Specifically online friendships: are they real? Can they translate into real life? Do they NEED to move into reality to be valid or is a purely cyber friendship as meaningful and deep as an I.R.L. (In Real Life) relationship.
Not beating around the bush with this one...my opinion YES they are real, meaningful AND personally some of the most valuable friendships I have. The responses on my FB page to this particular question overwhelming support my experience and some of the stories are quite amazing. For example: I have three friends, yes THREE friends who have built relationships online that have turned into love and marriage!! And these were situations where meeting up for coffee to see if it would work wasn't an option....we are talking oceans between them!!
I felt that I knew someone so well from our online interactions, that when I did meet her in person for the first time I was quite blase. We said a quick hello and I remember a funny look crossing her face which I didn't really understand. I sat down, started my work and then the pieces of the puzzle connected in my head: we had never actually met!! I had the sense to find her and apologise for being so flippant with what was obviously a momentous occasion. Thankfully she was gracious enough to understand and accept my apology and we are still friends....yes Gail Pan..I am talking about YOU!
But I guess what prompted me to even ask these question of myself was a sudden and tragic event in the life of one of my online friends this past week. I am sure there are a lot of my readers who are also friends with Di Jobbins, and like me are probably still reeling at the sudden death of Di's husband Boak. I met Di once, for a total of about 5min....I had never met her husband. WHY was I so distraught at the passing of a man I had never met? Simply, my love and respect for Di was such that no other response was appropriate. And that for me is the true measure of friendship, no matter it's origin or form, the bond is REAL and totally grown and nurtured in cyber space.
Now, mostly my experiences online have been positive...but I know just like I.R.L. friendships, cyber friendships can go pear-shaped. It is so easy to "over-share" online and FB particularly, if we let it, allows daily, hourly or even min by min insights into our lives. I am sure we have all had the experience of bumping into people we have not seen in months, and being reminded that they know EVERYTHING that has happened to us lately...I learned very early on to check what I post before I post it. I have honestly deleted more status updates and comments to posts than I have actually posted....and yet there are some that I deleted after they had gone live and still others I WISH I had pulled down. If I have learnt anything over the last few years, it is that EVERYTHING we do and say is subjective: that my understanding of a situation WILL be VERY different from everyone else's...even if we all saw, read or heard the same thing at exactly the same time.
In light of this understanding I now look at my friendships very differently, whether they be I.R.L. or cyber friendships....I seemed to constantly have my feelings hurt, people and friendships never lived up to my expectation and I was always sad and disappointed. WHY do people treat me like this, WHY are they mean, WHY do they hurt ME??!! Truth is they weren't hurting ME...they were just going about their business with their own understanding and expectations. Truth be told we all just stumble through life don't we....mostly making it up as we go along? In all relationships there is a need for a HUGE dose of grace! Meet people where they are....remember that we all have bad days, lower your expectations and most importantly learn to apologise....of all the things I have learnt this has been the hardest and yet the most rewarding. And sometimes....well sometimes you need to draw a line....there is nothing wrong with deciding a friendship has run its course....everything has it's season.
So my final word...I am grateful for ALL my friends. My intention is to no longer classify them as I.R.L. or online friends and most importantly, to longer feel the need to justify calling my online friends simply friends. I have been places and done things at the encouragement of "those" friends that I would never have dreamed I would do....I am supported, encouraged and blessed in so many ways every day by the people who are in my life. Thank you!!