by Alexandria Durrell
I think maybe I’ve mentioned this before: I spend a lot of time online.
The internet gives a voice to all manner of people: those who’ve been silenced too long, those who could seriously use a filter, those whose voices should be heard around the world, and those who have nothing better to do than chatter into the void. (That’s right, I do fall into one or more of those categories.)
In my recent article discussing online friendships, I mentioned having met a multitude of people from the internet over the past decade. It’s a pretty commonplace occurrence for me to strike up random friendships in strange places. On Twitter, through blogs, on airplanes, at events. I’m not picky – if you’re interesting, I’m in!
What I do find difficult, however, is the vetting of these friendships. One thing I’ve learned is that I never know with whom I’m going to click in person. Some of my most treasured relationships have started online, but I’ve also experienced more “Friendship Crazy” (as I like to call it) than I ever thought possible.
Sometimes I meet someone in person with whom I don’t mesh well online and think, “Wow! We’re so alike!” and the friendship flies. Other times I meet someone I am sure is my next BFF but can’t wait to find the next quick exit from the room. So once we’ve built those intimate online relationships, how do we move forward when we don’t click with the 3D person?
Online relationships give us the chance to be perfectly frank, which does one of two things:
1. Builds a sense of intimacy more readily than most traditional relationships given the confessional-like environment of many social media outlets, and
2. It allows us to be complete assholes. I hear a lot of people say that Twitter is filled with cliques, but I don’t see that. I see it filled with circles of friendships, overlapping. And I love it. I don’t see exclusion, I see opportunities to interject. Online is where I excel!
Let’s face it, it’s much easier to tell someone off from behind that screen, but it’s also much easier to offer up compliments and support without ever having to follow through. Relationships in “meatspace” require more finesse.
I offer a lot more *hugs* than hugs these days. I send more emails and spend less time face-to-face. It’s easy to maintain these relationships because there’s no substantial investment of time, but when that friendships crosses over into the physical world, the challenge is then deciding how solid the friendship really is, or how much investment we’re willing to put into it.
I recently attended BlogHer, a blogging conference in New York City. It was an absolutely life-changing experience for me, but not for any reasons you might expect. It was the very first time I’ve traveled alone, to a destination where I wasn’t meeting family, to an event of that size, with no close friend.
To say I was nervous is the biggest understatement of my life. But I did it! I overcame those fears and I rocked that trip. And looking back, even though I had exactly no idea what to expect, and I really didn’t do much of what I’d planned, I think the conference is one of my best memories of all time.
I came home with a purse filled with business cards; notes both scribbled and mental about fascinating blogs and the bloggers behind them. Some of them, I’ve known online for years while others (the vast majority) were new to me.
There were some I’m completely awestruck by, some who made me laugh hysterically, some whose stories made me cry, some I totally lost respect for, some I’ve gained new respect for, and others I’m dying to know better. All of them were truly remarkable for so many reasons.
I found it challenging to mingle with strangers there, especially when in groups. I (not at all jokingly) said I needed a shirt emblazoned with “INTROVERT” across the front of it. I found it hard to break away and spend time with new people, or even connect with the ones I wanted to most.
I felt guilt over not “doing” BlogHer the way others suggested/expected. I felt badly for not wanting to participate in activities people told me I should want to attend. I felt ashamed for craving time alone when so many others were clamouring for attention, and I felt pressure to live up to expectations that I hadn’t set myself.
What’s more, when I expressed these feelings, I got a lot of sideways glances and was reprimanded for being negative. So much negativity! Such a Debbie Downer. But it wasn’t that at all! I was trying to find the way to please everyone, and still make the event my own. And then I realized this: that’s not what friendship is about. It isn’t about living by someone else’s rules. It isn’t about losing myself in someone else’s expectations. It isn’t about making sure that the online person they wish I was matches up with my rather solitary in-person self.
It’s about finding the friends online and in life with whom I truly click. With whom the laughs come easily and the friendship is natural.
The ones who turned out to be great friends were the ones supporting me in my apparent weirdness, not the ones whispering about how antisocial I am. They were the ones comforting me and my introverted self. They were the ones stealing me away for breathers when the crowds were closing in. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
BlogHer taught me that I’m not alone in that crowd. What I loved most was the collision of my online and “real” worlds, seeing people mix and mingle and forge new friendships and reinforce existing ones. I loved the connections, and the realization that sometimes it’s ok to not click, and that if that makes me a bitch, then that’s ok, too.
Alexandria 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.