Are Online Friends as “Real” as Face-to-Face Ones?

I write this post for those who don’t “get it”.

There are certain aspects of my life my husband doesn’t “get”:

  • Blogging.
  • Writing.
  • Twitter.
  • Spending hours “talking” via typing to another person whom I’ve only “met” online.

    All new friends and "tweeps" discovered since last fall.

All of these add up to a “waste of time”, stealing me from my family.

A few weeks ago as I wrote a story about my discovery of the internet, an epiphany popped.

To him and many others, the internet equals pure entertainment: they surf websites, watch movies, perhaps even dabble in social media with Facebook to keep in touch with old friends.

They don’t use it to find new people, only to reconnect with the old.

These people, like my husband, don’t “get” why others such as myself seek out strangers to bond with.

We are geeks seeking someone with common interests.

We are writers searching for support, criticism, and knowledge.

We are the parents doubting our skills and sanity as our children find new buttons to push.

We are lacking something in our “real” lives.

Outlets like blogs, writing forums, and Twitter introduce us to others who think and feel as we do.

I first learned to form connections in cyberspace in my tweens.

At 14, I was alone and isolated. I won’t delve into the psychological battering I suffered, but it left me with two things: my imagination and the internet.

AOL didn’t yet exist when my parents signed up for a service called Prodigy. It had news, games, and more importantly, a Message Board System. Here you could post under topics and categories you were interested in, finding other like-minded individuals.

I can't remember my utility bill user name, but I still remember my first internet log on ID: HFSX79C

Suddenly, I was no longer alone.

I found people who liked the same music I did, who loved the same movies.

Some of them “clicked”.

We emailed a bit, but sparingly – only 30 free emails were allowed a month for the entire family account.

Relationships deepened by exchanging addresses, old school snail mail necessary during the internet infancy.

Phone numbers also traded hands. In the days before cell phones (at least affordable ones smaller than a breadbox), we were at the mercy of Ma Bell. I befriended many west coasters, because I could call them after 11 PM when the long distance rates dropped.

One month, my parents had a $300 phone bill, even with my “call during the cheapest time” diligence.

These friendships discovered online banished the isolation surrounding me. They kept me going, even content, during a very rough period of adolescence.

They were no less real to me than face-to-face to friendships.

If anything, we forged bonds faster, proving the ease of pouring your heart out to someone who knew none of the people you spoke of, carrying no preconceived opinions.

Eight years ago I relocated halfway across the country. I left behind all of my family, friends, and found myself in the state of Texas.

It was hot, filled with strange bugs, and the home of fire ants. The only person I knew was my husband.

Again, I was isolated. Alone.

Again, I reached out through the internet.

It clung to the ties of old friendships, now separated by long distance.

It located others thought lost.

It unearthed new ones.

Months passed before any “real life” friendships formed at my new home.
It took time. Then, one by one, I collected them. I wasn’t the only one living miles away from family. Most of my new friends were just as isolated, and we formed “satellite families”. We supported each other by filling the holes our relatives could not.

Yet, part of me refused to be satisfied.

It screamed to write.

To join others shouting to be heard through their words.

Suddenly, long lost “twins” dropped from the sky.

They were me…. only not.

They lived my life, cried in frustration, and reached for others through their words.

Mothers and fathers who loved their children, but needed something for themselves.

People who didn’t stamp me crazy when I typed of channeling characters from my head onto the screen –  because I had no power over how my own creations unfolded.

People who understood me: my daily trials, joys, and dreams.

No matter how many times I’ve explained “the need to write” to my husband, he fails to truly comprehend.

He can support me.

He can inspire me.

But without the call himself, I doubt he will ever truly feel the power writing wields.

The same holds true with online friendships. To him, they aren’t “real”.

He is real.

My kids are real.

Our local friends are real.

But the soul sister I found who lives in Canada?

Not real.

A time suck, not a friendship.

I write this post for those who don’t “get it”.

To me, and many others, our online friendships are real, sometimes stronger than those surrounding us “in real life”.

Because these are people we bonded with over the possible millions.

We chose these people. They are not friendships of forced circumstances – be it school, geography, or a job.

You don't meet every cyber-friend in person, but it makes them no less real to us.

They support us no less, just differently.

Sometimes, fate twists, and they transform into “real life” friends.

Why would they be any less valid seconds before meeting?

