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Real friends

Since Thanksgiving I’ve had the joy of connecting with three internet people, who are now my flesh friends. Friends in IRL, you say? That’s too twee for me. You say FLESH FRIEND sounds pornographic? I do not know what you are talking about. Friends in the flesh, you recommend? Who has time for those two extra words. Not me. I am extremely busy.

Two I’ve hung out with soooo many times, like several in as many years, so we’ve been flesh friends forever, but one was a new flesh friend, and it was such a joy to get to spend time with her. I was all giddy and tearful, and she did not disappoint. Strong, beautiful, thoughtful, funny, amazing skin.

Another of them, Steph (blog currently shuttered, so I won’t send you there), gave me a gift that that filled an empty spot in my heart.

DSC_0182DSC_0180

My family is complete!

It’s bizarre to see someone for the first or second time but to have such a high degree of intimacy. And what’s most bizarre to me is how easy it is.

Since I starting writing here, I’ve wondered a lot about online friendships. As a hard core introvert, I don’t have many friends, and I think I’m at an all time low right now. My refusal to be on Facebook means I’ve pretty much lost touch with three of my five old friends. But in the meantime, I’ve made connections through this web journaly business that feel strong and real.

Naturally, this makes me suspicious, because I am always on the hunt for things I’m doing TERRIBLY WRONG. For example, am I trying to replace real life friendships with all their history and complications (cf. BFB) with easy, new friendships? Further, my internet friendships have mostly been made in the context of support surrounding infertility, and as a result, they tend to start at intimacy level 100. As compared to the normal intimacy level 0 that I start with when I talk to some lady at the library. Does that heightened emotion lead to deceptively real relationships? What about the anonymity of my internet world? Does it lead to a false sense of trust, an overly positive presentation of self? (Well, obviously yes to that last one. Internet me is SO COOL.)

The Frightening Vision is: I die all alone in the middle of writing a post like this. My dead body is only discovered after a few weeks because I have no-one left in the real world who cares about me. I have devoted all my energy to forming relationships with people on the internet, and it turns out these relationships are totally false. I am found sprawled over a laptop and my face has been eaten by cats. (I don’t have cats. I guess they just FIND ME.)

Then there’s another version of reality in which the concept of friend has just changed and all of this is normal and even good.

I know the latter reality is more plausible, because how would the cats even get into the house? And also because I know the friendships with my flesh friends are real. But being a social scientist, I like to check my intuitions against whatever research is available. So that’s why I’m going to write about next time. My goals are to answer, for myself only, the following questions:

1. Are online friendships an unhealthy substitute for offline friendships, particularly for introverts?

2. Are online friendships inherently different from offline ones?

3. Am I just avoiding the work of strengthening my old friendships by forming new ones in a forum where it’s easier to meet people?

4. Whatever else arises as I think about the previous questions.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. I totally cannot wait to read the results of your research on these questions! They are ones that I would have myself if only I had the spare time and mental energy to devote to such angst. (This is not meant to be a criticism, but a confirmation).

    January 14, 2015
    • I just found some comments from you in my spam folder. You have to stop advising me to buy xanax online or get my penis enlarged. And yes, I see that you don’t actually mean “wow, you have time time for such ridiculous navel gazing?” but rather, “yes, these ARE good questions”!

      January 14, 2015
  2. Looking forward to that update…interesting questions.

    I think I’m probably more intimate with folks on the internet, due to the aforementioned. But it’s nice to be able to just have sushi with someone “in the flesh” (uhh, yeah, or something) and talk about that mundane stuff, too.

    Glad to have you in my small circle.

    January 14, 2015
  3. You do fun research, bunny.
    My guess is that the internet just made it easier to find people with shared experiences and to actually talk about them. In “real life” way fewer people talk about infertility or loss.

    January 15, 2015
  4. Isn’t her skin just AMAZING? Also, she has many other excellent qualities. I choose to think that some of us have an easier time being our real, flawed selves in writing then we do in person, which accelerates friendships that were meant to happen. Plus the connection of having such a raw and powerful thing in common. Just narrowing the ocean to a smaller pool of minnows, you know? Are there minnows in the ocean? Regardless, I look forward to your thoughts on the above questions, and I hope to add mine once I can pull not only my head but also my shoulders above water.

    January 15, 2015
  5. I think internet friends are absolutely normal and good. I think they can be different from offline ones, but that happens with offline friends, too. As in, I have written conversations with some people that I would never have with them in person, simply because time and a little bit of distance, ironically, allows for an intimacy that is not always achievable when we see each other in the real world.

