Hold onto your mouse pads, I have a revelation for you (drum roll please): online friends are not the same as their “real world” equivalents.
I know, duh. You rarely, if ever, actually see the people you meet online. They don’t go with you to the grocery store or to check out the cute guy at Starbucks and are unlikely to ever ask to borrow your Marc Jacobs handbag (meaning you never have to humiliate them by saying no). If you’re going through a bad time, they might be there with some emailed sympathy and advice but call them in tears at 4 AM and you’re crossing over into stalker territory.
Yet until recently I was convinced that my internet friends were just as real as their flesh and blood counterparts. I even wrote a piece for a national newspaper extolling the virtues of online friendships.
You see, I was housebound by ill-health for a long time, so the internet was a revelation to me. Suddenly I had a connection to the outside world and could ‘meet’ lots of new people. I had acquaintances with similar health problems to myself and acquaintances with similar writing ambitions. Never one for distancing myself emotionally, I considered all of these people my friends. In fact, they were pretty
much my only friends.
I liked having people to chat to when I was alone all day. And I loved that we could ‘talk’ on forums or over email, so a ringing phone never disturbed my rest times. We would gossip about everything from TV shows to our health, sometimes exchanging very intimate details of our lives. We sent each other birthday cards and Christmas presents, swapped books and recommended movies.
But they would attend weddings of people I’d never heard of, solve personal problems I didn’t know they were having and even go on dates without giving away a single snippet of gossip. Not that I have to know every detail of everyone’s life. But when you think of someone as a friend and confidante (to get all “Golden Girls” for a second) then realize they just see you as some person they know from the internet, it stings a bit. I got a huge wake-up call one day when I found out about a friend’s pregnancy along with the rest of the world…via her blog. In retrospect, considering her one of my best friends was more than a bit misguided.
And the thing about pouring all your energy into online relationships is that when you finally shut down your laptop, you’re all alone. For a friendship to be real, you need to tell each other things, to talk to each other on the phone and spend time together outside of a computer. While I’m sure some people have forged real-world friendships out of an online connection, I’m not sure I’m one of them.
Yes, I’ve met some wonderful, kind, supportive people in the six years I’ve been online. But as much as I’d like to think otherwise, most of them are casual acquaintances — very few of them are actually my friends.