Do not belittle those we only communicate with online.

They are our friends.

You will anger us with your closed mind and derision.

You will force us to defend those we hold dear, as we would any true friend.

You haven’t met them, discounting their existence, but it paints them no less real.

Ask about them, as you would any other friend.

“How did you meet?”

“What do you talk about?”

“Why are you laughing hysterically at your laptop?”

As the curtain lifts, these mythical friends no longer faceless, hopefully you will see their value.

Because they are real.

*~*~*~*~*

If this spoke to you, please share it with others.

Did this help you understand why your spouse/child/friend disappears onto their computer?

Do you know someone who doesn’t “get it”?

When and why did you first reach out online?

I’d love to hear your story.

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About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos (www.writingwithchaos.com) sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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51 Responses to Are Online Friends as “Real” as Face-to-Face Ones?

  1. Jessica says:

    When I first started blogging my husband didn’t “get it.” He thought I was wasting my time. But now that I have developed some relationships with people that I can call my friends even though I have not met these people in real life he is starting to “get it” and he accepts my time on the computer. As long as I have balance. I have to also make time for family which I do.

    • Balancing life once you become a parent is really the biggest challenge of all. The chores replicate and increase in size, the available time you have to do them declines dramatically.

      I’m still working out the kinks, although it’s getting better. Slowly.

  2. kir says:

    This was wonderful, a great post to explain to those that don’t get it. However a lot of people in my life do..because my internet friends rallied during my infertility and when the boys were born, there are tangible things (gifts, cards, phone calls, love) that we held and heard after they were born etc. Thank goodness my family saw firsthand the kind of women I had met.

    The first time I used the internet to meet people was when I moved to take my current job almost 12 yrs ago. I knew no one , I was working in a different state and I felt very isolated, I dated a lot..met a lot of guys that I am still friends with. It was The Knot that gave me my girlfriends. Getting married I found other women who were, women here in my area…3 of them and I became good friends , attended each other’s weddings. Once I was married and then deciding to get Pg I moved to another section of the knot, and when we had tried for 6 months and nothing was happening those women set up a msg board for TTC. (Trying to conceive) and that is my tribe. I have met some IRL..I send and get cards in snail mail from them weekly, we have been sad and hopeful together and it’s the reason I have a blog. I started blogging in 2005 to talkabout my infertility. I’ve never looked back even when it turned into pregnancy and parenthood.

    My internet friends are just as real as my IRL ones and thank goodness I never have to explian that to my hubby and boys.

    Loved this post Kel!!!!

    • Relocation to another state is definitely a great reason to reach out. I’ve always been social, but after so many years in a the same place, it was very difficult to go from the family and friends I’d built up over the years, to just my husband. Who worked all day.

      You reminded me. One of my internet friends also had issues TTC, and she told me to read the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”. It educated me that waiting another 6 months (for the 1 year of unable to conceive = infertility mark) would be pointless – I had an issue.

      My son wouldn’t exist without her. How’s that for effect?

      I wish I blogged during that journey. Hind sight and all that…

      Glad your boys are so supportive!

  3. My husband doesn’t get it. He tries but he really will never understand. Most people don’t. But I definitely consider you a friend even if we haven’t met in real life.

    We share our struggles, our joy, seek advice and even give some. We encourage each other and get virtual hugs when we need them. We even sit down and have a glass of wine (or beverage of your choice) together.

    If that’s not friendship – I’m not sure I completely agree with that definition.

    (((HUGS)))

    He may not get it but there’s a million of out there who do 😉

    • It’s nice to hear so many of us have a person we love who doesn’t really “get it” either.

      I’m hoping this piece helps.

      It’s just hard to reconcile: one who has many friends based on the internet, versus one who never “met” a friend that way.

      I consider you a friend too. 🙂

  4. Galit Breen says:

    I loved this Kelly. Purely loved it.

    And it resonates like everything that you write. Except for the garden-shower-fiction-OHMY! things.

    XO

  5. John says:

    I absolutely believe that the people I’ve met online are real – some of my now best friends (both who I have had the pleasure of meeting in real life and who I still have yet to meet). When you take your circle of people that you’ve known through neighborhoods and schools and jobs and what-not, you limit the experiences you’ve dealt with.

