We Used to be Friends

This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. You and I need to have a conversation about what it means to be friends.


There’s someone I know. Let’s call them R. I’ve tried now, ineffectively for some time, to encourage them to communicate. It works brilliantly initially, and then everything just falls down. We have not spoken for some time, and I am coming to the conclusion that a load of work prepared will simply not get used as was hoped, and will now be recycled elsewhere. My desire for a friendship has, effectively, failed to materialise. It is a salutary reminder that however hard you try, sometimes you cannot make people be friends with you.

All this time we spend online extolling the virtues of virtual friendships, how long do we take to consider the real truths behind the exchanges? Are the people you communicate truly mates, or are they simply being polite? Could you trust this person in a crisis? How much significance do you place on personal interaction, when this individual may not be as invested in the relationship as you are? The next time you’re online, ‘talking’ to someone, ask yourself the following questions:

Is this Conversation Comfortable or Not?


When you’re talking to someone, does it feel like they are in the room with you, or is it more distant? How much of your apparent connection is hopeful and not distinct? Be honest with yourself too: are you subconsciously flirting with the unattainable person at the other end of the Tweet? That one’s a real toughie to admit to the room, but we all have girl crushes that nobody will ever know about and won’t ever be admitted. There’s that married guy who, perhaps if things were different… and the list goes on. Being comfortable is a world away from using Social media as a means of self-gratification, and yet it’s going on every single day.

Once you allow inappropriate emotion to cloud your thinking, nothing is correct or normal anymore. This is the quickest means by which someone who has been polite and communicative with will and can walk away. If I suspect you’re not treating me with respect, and even if I can’t be sure but your conversation makes me feel uncomfortable or awkward, I will no longer continue to communicate. If you then decide to make my decision a subject of contention, I’m going to be pretty justified in taking it. If you’re using someone for your own ends, eventually, they will work it out.

This is Supposed to Work Both Ways


I have a particular friend who I speak to, every day, via DM. Sometimes it is only a ‘hi, have a great day’ but that connection has become a very important, reciprocal connection. It began as the equivalent of the cheery wave to the guy you pass every day on the corner, or the line of conversation with a Barista… but has evolved into something far more significant. This daily poke is now backed up with joint concern for well-being, care for home life and support on tough days. It’s contact + depth + effort, and that equation is pretty potent.

If you talk every day on Social media, you’re not friends without the additional backup. It may feel like the connection is there, but it isn’t. That will only come with effort, time and joint reciprocation. Calling someone a friend when you don’t know the ins and outs of the life behind the keyboard can be a dangerous game to play. If your attachment to them is only made up of what you see, hear and read you may know a lot about them, but that does not make you their friend. If in doubt, ask. If you’re too afraid to ask, the chances are you’re not as close as you wanted.

Respect is Absolutely Vital


I’m looking at the people who appear in my DM’s without a word here. I’m talking to the individuals who think the rules of polite society don’t apply to Social media when they so utterly do. If I find you’re pretending to be polite using robot following software, there will be a special curse and expose of your duplicitous lies. Respect is absolutely vital. Understanding then comes a close second. That follower I didn’t get on with for years but respected enough to live with ultimately would not do the same in return. At least she left by her own volition.

You may not like the fact that you’re asked to be a certain way with people, but that is how respect works. Telling me not to just cheer up when I am in a depressive episode, criticising my actions when you have no idea of what causes them. Making no effort to accommodate really does go both ways. I know I have work to do, and progress to make in both these areas. Can you say the same? Before you throw that first stone, have you asked the question of yourself? Of course, you haven’t because there are no consequences on Social media…

There are ALWAYS Consequences on Social Media…


It’s amazing how easy some people find it to take all that love and compassion they normally exhibit and turn it into bile-fuelled, emotionally-charged hate. Don’t be that person who loves to be a total twat in their feed, when it suits, and when you call them out will simply make some delf-depreciating excuse before blaming you. If you want to spend the rest of your life living out your shortcomings online, eventually someone will put two and two together and you will be royally fucked. Don’t think anonymity really exists either, because it doesn’t if you make enough noise about how nobody cares. When people start to care, they find out stuff about you. The only way you truly remain anonymous is by saying nothing.

That’s why I write all this stuff. It is my reason for being sometimes too painfully honest. The moment you start lying, there’s no escaping the consequences. If you really want to be friends with me online, then it has to be the truth and nothing less.

