Earlier this month, I opened up Facebook to see a post from my friend Rebekah about what a wonderful person Amy had been. Past tense. She had died.
“No, no, no,” I thought. “This isn’t Amy S., right?” It sounded like it was describing the Amy I knew, but I thought maybe it was a different Amy, one that Rebekah had gone to high school with, perhaps. Which wouldn’t be okay in any way either, but it’s only natural to say, Not MY Amy.
It was Amy S., who, like Rebekah, I knew exclusively from interactions on Facebook, mostly in private groups. Amy and I weren’t close… but if that were true, why was I crying so hard?
Amy and I had talked about makeup and fashion (about which we always agreed.) We exchanged direct messages after an upsetting event. I smiled at her posts about puppies and Tom Hiddleston. I learned a little from her about politics in Taiwan. More than once, she’d sent me a supportive and kind message at just the right time. I thought she was sweet and smart and pretty much perfect.
Like so many online friendships, this one had sunk in and become a part of me almost without my noticing it.
How Online Friendships Work
Often, you don’t make each others’ acquaintance in the usual way, with questions like What do you do for a living? Instead, you bond over shared interests or similar philosophies, and sometimes that’s a quicker way to lead to a real connection.
In my online communities, when you have something you need to share, you put it right out there with no preamble: the private details of your relationships, the small victories that not everyone would understand. This also helps you get to know others fast.
You don’t always have long conversations. Instead, you may have many brief conversations, sometimes over a period of years. You may not have photos of you and your online friends (though one of my 101 Life Goals is to meet many more in person), or any other traditional proofs of closeness. When you have online friends, it’s like a cloud of stardust that follows you around wherever you go, making the world a softer and brighter place to be.
We all know how the Internet offers a protective distance for many people to unleash the worst aspects of themselves, spreading hate and cruelty with impunity. The opposite is also true. Online, I can dare to be more warm and effusive, because I’m less worried about rejection or fitting in. In “real life” I’ve often felt obliged to act more reserved, but my online enthusiasm is the real me, and I’m being my authentic self more and more in other parts of my life as well.
I frequently see online relationships disparaged. For instance, I’ve seen a quote that said something like, “Online friends can’t take care of your dog or give you a ride to the airport.”
Setting aside the fact that I would never ask a friend to watch my wonderful but challenging terriers for free, I think this is silly. I don’t need friends so that they can work for me. I need them to laugh with, commiserate with, and talk about life with.
I’ve also seen a cartoon of a funeral with almost no attendees. One of the guys there says to another: “I don’t understand it. He had so many Facebook friends.” But geographical proximity or the ability to travel aren’t true measures of friendship.
My Online Friends
I made my first online friends even before Facebook, through a now-defunct website called 43Things where people cheered each other’s progress on their goals. (Anyone who knows me, including people who read this blog, can imagine how much I loved that.) I’m still friends with many 43Ters. We’ve seen each other change and grow over more than a decade now, and I can’t even say how much it means to me.
I’m in groups with former 43Ters, groups that love Supernatural and nerd stuff, a community of fellow romance writers, a group of writers who do NaNoWriMo (but chat all year), a makeup and fashion group, a political group, a group where everyone can talk about whatever’s on their mind… and a few more. I’m just regular Facebook friends with dozens of people I met elsewhere on the Internet. Through this blog, I’ve gotten to know some regular commenters who are kind, interesting, and funny, and I’m always learning from them.
If I’m connected with you online, I want you to know right now that our talks about TV, movies, books, writing, politics, aspirations, and our day-to-day experiences and feelings, mean so much to me. They’re one of the realest things in my world, and I’m so glad we’re here for each other.