    I really see the Internet as one great big cocktail party (I like to say that over “dinner party” because cocktail is fun to say) – you start out by talking to those who you know, laughing over times . . . but person x will introduce you to person y….and, you know, sometimes you just “click” with person α just a bit more…you expand your group of friends (never intentionally leaving past ones behind) because like experiences draw you together. Somebody who has been through what you’re going through? They’re able to support you that much better.

    Wonderfully written post.

    • I like the “cocktail party” analogy. I’ve always thought of it like a tree. When I moved to Texas, I met a guy through former classmates of my husband – they all worked for the same company, but completely different departments.

      That guy had parties. I met another guy there, who I talked to for a few hours and we just “clicked” (in a completely platonic “oh cool, you love that movie too?” kind of way).

      That guy led to “Game Nights”. Various others were invited. They brought their significant others and spouses. It branched – as each person led to another.

      It’s how most of my local friends came about – the tree branch connection.

      The internet ones often happen the same way. Then suddenly, you find the “twin” who understands your life so well (because they’re almost living it too), and you have a person to talk during the rough or more frustrating patches.

      Without the internet, I would know zero writers. I can’t count how many I do know now.

      For that I am very grateful.

  6. If anything, the friends I’ve met online, like you, are extra ‘real’ – they are friends that truly ‘listen’. I have formed amazing sisterhood relationships with some women online and they are some of my most cherished.
    What I love most about these friends is that we make up a beautiful calico quilt. Each of us bringing a worn piece of fabric from our lives and sewing together the most beautiful blanket of friendship.
    Beautiful post Kelly, I hope this helps others “get it”/

    • The friendship quilt sounds beautiful.

      You’re right, each person brings something different. I’ve bettered my writing, and been entertained. I’ve commiserated and supported. I’ve been given a shoulder to cry/scream on. I’ve learned tips/tricks for dealing with overly rambunctious toddler monkeys.

      My friends here are wonderful, but none of them write.

      I have a geo-cash coin designing friend, who at one point I never knew had artistic talent.

      I have one whose creative outlet is her new cupcake business (the chocolate ones: to DIE for).

      We each have our thing and admire the gift the other has, but they aren’t so useful with writing critiques. 🙂

  7. Rebekah C says:

    Woohoo! Well said. I 100% agree with you, lol. I wrote a post about the same topic a little while ago. I think internet friendships are undervalued by most people. It’s a shame.

    http://thoughtfulmomma.com/2011/01/11/1776/

    • It sounds as if it is only in recent years you joined the “online friends are real” category, based on your post. By recent, I mean within the last 10 years. 🙂

      I do think they’re undervalued, because they are the invisible ones others close to us do not see.

      Unless they move halfway across the country and settle in your town three years after you “met” them online. 🙂 I find those to be the exception and not the rule.

      I’m working on sharing stories about my internet friends with my husband – to help make at least a few of those I communicate with often “real” to him.

      Because they are very real to me.

  8. bobbijaye says:

    You know where I stand on this. I convinced my family to move halfway across the country for an “internet friend.” I stayed in Texas because of an “internet friend.”

    I went to Australia for two months and stayed with “internet friends.”

    It was an “internet friend” who first suggested I might have OCD.

    I met my first boyfriend online. In the scheme of things, he was probably the least messed up of everyone I’ve dated since.

    Online, people get it. People listen. For someone who writing to talking, this is perfect. People who will communicate with me in the way I most like? Gee, what a novel idea.

    You should remind CG that I used to be one of these internet people too. Last I checked, I’m pretty real. At least, I think so. And if I’m not real, I’m certainly not going to waste my time writing the ten page paper that’s due on Thursday. So really, it’d be great if we could clear this up.

  9. fnkybee says:

    I absolutely in love with this post! It rings very true with me. My husband doesn’t ‘get it’ along with some other family members and friends. I have met wonderful wonderful people through my blog and twitter among other sites and hold those friendships very close to my heart. He, along with the others, don’t blog, don’t twitter or have anything else to do with the internet besides surf, research, and keep up with fb, therefore he thinks I am doing nothing meaningful when I am on my laptop. I blog to vent, I blog to talk, to rant, to be random, to get things out. I find it very very therapeutic at times and I am thankful everyday that I have that outlet. It helps reassure you that you are not going crazy, not alone in some struggles.
    What I find so fascinating is the fact that you make these friendships that would otherwise never been made thanks to the internet. I have met one girl through my blog that I correspond with now via text, email and we have spoke on the phone, we call each other cosmic twins. I consider her a very good friend now.
    Great post!