And Finally…

You can forget my birthday. You can not talk to me for months but if you turn up when it matters, I’ll conveniently forget all manner of previous misdemeanours. However, there comes a point where both history and perceived commitment don’t wash. Telling me you were there for me for decades when you weren’t, remembering from time to time ‘oh yeah, I should see how Sarah is’ is friendship, yes, but not the type I crave the most. I write here every day. My future exists on this platform, and beyond, and my World, like it or not, is an indivisible part of Social media. To be a part of my life, you have to be happy existing here, and willing to do so.

As a result, I suspect there will be a search for new friends going forward. As soon as there’s an opening, I’ll let you know.

Underneath it All


You cannot choose the people you inspire, or that will like you and most crucially of all, however hard you try, some people will never be your friends. I’ve learnt this lesson the hard way over the years: there’ll always be someone who you think you’d like to get to know better and then something will happen to ensure that never comes to pass. The last situation in which this transpired came back to haunt me at the weekend, a mutual tweeting someone who I reached out to but… on reflection, it wouldn’t have worked. They wouldn’t have been the problem, either. I would have ruined it.

The people that have helped chart the course over the last few years have been getting thank you’s this month (as I mentioned back at the start of November) and with the last four this week comes to pass an event that has made a lot of sense in the wider scope of what I’d like to happen going forward. You can give blanket thanks to people on Social media all day and night, knowing that many users simply read what they need or want into situations regardless of your desirers. Naming names is the way people understand how much they matter to you, pure and simple.


Sometimes, people get disappointed. They put a lot more emphasis on you than is the case the other way. When I do a cursory account check of new people to follow, it is always with half an eye on who else they consider interesting. It means if you’re reading this and your Twitter friends list is full of female ‘online personalities’ and porn robots, I’m fairly confident we won’t have a lot in common. I’m pushing more and more for those people who understand that participation isn’t just complaining online about how unfair life is, those willing and prepared to give back more than they take out. Thinking needs to be the default these days, however tough that might be on a daily basis. That means not only considering what you say, but more crucially what you don’t.


Having survived the early stage of Patreon, it is time to start raising the bar. Persuading people to give you money (especially in this day and age) is a tough ask. I have big plans starting this week, and need to get more people on board, who are prepared to take a chance on me and what I believe in. We don’t need to be friends for this to happen, either. However, that might happen, or it might not… a lot of it isn’t up to me to begin with. Life isn’t a predictable set of occurrences. If we get lucky, then so be it.

Sometimes, just inspiring people to be better is enough.


Yesterday was fabulous. I went to the V&A (again) but this time with a purpose: a talk on America photographer Paul Strand, who has a significant retrospective on show. I studied this guy briefly in my early 20’s but never actually grasped the significance he had not only on early ‘candid’ photography but later on portraiture and still life/abstracts. It was both exciting and revelatory, which might sound a bit odd for a guy who only took pictures, but his work in New York (which is a town I dearly love) was enough to actually get me a bit emotional. In fact, there was quite a lot of emotion, and pure unmitigated joy at what I saw, and were the catalogue for the Exhibition not the size of a small animal I would have bought one there and then. That will happen (oh yes) but for now, let me just say how brilliant it was to spend a couple of hours just indulging in an interest I love and don’t get nearly as much time as I’d like to devote to.

Then, there was a shedtonne of Japanese food, and fresh sushi I watched being prepped in an old public house in Islington, and frankly, things were just unbelievable.


Not ACTUAL Sushi, for representation porpoises only.

After that, there was an east London pub, and beer, and the realisation that people actually believe in me. That still seems odd, writing it as I just have, that I can inspire people to passion on a scale I wasn’t aware was actually possible. In fact, as I sit here with tears running down my face, it’s a concept I can’t yet totally grasp. That implicit faith that some people posses, I am good at this, has never been something I ever came to easily. I’d often be accused of arrogance in my youth, and this does often still happen with those who do not bother to take the time to understand what I really am, but the truth is it is naivety, pure and simple. I have a basic distrust in my own worth that goes back a very long time, to a series of events that effectively destroyed my confidence, and only now am I beginning to repair that damage.

Having the self-belief to express thoughts and opinions is something I’ve tried really hard with my husband to nurture in our kids, but I realise I’ve never really worked on that myself in reality: what happens is that this appears more often in my writing. It is is as if I can’t be touched in the imagined worlds I create, that criticism will never hurt when I’m ‘safe’, except the reality is that nothing ever ends up as sacred forever. I suspect one of my basic loves of photography stems from an image captured which can only be judged on the immediacy of that moment chosen. You can be critical of the choice of subject,  lighting or composition, but it is only fleeting; eye blink of a constant, flowing life in progress. Those exposures can’t hurt, because they have already passed. I also discovered, to my considerable surprise yesterday, that the organic and sensual nature of other people’s nature photography can have provoke some very strong reactions within me. That was probably the most significant moment of the day, because what that then did was create a knock-on effect in my own mind as I allowed myself to open to possibilities I’d not previously considered.

