Online Friendship

It’s easy for me to make friends online. Easier than in real life, actually. This makes me think about the concept of online friendship. Are the people you meet online friends in true sense of the word? Or is it impossible for them to be, because you never really meet them in person?

I used to believe that the people you meet online are not real friends. They can’t be, unless you meet them in real life (which isn’t always possible).

Then again, I tend to spend a lot of time online, and this was even more true for my early 20s. Some of my online friends helped me overcome loneliness in a particular moment in my life, and I was really close to them. Isn’t that enough to call them real friends?

So now I believe it’s quite possible to call online friends “real friends”. It’s not that they’re imaginary or that they can’t be there for you if you need them.

Still, there are some differences between real life and online friendship.

Most of online communication is written

It means you are often limited to what a written word can offer. Unless, of course, you decide to video chat with your friends, which is great, but a) I’ve never done it so I don’t know what is like and b) It’s still not the same as real life contact.

Not me, though. I always felt written communication worked better for me. I can’t read nonverbal signs well, and I am quite shy. It seems like I never know what to say, but I always know what to write. But some people find these aspects of Internet communication too limiting.

Internet is not real life

This is the main problem. The way many people see Internet, it’s not real life in full sense of the word. But how much of it is “really” real? Even if a person on the other side is honest, is it possible to truly get to know her? If you never met someone offline, can you say you met him at all? This puts online friends somewhere between imaginary friends and your real ones.

Plus, because Internet is not seen as real life, whatever happens online seems less important than the stuff that happens in real life. Now, in so many ways this is true: Internet shouldn’t be more important than the real life. But this is what ruins many online friendships: because of real life circumstances, people often forget about their online activities, and that includes online friends.

The closeness you build is… fake?

Here’s a potential danger. It’s easy to (seemingly) become close with someone online in a very short time. Sharing secrets and personal details bring people close, so you might feel like you really know this person (even though you never met him in true sense of the word).

On the other hand, sharing secrets and personal details often DO bring people together, and just because it happened online shouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Online friends tend to disappear

The problem is, while this closeness builds pretty quickly online, it can also be destroyed in an instant. A person loses his interest in a forum or a blog and he’s gone. He stops replying to your emails. Etc.

Solutions

Luckily, there are solutions to these challenges, and it is possible to build and maintain great online friendships. Here are some things that can help:

Try to build stronger connections with your online friends, connections that are not dependent on websites you both frequent. Exchanging emails is a good idea. So is chatting (and video chatting). Depending on circumstances, exchanging phone numbers might be a good idea, too. And, finally, meeting your online friend in real life might make him or her your “real” friend. (Or not. But that’s another story).

Don’t forget about your friends once the message board closes or you lose interest in a blog. You still have your friend’s contact details, so use it to stay in touch.

Try not to share (or demand) any details you wouldn’t share in real life on a given stage of a friendship. Let things build. But sharing some things you wouldn’t share in real life is okay, too; just remember that this closeness can’t compensate for a real life contact.

Don’t forget about your online friends when something more exciting happens in real life. Inform them if you’re going to be offline and try to drop them a note from time to time, to see how they’re doing.

And, the most important one: treat your online friends as real people in full sense of the world. Sounds obvious, but people need to be reminded about it.

All in all

I do think online friends are real friends. But because Internet is so young, we still haven’t learned all the skills needed for building and maintaining online friendships. We simply don’t know yet what works in Internet communication (emotionally, and socially), so we are not sure how to behave.

The ways we meet and socialize with people in real life might not work on the Internet. Different rules apply for maintaining healthy online friendships. I guess we’re still unsure what they are, but I hope we’ll get there soon.

12 thoughts on “Online Friendship

  1. Dr. Vagrant X

    *Scratching the nape of my neck and chuckling sheepishly* Somehow I feel a little guilty reading this, and perhaps I should. And it really doesn’t help that my “real-life” friends accuse me of falling off the face of the earth only to reappear at some random point in the future every time I get a new job or meet someone. I guess it’s just another bad habit that I have to work on.

    Sorry about disappearing the past few days. I’d give you some lame excuse, but I’ve found that, both online and in “real-life”, excuses really don’t help much.