    • You took all of the words out of my mouth. My husband is the same in internet usage. I don’t think he has concept of how blogging and writing are not only things I love, but therapeutic.

      Cosmic twins are the best, aren’t they? The only barrier we have with them is silly geography. Thank goodness for technology.

  10. Ilana says:

    Ah. I had this discussion with my husband just last night. I started my blog as more of a creative outlet. I didn’t realize I was missing anything in my real life. I didn’t realize I was entering into an online community. But that is what happened. And as far as I am concerned, there is no going back. Nor do I want to. Even if my husband doesn’t “get it”.

    • Does he not “get it” either?

      I hope you’ve found some support among the moms online. I get the sense many of your local friends are still kid-less and equally “don’t get” the whole “baby takes over your life” thing.

      I know you get joy out of entertaining us. 🙂

      Good thing you’re hooked.

  11. Leigh Ann says:

    So true. I don’t think my husband DOESN’T get it, but he’s just not into it. He loves that I write, but I can’t talk to him about it. It’s just not his thang. I do, however, shy away from telling a lot of my IRL friends about how many friends I have online.

    • You never know. Perhaps some also have closet internet friends.

      I know the cat is out of the bag for the few who read my blog. 🙂

      I’m glad your DH is very supportive of the writing – you need that support to succeed.

  12. educlaytion says:

    I meet many great folks online. Like any other single thing on this planet, the internet can go from good to bad if we are excessive. But the simple fact of using the web to network and hang is not abnormal. Of course, it might help if people didn’t talk about you in weird videos.

  13. Trish Loye Elliott says:

    Great post, Kelly. It totally hit home. (think I might have hubby read it)
    I think the friends you meet online can be as true or even more so than the ones you meet IRL. I think online lets you meet others that you click with easier. Hard to find a sci-fi wine party in my neighbourhood!
    Awesome post as always.

  14. charlywalker says:

    Well said!

    spread the humor:charlywalker.wordpress.com

  15. Mandyland says:

    You nailed it, lady! Try as I might, I just can’t explain to my husband and “real life” friends that my online community is just as valuable as they would be if they were our next door neighbors. More so, in some senses. Because, while they can’t drop off a casserole when I’m sick or watch the kids so I can run to the store, they keep me SANE.

    • Ditto on the “sane” part.

      I met my friend Bobbi on the internet. For 3 years we communicated over instant messaging and on the phone.

      Then we met.

      The second time we met, she never left the state again.

      She is now the primary baby-sitter of my children.

      So they CAN help… it just might take a few years. 🙂

  16. Excellent blog, Kelly. At least in my case I don’t have this issue. My wife and I both started blogging 7 years ago… and that is how we met. I read and commented on her blog (she was living in Ireland at the time) and she on mine. Fast forward 7 years and we’re married with a lovely 2 year old girl. And we both still blog. The drive to write… the drive to connect with others… sure some people will not understand how the Internet opens and broadens our world and our interpersonal opportunities, but that’s okay. We know. I commented on this in a blog over Christmas this year: I Want to Say… Thanks.

    As always, I enjoy your writing, Kelly.

    ~Michael

    • See, I met my husband the old fashioned way: in high school through an ex-boyfriend. 🙂 I admit I’m a bit jealous you two have such blogging/writing understanding.

      And such an adorable little girl, too. 🙂

      I tried to think of a single person my husband is “friends” with who he met on the internet. I’m coming up blank.

      Thanks, Michael. The writing respect is mutual, and I’ll try to show more comment love.

  17. Alise says:

    Loved this! My best IRL friend and I call it our virtual village. We wake up and go for a visit in their homes. I know a lot of these people as well as people I know IRL. I get that people can be fake online, but hell, they can be fake out in the wild too. I trust that these relationships are real.

    That said, I still love when I get to meet an online friend in person. There’s just something special about getting to hold that person that I’ve cried with and shared with and rejoiced with. Brackets still can’t replace a real live hug.

