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are online friends real friends?

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Are Online Friends Real Friends?

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.