by Alexandria Durrell

Since you’re reading this, I’ll assume you have a fair understanding of life online. You’re obviously aware of this great online magazine, and probably have a Facebook account, perhaps a Twitter handle, and you may even blog. So we’re already a few steps ahead of many of my “real-life” friends who can’t understand why many of my friends live somewhere in cyberspace.

When I talk to some of my “real-life friends”,  they snicker about the friendships I’ve made online. They don’t really get it. My “real-life” friends can’t understand how it’s possible to cultivate friendships with people I don’t spend physical time with. (Let’s refer to them as IRL friends going forward. That stands for “in real life”.)

Many of my IRL friends have never blogged, have exactly no idea what Twitter is all about, and use Facebook to maintain connections with their elementary school besties. Me? I’ve grown businesses through online communities, connected with likeminded bloggers and made friendships with people all over the world.

About ten years ago, I started a blog on a site called Xanga and had a rather large following. People sent me gifts, they snapped paparazzi-style pics of Ryan and I while we were vacationing in Boston, I even had a couple death threats (lucky me!). But most of the people who were “fans” weren’t really friends. They were strange unreal people to me, commenting without attachment, and that’s a big part of why I walked away from that online incarnation of myself.

Even though most of those people weren’t true friends, I did in fact make some long-lasting ones who I still maintain relationships with to this day.  Some I’ve met IRL, while others are long-distance but no less important. We’ve watched each other get engaged, married, pregnant, have kids, and watched those kids grow. We’ve supported one another through getting jobs, losing jobs, losing babies, losing hope, finding new directions and passions. I’ve confided in them, found support and camaraderie, but still, my IRL friends dismiss these relationships as “less-than” the ones I have in person. Why is this?

I live a rich life online, and I’d venture that most of my online friends know far more about me than the people I spend time with IRL. They have taken time to read blog posts about my kids, they know about my son’s allergies and my daughter’s adventures in school. They know my daily thoughts, my moods, and quite possibly, they know what I’ve eaten for my last three meals.

As an introvert, I don’t seek many IRL interactions. I’m happy to sit behind this screen and cultivate what I feel are very rich relationships with people I truly connect with, not just those with whom I’ve been thrown together because our kids share a hobby. I do seek to expand the relationships I enjoy most, of course.

In fact, I’m rooming with a long-time friend whom I’ve never actually met in person at BlogHer. And just yesterday I met up with some friends I met through Twitter for a playdate at the Toronto Zoo. How can these relationships not be real?

What do you think of online friendships?  Are they as valid as those in “real” life? Are are online friendships real?

 

Alex Durrell digs her humour like she likes her wine…dry. With a bite. She knows the lyrics to pretty much every song ever written, has a weakness for plaid and for all her complaining, she always finds the silver lining.  Her two kids and one husband (for now…she’s evaluating the benefits of Brother Husbands) are the things that make her happiest and most frustrated in life, and there’s not a thing she’d change about that.  Despite the name, she blogs here and here but is usually found in her pajamas on Twitter.

Author

Maria Lianos-Carbone is Publisher/Editor of amotherworld. Follow her on Twitter @amotherworld and @lifeandtravelca.

28 Comments

  1. I think just like anything in life…Your online friendships are what you make of them…3 of my dearest friends that are in my life now are ALL because of twitter…I love these women like sisters and they have become a huge and very important part of my life…

    I have also met many people that I hit it off with really well on line…and they are not so great IRL…

    I feel the more and more Social Media seeps into our lives…the more blurred the On Line & IRL line gets…

    Great post Alex…

    Cheers

    • You’re totally right about the blurred lines. I’d like to one day address the fact that because many friendships are online, sometime behaviours are affected negatively, too, though. Know what I mean?

  2. I am with you – I have met some great people online – and while I have not met up in person, and probably won’t, that doesn’t change that I consider them friends.

  3. Nancy T (Momma2Loveys) Reply

    While I love and adore my IRL friends I find I talk to my online friends more. IMO they are just as real and true as IRL friends. Whether it’s a quick tweet or a comment on their blog 🙂 the interactions are almost daily.
    One of my closest IRL friends I met through joining momstown and I wouldn’t change that for the world. How we met (whether only in cyberspace or in person) does not make the friendship any less important. 🙂

  4. AlwaysARedhead Reply

    With tweetups I have met some pretty nice people, do I consider them friends, sure why not? They know quite a bit about me, they read my blog, and are quite supportive on twitter when something is wrong. I met my coffee guy on twitter (he works at a coffee shop, thus coffee guy) and I have a lovely latte with him every two weeks when I go to the market. My husband is probably the most supportive of my twitter friends especially since I can no longer work, it gives me an outlet.

  5. My hubby teases me about online friendships, often breaking into Brad Paisley’s song, “So Much Cooler Online.” I tell him I’m at least cool somewhere. He’s got nothin. Ha! 🙂 Anyway, I’ve made some amazing friends online. Friends that share unique interests. And I’ve got friends with feet in both worlds, online and offline.

  6. There’s something almost more intimate with the friends I have met online than the friends I have in real life. (although I hate to use the phrase “in real life” because a lot of my online friends are friends in real life too) I have been blogging since 2004 and I have met some people online who are close like sisters. They are the people I go to when I have a question, when I want to share news, etc. Because they are so available to me. My real-life best friends are a dentist and an oral pathologist, it’s hard to reach them during the day. My “online” friends are on skype, gchat, facebook, twitter all day…there’s an intimacy there. It’s hard to explain it…but it’s just…special.