If you have never struggled with a sense of worth, all of this may sound utterly pointless and navel-gazy. Yes, it probably is, in truth, but I’d be lying if I said this didn’t matter, because it so totally does. This is possibly the most important thing I have ever done for myself. Having to believe I’m capable is a fairly significant step forward.

After yesterday, my outlook is distinctly more confident.

Are ‘Friends’ Electric?

I’ve been giving thought of late to the notion of what actually constitutes a friendship in the modern world. A lot of ‘normal’ people (yeah, you know them) will still maintain that it is impossible to form any kind of meaningful relationship with anybody else over the medium of virtual because there is so much that people can either hide or be dishonest about. That’s why, as a parent, I keep being told to watch my children’s online safety, because clearly they could be exposed to potentially harmful material at any given moment if I’m not either watching them like a hawk or sticking restrictions on their access. This would then be the moment when I’d start a sentence with ‘actually’ and there’d be a joke there for some of you, but it would become undeniably apparent that the World is changing.

This ad campaign by Ford is one of many public acknowledgement by advertisers, companies and manufacturers that yes, we know things are changing too. We get that societal norms are no longer what they used to be, and as a result it might be time to stop treating you all like it’s still 1995 and actually start moving into the future. Ironically, large sections of American media don’t seem to have received this memo, and will undoubtedly still continue to labour under the belief that nostalgia sells for some time to come. Fortunately for everyone else Netflix and Amazon are ploughing new furrows, companies like Ford are looking at genuine re-invention and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to talk about Internet Friends with your parents at dinner this year and not get sniggered at. However, there’s still quite a lot of work to be done on that front, and that’s where I think I ought to be standing and making a point.

Yes, you can have meaningful relationships on the Internet having never met the person you’re talking to daily.


Once upon a time, people wrote letters to each other when vast distances separated them. Now they compose e-mails on handheld devices, or they instant message, and the distances shrink to irrelevance. As an example, when my step father in law passed away late last year, his son was able to Skype the funeral with permission from the Crematorium to Costa Rica, uniting relatives both too old to travel but still wishing to remember the man and his life. If you want an indication of how commonplace these tendrils have come that entwine the planet with each other, you need only look at the BBC News website for confirmation. I can watch what has come close to the most severe blizzard to hit the Eastern US since records began without getting cold or having to worry about running out of bread. Then, over my cereal and tea I can read an article published by The News and Observer on prisoners writing letters and those who read them based in Raleigh, North Carolina. They champion themselves as the area’s most significant news provider, by the way, who just happened to have jumped into the information revolution with nando.net back in 1994.

It’s amazing what you can learn on the Internet, you know: it’s not just for radicalization, porn and pictures of kittens. It’s also for expanding your horizons and meeting new people who then go on to form a lasting and significant part of your life.

The internet is a great place to be when, while you’re talking to someone who claims to be on stage playing a gig in Japan, you can challenge the assertion and be proved wrong. That happened yesterday morning, and the proof of State Champs’ gig is now Storified for the world to digest at their leisure. The thing about embracing the moment is very true: you can make things more special by living them with someone in the flesh, but there is just as much joy and wonder in being able to do this with someone you don’t know and may never meet. You only have to look at how a certain Mr D.Bowie changed the world for so many simply with his music to understand that knowing someone’s middle name or their favourite colour does not mean they are your friend. What brings you together is the same love of life, beauty, immediacy and honesty. Because if you want to hide online you will, in exactly the same way you can hide in the real world. Being anonymous doesn’t make it easier unless you’re deliberately targeting those who don’t understand how the system works, but that could be true in reality as well. There is an honesty affordable via the virtual that is often only used for sex and deception, and it doesn’t have to be that way. What is required is decency between both parties, and a willingness to dispense with traditional preconceptions.

Yes, you can be friends with people online and it can be an extremely rewarding and enriching experience. The only way it works however is if both parties are prepared to allow it to happen. If you can’t manage that in reality, then it will be a stretch wherever you go, and maybe that is the bigger issue so many people need to deal with in themselves before they begin telling others how to live their lives.