How To Be A Good Friend In The Age Of Social Media

by Virginia Duan
Originally Published: 
Malte Mueller/Getty

People always complain how hard it is to find friends in your 30s and 40s — in fact, this seems to be a universal grievance regardless of age — especially because social media apparently has ruined everything.

I see it all the time in my timelines.

Everyone is fake. Social media makes you hate your own life and feel as if everyone else is living out their dreams and you’re the only one stuck in this limbo of blah. You constantly feel as if you’re behind — and all the comparisons to the Instagram moms with their perfect hair, perfect kids, perfect meals, and perfect houses make you feel bad and emo-eat.

And while I don’t disagree — I would like to offer a counternarrative. I would posit that the age of social media has actually made me a better friend. Not only have I made more friends online — good ones, not the fake kind — than ever, it has allowed me to connect to old friends that I never would have otherwise.

Plus, social media allows me to seem like a good friend and find out about people with minimal effort on my part! If that’s not a boon, I don’t know what is.

But first, let’s talk about the different circles of friendship.

Not all friendships are equal

This may seem obvious, but not all of your friends are going to be your ride-or-die BFFs. You’re not going to simply show up with a shovel in the middle of the night just for anyone — and vice versa.

For me, it helps to think of friendships like a bullseye with the center containing your closest confidantes. Most of us only have the capacity to have a small group of three to five people in that gooey center. You may want to be more intimate with other people — but this kind of friendship takes time and investment.

Each successive ring holds more and more people until you’re at the outermost circle that contains people on the periphery of your social network. It’s important to remember that these circles are porous — meaning that people will move closer or farther from you over time and that’s totally normal.

While I’m not suggesting you be Machiavellian enough to sort all your friends into some sort of ranking, it will be helpful to have a general sense of which circle people fall into. It’s also helpful to have an idea of where you are in other people’s friendship circles.

Keep in mind, you may consider someone in your inner circle while they may not consider you in theirs. That may hurt — but ultimately, it’s better to have appropriate expectations of people and how they may or may not show up for you.

Why should we sort our friends?

Why is this important? Well, this is helpful because we are finite beings and have limited emotional and physical bandwidth. We cannot be — nor do we likely wish to be — the bestest friend to ever friend for every person we know.

It’s impossible (even for extroverts).

However, if we know who is most important to us and who isn’t — we can make appropriate decisions on how much of our energy and time to invest and exert. Are you expending a ton of your emotional labor on someone who is more of an acquaintance than an intimate friend? Are you neglecting the people who you treasure the most?

Knowing where people fall in your circles frees you to be a good friend in ways that will bring you life and joy.

Easy ways to be a good friend

Well, what about all your friends on social media that you’re not super close to but neither are they mere acquaintances? I mean, yes, you could just ignore everyone on your socials like my husband does, but I’m also the only non-work adult he speaks to and I’m not sure if he actually has any friends so I don’t particularly recommend it (unless you prefer that — then you do you).

But, if you would like to maintain some semblance of social ties, here then are my tips on how to go about being a good friend (even if you’re an introvert).

1) Wish people happy birthday

Seriously, it’s so simple but it really does go a long way. After all, who doesn’t like being thought of and celebrated? If you’re on Facebook, the app even tells you who is celebrating a birthday among your friends. Take the three seconds to type out “Happy Birthday” on their page. If your friend has a social media post about their birthday — wish them happy on that post. It’s so easy and takes almost no time at all.

Bonus tip: I have a keyboard shortcut on my phone for “Happy Birthday,” — yes, comma included because the appropriately grammared greeting is “Happy Birthday, ____!” And yes, the exclamation mark is mandatory. This is not a lukewarm felicitation. We are HAPPY!!!!!

2) Celebrate with those who celebrate

In a similar vein, when your friends post about the birthdays of people who are important to them — or any kind of special date or celebration like winning an award or getting a promotion or making the perfect Taiwanese beef tendon noodle soup — celebrate. Take the tiny bit of time to type out a “Congratulations” or “OMG YUM!!”

Bonus tip: Brag about your friends (and let them catch you bragging about them). This also has the side effect of making you look like an awesome person because birds of a feather flock together and if your friend is awesome, that makes you awesome by association.

Oh, you’re not a pretentious image-conscious jerk like that? FINE. JUST ME, I GUESS.

3) Mourn with those who mourn

I don’t know if it’s just the age I’m at, or the fact that 2020 and the pandemic made it extra shitty, but every few days, I have to send condolences to a friend about someone in their life passing. Whatever the reason for your friend’s grief, extend your sympathies. It’s kind and the least you could do.

Bonus tip: Don’t overthink it. I have a standard comment of “I’m so sorry. May you find comfort in your grief.”

4) Mind your business

Don’t gossip. Don’t talk shit about someone you consider a friend. If you wouldn’t say something to their face, don’t say it behind their back. Gossip tears down trust — and trust is vital for friendships. And also, what goes around comes around. If a person is willing to speak ill of another, chances are, they’ll be totally fine with speaking ill of you, too.

Bonus tip: Respect the screenshot. If the principle of not being a gossip doesn’t deter you, remember that technology makes it super easy to keep receipts.

5) Speak up

Okay, I totally just told you to mind your own business and now here I am telling you to speak up. That’s because people’s humanity and personhood are important. Your friends are watching how you respond to racists, misogynists, bigots, ableists, and current events. Silence is complicity.

Bonus tip: Speak up enough and the people in your life who trammel upon others will self-select themselves out of your life.

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