How do we define friendship? That used to be an easy question for me. Friends were people who I saw regularly, trusted and confided in. There were my close friends and my less intimate friends. Some were separated by geographic distance but not by devotion; I had many friends who lived in other provinces or states. We may not have talked for months or even years but when we did connect, an "instant karma" kind of rapport was present.
Then there were my acquaintances, usually people who I worked with or knew from various clubs or political organizations. Maybe I'd gone to high school or college ("university" to you Canadians!) with them and we didn't socialize on a regular basis, but I knew them fairly well. Or perhaps I did see those people frequently but we didn't have a lot in common, hence, I didn't call them "friends."
But the world has changed, largely as a result of high-tech innovations and the democratization of communication via the Internet. I've been reading a lot about globalization lately because someone I know turned me on to the book Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. I read that and another by Lessig -- both highly recommended -- and am currently reading The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman.
One point that all of these books makes is that the world is getting smaller and nation borders have become less important. As a result of chatting with so many folks via e-mail, discussion boards, my blogs, and instant messaging, I have slowly noticed a change in the way that I define friendship. There are some people on About.com thyroid that I've been talking to for five or six years. I consider them to be my friends. Likewise with people who I've met on my blogs, who post comments or talk to me every week. Admittedly, they're not my best friends but I would be hard-pressed to dismiss some of them as mere acquaintances.
I've encountered a number of wonderful women on a spiritually oriented web site called Boomer Women Speak where I participate in discussions on their writers' forum. I think nothing of signing my private messages to these people (or to my sister's New Age friends whom I have never met), "Love, Sigrid." And I routinely use the sign off "YF," which means "your friend." Sometimes, I use it as a statement and other times I use it as a question -- i.e. "Wanna be friends?"
This has all made me rethink my relationship with Louise Ellis, the woman who disappeared in Ottawa in 1995 and was murdered by her partner. The woman who inspired my book, D'Amour Road, and to whom it is dedicated. The woman who was a member of my David Milgaard Support Group and who I have called "my acquaintance" in almost all of my references to her.
Were Louise and I really acquaintances or were we friends? If our relationship had taken place on the Internet instead of the phone, would we have been in touch more often? Is frequency a determining factor in defining friendship or is it the nature of our feelings towards the person? Because I love Louise Ellis.
When she was alive, I liked her very much but since her life was cut short, I have been unable to stop thinking about her, so my feelings have grown. I've developed a preoccupation with missing women. I lie awake at night wondering what kind of a person Louise was. Did she have a sense of humor? How did she pass her free time? What did she value most? And what kind of a person would she have been today if she lived until age 56? I wish that I had known her better or made some social overtures in her direction when I had the chance because now it's too late.
I miss her. I care about her. And I have remorse about the fact that we never met in person because our relationship took place on the telephone; we talked regularly over a two-year period. I would have wanted to be her friend.
This morning, a woman who I know fairly well but have not yet classified as either a friend or an acquaintance, invited me to do something that I'm not particularly keen on doing. But I like this woman and it would be great to see more of her, so I accepted her invitation. I don't want to live with guilt about things that I didn't do and people that I didn't cultivate well enough when they were here and I had the opportunity. What's a little sacrifice compared to a lifetime of regret?