  2. Mira

    Dr. Vagrant X,

    Oh, no, no, no… I wasn’t talking about you! (I’m glad you’re back, don’t get me wrong, but don’t feel guilty).

    And it really doesn’t help that my “real-life” friends accuse me of falling off the face of the earth only to reappear at some random point in the future every time I get a new job or meet someone. I guess it’s just another bad habit that I have to work on.

    I think different people react differently to situations and circumstances. Some people simply disappear because they can’t socialize at those moments. Nothing wrong with that.

    But with real life friends, it seems somewhat easier to get back in touch, while online a week of absence can ruin it. (For some reason I’m not sure I understand. But it happens).

  3. Alee

    I’m with Fiona: online friends are SO real. You’d better believe it. I actually like many of the people online better than the people in real life. Of course I’d love to speak to some of my online friends on the phone and meet them offline.

    People have a tendency to minimize online connections, but if you’re building closeness and intimacy with a person, you’re building it regardless of the medium. It doesn’t make it any less significant.

  4. Mira

    Alee,

    Yes, online friends are real. But I DO think we don’t know much about the dynamics of these relationships, because Internet is so young. The more we learn, the better we’ll get.

    I actually like many of the people online better than the people in real life.

    I must agree with this. At least I get along better with the people online.

    It could be me, and it could be written communication that suits me, OR it could be the way people socialize in my culture don’t suit me.

  5. Jessica

    I met my best friend ten years ago online. She belonged to the same yahoo club as I did and saw that she lived near me. We were chatting on messenger for a long while before we met but once we did meet in person it was a bit awkward the first few times. We didnt naturally click and didnt know what to say to eachother yet we could get on our computers and chat away about everything.

    Eventually we got use to eachother in person and dont need to chat online anymore. Being able to click online doesnt guarantee chemistry in person but people tend to think of that only in romantic terms not in platonic friendships but its the same deal. She’s someone that if I hadve met in any other circumstance we would probably not be friends because we would assume we had nothing in common. Im black and christian and she’s pakistani and muslim. Completely different backgrounds and were raised totally different yet we are one in the same.

  6. Alee

    Mira,

    I think I like my online friends better because it’s easier to choose people who I get along with. Most of the times we meet on a site due to a common interest, and talking to each other it’s easier to see if we are compatible (and easier to end things if we aren’t compatible).

    I also hate when my online friends disappear without notice, but I’m guilty of that sometimes as well.

  7. Mira

    Alee,

    I agree it’s easier to find compatible people online. If nothing else, real life circumstances don’t dictate who you’re going to meet. You can make friends all over the world. That is a fantastic thing, one of the best things about online friendship.

  8. Mira

    Melina,

    Romance is another sort of issue… I think. I am not sure what to say about it. I believe you can have a crush or even fall in love with someone online, but does that even qualify as romance if you never meet him in person?

  9. Mira Post author

    Jessica,

    Welcome! Sorry it took me so long to approve your comment. I didn’t get an email about it (and I usually do, when there’s a new comment in moderation).

    Being able to click online doesnt guarantee chemistry in person but people tend to think of that only in romantic terms not in platonic friendships but its the same deal.

    Good point! I agree. That’s one of those differences between the Internet and the real life. People you get along with online might not be someone you like in RL. Not sure why/how that happens.

    But I am glad it turned great for you and your friend.

  10. Nkosazana

    I’m fairly new to this whole blogging thing and message boards. It as just last year I started using the internet to a ‘larger’ extent since I had a lot of time..

    I hope people are my friends. I don’t know though, weird having friends who I’ve never met though.

    It’s fun meeting people with similar interest and such.

  11. Mira

    Nkosazana,

    I agree, it’s fun to meet people from all over the world. And let’s face it, it’s easier to find people who share similar interests online.

    I hope people are my friends. I don’t know though, weird having friends who I’ve never met though.

    I think we all just need to get used to it. This is a new thing, this sort of connection. I never existed before. We still need to learn, psychologically and socially, what works and what doesn’t, and how to behave and maintain quality online friendship.

    I think Jessica raised an important issue: what if you’re friends with somebody online but it simply doesn’t work offline?

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