beyond the words – they could be untrue. Try, instead, to put little feelers out. Look for signs of reciprocation. Fake friends often ‘forget’ about the commitments they have made.
Beware of anyone who starts out the friendship by asking for favours – particularly online. This is not to say you can’t actually do the favour. You just need to remember that it doesn’t constitute a friendship just because the other party says it does.
If your ‘friend’ is constantly gossiping to you about other friends, it’s a given they will be gossiping about you too. Real friends don’t do that.
Above all else, remember that actions speak much louder than words.
Wishing you many real friends and a gleeful week, Tamuria.