I had written 1000 words on online friendship, and then I lost it. The app crashed. Which doesn't represent the nature of online friendships in my experience. (Salvaged words are never as good as original words, even when they come with double the thinking. But they'll do.)
The friends you meet online are real. The boundaries of "in real life" and on the Internet are broken. The relationships formed online are just as strong as those I've formed at university or the workplace or at a band. And the loss of an Internet friend can hurt just as much as a break up with a friend you've spent years with. Some people don't believe in the validity of online friendships. They're just an avatar. Do you know what they're really like? But I believe in them.
Even though someone I met online and loved for more years than it was worth lied to me about his entire life for six years, I'm not afraid to meet a friend from the Internet. It's not a great unknown anymore.
The Internet allows me many types of friendships. I communicate with people who I see in person on a regular basis. I keep in touch with those I don't see so often. Internet friends have become real life friends. Some real life friends don't set finger or cast an eye on the Internet. And there are many friends I've never met but talk to online most days. And just because I've never met someone in person, doesn't mean I don't value them as much as the ones I've spent years with. Online friends are always there. And they understand the nature of online friendships, never dismissing them.
The gorgeous Nathalie from Easy Peasy Kids - who I've met at various blogging events and talk to online - sent me a beautiful bunch of flowers and a purple unicorn the other day. Such a surprise that brought me happy tears. It's pretty special to get a hand delivered gift from an online friend. Thank you Nathalie :)
I met Yvonne in Bristol just before my Appearance Matters talk. She and I have been Facebook friends for a couple of years, but before then, I only knew her through the Christmas cards she'd send each year. The best thing is that my Dad and Yvonne are massive Liverpool fans and they used to go to Liverpool matches together in the UK in the 1970s. Dad hasn't seen Yvonne since 1976 - and this year they'll be meeting for the first time in nearly 40 years when Liverpool play Melbourne Victory! So excited for them - and so pleased we connected online.
Some friends I've met in my day job, through working in virtual teams across the country. We call each other for work advice, to debrief and chat on our messenger system. Dane is one of those friends - I had to call him as a part of my day job six or seven years ago, we've kept in touch ever since, and we finally met in real life in March. He is the loveliest.
I also met Tamsin in real life that night - she's the editor of Kiki and Tea - also a colleague if you like. We met initially on Mamamia as commenters and then our friendship flourished on Twitter. Again, she was so lovely in real life. Dane also walked Tamsin back to her bus and they had quite the conversation which she blogged about. :)
One windy Wednesday I met Friday (confused?!) who happened to be in Melbourne from Brisbane. She's a blogger and disability activist, doing wonderful things in her No Permit No Park initiative. Though our time together was only a lunch hour, we talked non stop and still chat most days on Twitter.
Last year a blogger friend Linda messaged me telling me she'd bought tickets to see The Living End in Melbourne on a whim (she's from Perth - and TLE's biggest fan ever) and asked if I wanted to come. We dined at Movida and Fonda, and watched The Living End Play. We also met earlier this year when she came to Melbourne to chase a band again (I LOVE her fandom!). Linda is an amazing writer, and we've bonded over blogging, Darren Hayes and our visible differences. I'm so glad I met this lady!
I was 100% myself when meeting these Internet friends in real life. Unlike some of the awkward Internet dating experiences, I didn't ever feel the need to explain myself or apologise for myself in any way. They already got to know me in great depth online.
I understand the apprehension people may have meeting friends from the Internet in real life. Here's my advice:
- Meet in a public place or in a group the first time you meet.
- While I don't think you should lower your expectations, I do think you need to be mindful that your friend may be a little different in person to what they are online. They may be quieter or louder or just the same. That's ok.
- Be yourself. Isn't that what brought you together as friends in the first place? If you feel stuck for words, chat about the things you chat about online. I swear it's more fun when you can laugh together.
If there's an online friend you want to meet in real life, I encourage you to do it. In most experiences I've had, the real life meeting has strengthened the friendship.
I love how the Internet allows us to meet people with common interests through search terms, blog posts, mutual friends and conversations. I also love how it enables us to meet people we may never stumble across in our daily lives. How often do you chat to the man sitting across from you on the train? How often do you make friends with a stranger on the Internet?
Have you met your Internet friends in person? Did you become closer? What advice would you give people wanting to meet their friends from the Internet?
Yesterday Essential Baby picked up one of my Ichthyosis Awareness Month stories - my Mum's story. I made it into a Two of Us type feature. So proud that we are published together on Fairfax. Read it here.
Also, I'm over on iVillage today.
Thanks for having me :)
Happy Friday! It's my first work from home day today - I've got a list and I'm going to get stuff done.