    • DEFINITELY more intimate. I rarely discuss my feelings verbally. But to type them out is easy for me.

  7. I’ve met a few people online, through blogs, chats, forums, etc that I absolutely consider friends. A couple I’ve actually met, most not, but the relationships are just as real as they are with friends that I actually see on a regular basis. In some cases I have a lot more in common with my online friends because, well, that’s how I met them in the first place – pursuing something that I’m interested in.

  8. I’m very grateful for Twitter. I have met some of my closest friends online and a lot of them are now IRL friends.

    My husband doesn’t get it. When I tell him something that a friend said, he responded with “Is this a real friend or an online friend?”. The thought of connecting with people online and calling then friends is really hard for him to understand. I wish he did though, I feel like my life is much richer with my online friends in it.

    • It used to be ME asking my husband (then-boyfriend) how his online friendships could be real… then I started blogging. Now I get it. 😉

  9. Well, I gotta say that if it weren’t for “online” communities, I wouldn’t have become IRL friends with YOU, Maria, Lindsay etc. etc. etc. 🙂
    So yes, Online friends are just as real as IRL friends 😉

    • Totally agree, Ariane. I’m so thankful to have met you, and so many of the other incredibly wonderful people I’ve met online! <3

  10. Hey, TG. I really enjoyed my/our time on xanga. We were bloggers before bloggers were cool.

    I’d say the most interesting online to IRL conversion I made was a friend I met playing some silly facebook game (not farmville, but in that genre — I’m only human). We chatted online, then over the phone and then we met — in Europe. She’s from Germany and we travelled together for about a week and we’re still friends.

  11. I have lots of “imaginary” friends, as we call them, and they have been a great source of support for me through the happy and sad moments of my life. I definitely think that online friendships are just as real as other friendships. I have had the opportunity to meet many of my imaginary friends over the years, including you, Alex, and they are great people.

    • I don’t know what I’d do without my online friends. And I care a lot about them. Them being people like you, Kara. xo

  12. I went to a conference last year with a person whom I’d “seen” in person once (we were at the same conference but didn’t talk) and then knew mostly online. We’re part of the same writer’s organization and read each other’s blog and interact on Facebook. We had an awesome time at the conference together, discovering how much we had in common. Since then, our friendship continues online. I’ve met many bloggers whom I’d love to meet in person. And many of them probably do know more about me (if they follow my blog) than my IRL friends. So I’d agree that online friendships are just as important today as IRL friendships. I’m a introvert like you, so I’m more likely to blog or email than to pick up a phone. 🙂

  13. In many ways I think that online friendships can be be more real that IRL ones. When I meet people IRL if they aren’t close friends I may be guarded. I am still myself but I’ll hold back. Online I feel free to express myself without judgement. I figure it’s the internet, who cares what people think. That degree of liberation allows me to fully express myself. I don’t have to worry if “Jane” will be offended because we have a play-date scheduled next week. This is also why some people have an online persona that is so vastly different than the way they behave IRL. I have lots of IRL friends ,but I’d rather just vent on my blog than bitch about it to my friends. Online you can scroll through a boring post. IRL it’s much harder to scroll through a relationship

  14. i’ve had a rough year of figuring out who I am and what I want out of life. One of the things I learned is that I genuinely like people and love to be social. You can’t just go into the ‘real world’ and build new relationships that easily. But you can do it online. 140 characters at a time, I’ve built an amazing network of friends that I trust with my deepest secrets and share the most intimate details of my life with. Not that any of that happens on a public platform, we take it offline; we’ve met in person several times, had family get-togethers, chatted online and on the phone, just like any IRL friends would do. But if it wasn’t for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, I wouldn’t have met them and I definitely would not feel as loved and as worthy as I do today.

  15. I love that, Sandra. It’s interesting how candid we can be here, and how differently we form relationships because of that. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  16. I know I’m a bit late on replying, but I’m all for considering online friends as just as real as ‘IRL’ friends. I’ve met so many wonderful people on music forums, fan clubs, etc, that I couldn’t even count them all. We know so much more about each other than our ‘real’ friends do, and it’s much easier to make a profound connection with people over the Internet. In fact, two of my absolute best friends I met on a fan club message board. My life wouldn’t be complete without them…. Even if they live very far away!! My level of caring for them runs deep. I’m actually going on a trip to Serbia for a few months over the summer in order to make a better connection to some of my good friends. If traveling across the globe to be with someone doesn’t warrant consideration as an ‘actual’ friendship, I don’t know what does!

  17. Great points, Alex. I too have met many wonderful people online, or have mostly connected online with author friends I met only a few times at conferences. Some are richly enjoyable long-term friendships. I did realize recently, though, how important it is to find a balance between online and in-person, local friendships. I do have many 35-year-long deep friendships in WA State, mostly maintained online since our move to IA and now NC. But in IA, although we were there eight years, since I viewed our time there as a bit of pit stop, I didn’t take time to cultivate strong local friendships. Online I was working with a dozen fabulous author friends (editing their blog posts) and attending occasional conferences so did not feel lonely. But at times I wondered who in IA I’d call in an emergency! I didn’t take proper time to nurture my local friendships. Now with our move to NC I am determined to cultivate both — online and in-person relationships. However, some of my new friends here in NC I now join for an in-person writing critique group, I met . . . via Twitter!

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