  18. CJ says:

    OMG. I was just thinking about this today. As a disabled SAHM who does not drive, my internet friends allow me to connect and not feel so isolated on a daily basis–as a writer, they have given me invaluable feedback, and as a survivor of many things, they have given me unflinching support. As you have so eloquently pointed out, these “strangers” have given me love and friendship as real (and sometimes more than) as any of my real life relationships. I will definitely be passing this on!

  19. Leighann says:

    I so love this Kelly!
    how many times has someone said that my friends online aren’t real?!
    It’s frustrating.
    Thank you for writing this.
    So well said.
    Xo

  20. I appreciate how easy the Internet makes it to connect with people who share similar interests. We usually just make friends with the people in our immediate surroundings: co-workers, classmates, neighbors. But sometimes none of these people share one of our interests, and I enjoy going online to find people who want to connect in that area.

  21. This post is excellent! My husband, like many others here have posted, doesn’t “get it” either. I find it interesting that he reads a lot of forums and sees what online interaction can provide, but would never consider actually posting or participating himself.

    We’re looking at making a big international move soon, so I’ve recently started searching for bloggers in our potential new city – it seems a great way to get to know some folks there and make the move seem less isolating.

    I would love for you to get some publicity for this post outside the blogging world!

  22. Good points, Kelly. It’s a community like any other. For me the big link is a similar interest: writing. I don’t have anyone in my actual day-t0-day life that is interested in writing, but through blogging I’ve found lots of people who are.

  23. Yes. Amen.

    I’m one of the lucky, my husband gets it. Mainly because he thinks I might make some money writing one day, and making some money is better than making no money. Also, every now and then he plays online poker. Internet folks are real when you lose real money to them.

  24. julie says:

    I definitely get this. I know. Everyone else has said this already. Because we ALL AGREE!

    That’s the beauty of internet friendships. We gravitate toward those with similar feelings, needs, joys and challenges; the ones we return to again and again often have more in common with us than friends we’ve known for decades.

    I still feel relatively new to the process, but can already see bonds being formed; preferences filtered; stories heard and shared.

    Love this post, Kelly. What a validation.

  25. Ironic Mom says:

    It’s odd. I like to move. As in move to new countries and new jobs. I always thought it was because I like to challenge myself in my job. It’s not. I started my blog when I got wanderlust again, the desire to move overseas and through myself into something totally different. You know what? It’s not about moving. It’s about learning new things and meeting new people. Blogging has filled that hole. I’ve now lived here 6 years. I still yearn to travel, but I’m getting so much from my friends on line.

    Sometimes my husband gets it; sometimes he doesn’t.

    Some of my other friends think I’m batty when they hear I let tweeps I’ve known for a year pick me up at LAX.

    No matter.

    I know you all get me. So thanks, eh?

  26. Ironic Mom says:

    Through = throw, by the way.

  27. spot on. I wish I could get my husband to read this. he can’t stand my being on the computer. He doesn’t understand….thank you for writing this—it said exactly what I feel!

  28. MrsWhich says:

    This is an important piece for sharing, thank you! A year ago, I wrote a post about how twitter changed my life (http://mrs-which.blogspot.com/2010/04/twitter-changed-my-life.html) but still struggled with the “waste of time.” I decided to a bit of a qualitative cost-benefit analysis (http://mrs-which.blogspot.com/2010/11/wasting-time-on-twitter.html) and since I think I’ve seen even more benefit. Thanks for providing this lovely writing that we can pass around to people who probably won’t read it because it’s a blog.

  29. Christina says:

    Kelly,
    Amazing post! I have gone through this countless times. I don’t think until I started actually meeting my bloggy friends IRL did my hubby fully get it. Now he actually sees the connections that I have. Well done girl!!

  30. jenny says:

    Oh, how I love love LOVE this post! I could have written myself (only not nearly as well) so I’m stopping here to tell you how fantastic it is, and then I’m off to share it with my world in hopes that some of my “real” friends will finally understand the piece of me you write about so eloquently here. Oh, and my husband, who will never “get it” either, but I’m always trying to find a way news ways to get the message across. 🙂

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  32. Paige Morgan says:

    What a great post! Of course I get it and only sad that work has pulled me so far out of my beloved cyber community so much lately. I have been writing a couple of posts on the weekend, setting my auto-post and then heading off for business trips. I love all the comments I read on my phone as I am running between meetings, but I am definitely out of touch and it feels just as sad with cyber friends as “real” ones.

    “See” you when I resurface!

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