Everyone does not have more friends than you, even though, as a study at UBC Vancouver indicated, plenty of people believe their friends all have more friends. Everyone is not going to parties you’re not invited to, meeting a wide array of people across all backgrounds and slices of life, who come together in a rich tapestry of social circles that rivals the opening titles of Sesame Street.
Contrary to the beliefs of 48 per cent of first-year university students in the study, everyone else is not establishing a vast network of acquaintances, each cemented over a hearty handshake, learning each person’s full name immediately upon first hearing it. They are not keeping in regular touch with these acquaintances, spotting them across the room at parties and picking up exactly where they left off last time, wordlessly agreeing whether to hug or shake hands, alerting them to career opportunities and good restaurants, remembering each one’s birthday and sending warm wishes without even being reminded by Facebook.
While your fear of missing out on the social scene can both lower your sense of well-being and inspire you to make more of your own friendships, your friends are not having constant adventures together without you that change their outlook forever and form an uncrackable bond that will last through to old age. They are not constantly sharing their deepest secrets and anxieties, then running to each other’s homes to comfort each other with a night of Netflix, wine, and truth or dare. They are not referencing those deep secrets in conversation with a single stray word, or just the raise of an eyebrow, and the twitch of a smile that says everything is OK, all jokes made in love. They do not end every night staring out across the nearest large body of water, passing a brown-bagged bottle of liquor back and forth, meditating on the lessons of the past and the promise of the future. They do not help each other move on the 30th of every month. They have not all saved each other’s lives.
As indicated by research, mathematically, a few outliers give the rest of us an exaggerated impression of how many friends everyone else has, and your friends’ other friends do not all live in one building where their lives interweave as one, a character-driven ensemble dramedy for and by themselves, learning to love and appreciate each other’s foibles, seeing their differences outweighed by their more essential similarities, none of which you possess. They have not weathered screaming matches and belly-emptying sobs and shared dark nights of the soul and come out the stronger for it. They have not all nursed each other back to health with homemade soup flavoured by the bones of the chicken wings they ordered on Deliveroo weeks ago (they don’t all swat each other’s wrists when they go to “settle up”, saying, “Oh stop it, you can get me next time,” nor do they then sneak each other a few bucks anyway and text each other just to practice symbolising their deep rapport in a chain of emoji), chicken wings stored in the freezer, then boiled into life-giving broth, a culinary symbol of how their friendship feeds into itself until it sinks into their marrow.
While social media use is associated with feelings of social isolation, everyone is not in a big group text right now without you, churning through idiolectic memes and building a microculture so rich any sociologist would give up tenure just for an hour alone with this primary source. They aren’t swapping out-of-context images from the internet that each earn 10 replies of “OH MY GOD THAT IS PRECISELY US” along with 10 perfect reaction GIFs from their favourite show that aren’t even from Giphy. They aren’t sharing Spotify tracks that make the others cry at their desks with their precision of relevant meaning and the way the cross-genre cover really brings out the true tone of the lyrics. They aren’t all huddling together in a group embrace, comforted by each other’s touch, fingers interlocking, limbs tangling, now melding into one giant homunculus of friendship, the group mind fusing, flesh cohering, see them rise from the sky now, are they fading into invisibility or just drifting off beyond your field of vision, you left down here to inherit the Earth alone.