    The issue of anonymity is interesting – I’m reasonably circumspect about keeping my identity private on my blog, but also, the blog itself is a secret. So the weird thing for me, in becoming flesh friends with internet people, is explaining where they came from!

    Looking forward to the science…

    (It’s twoblueshoes, by the way. Because WordPress is still trying to make me a crap internet friend.)

    January 15, 2015
  6. SRB #

    Now that I have some space and distance from “the community”, I tend to see it as more of a support group than a group of instant friends. Everyone in the support group is there for the same basic reasons, and as such, empathy is extended and ugly cries are had. With each successive meeting you start to want to sit near certain people for reasons you can’t articulate, and you seethe with internal rage when That Person takes over the group with her Tales of Woe AGAIN.

    But those people you sit beside? You start to look forward to seeing them again. You exchange knowing glances. You cry when it’s time for them to leave the group. But you do exchange numbers with a few of those people. And a few of THEM you actually call. And maybe you meet one for coffee. Or a four hour breakfast with many, many coffees but don’t want to get up to pee the entire time because you don’t want to miss a precious second of it. Those people are your friends.

    I think that metaphor extends to people we have to see everyday. I wish one didn’t have to kiss so many frogs along the way, but maybe that is why so many people have herpes. That’s just science.

    January 15, 2015
  7. Andie #

    Bunny, my head is filled with so many answers to the questions raised that I can’t think where to begin. And, it’s Saturday morning here. More coffee, please.

    I, like you, am a terrible introvert. I am much, much better at expressing myself in writing than I am in person, when I actually have to speak to some one. I have had to work very hard to become a person who can function well in the workplace at that social level that is required. Sometimes I still fail. I think being able to use a blog or other internet space to connect with others is helpful for those of us who are better at writing than speaking.

    To answer part of your question, I think the internet has made it easier to meet people who have common interests, or are bonded by shared experiences. I think you are exactly right when you say that, to take the infertility example, you start at an intimacy level of 100. I have “friends” at the office, but I would never, ever, begin to discuss fertility matters with them, or other intensely personal matters. Secondly, these friendships have never progressed beyond the office. And that’ okay. I think internet friends are like that too. Some of them will become genuine, real life friends, and others will not. Just like people you meet at the office, or at the library, or the child care group.

    I think you are blessed to have found real life friends through your blog. I would love to meet you in person one day. Although living on the other side of the world would seem to make that quite unlikely. However, thanks to the marvel of the internet, here we are, discussing the psychology of friendship.

    And now…I am going to return to normal Saturday programming and bake the jam and cocount slice I promised my husband.

    xo
    A

    January 16, 2015
  8. It warms my heart that Bunter made it into this post.

    Onto the protein here if you will. The first post of yours that I read was the umbrella dress post. It was a long time ago. I went back to try and find it. It was way back there. I remember thinking (as a self described mostly extroverted person) that you must be way too cool and smart to be flesh friends with someone like me and that I couldn’t possibly comment because I wouldn’t have anything smart enough or interesting enough to say. So I didn’t. Because I was scared. Me and my extroverted self. Ehm.

    I get that sharing intimate details of life on the interwebs makes it more of an open book for others to come into and find similarities. What I’d like to say to you is I’m so glad that I did find the courage to reach out to you. I consider you a real friend. I just take its arrival as lucky for me. From my point of view it’s kind of the opposite of what you are saying. It was harder for me who has no problem randomly approaching strangers because I knew what I’d lose the opportunity of by putting myself out there. It mattered. Rejection would sting because I already knew these intimate details about you and what you’ve been through and how cool you are. What if you didn’t want to be friends with me? What if I wasn’t good enough? That’s kind of how I scared I was to have the opportunity of being your flesh friend. But here’s the thing…you can’t get rid of me now….mmmwahaha…and in my heart I know that I can call you or write to you or get in the car and meet up with you and connect with a real friend whom I trust and love and think is beautiful and amazing and intelligent. I can’t get that from any old girl I went to college or Mommy and me with.

    So all this to say I’m overly thankful for this turning into that. And most of all for you.

    January 18, 2015
  9. When word becomes flesh, it is good. All the flesh friends I have collected (though not in a scalping sort of way, you understand) have been exactly who they said they were, only made 3D, and even better in reality.

    There is a slightly odd reconfiguration of your image of your now flesh friend when you meet, I have noticed. Or maybe that’s just for me; maybe I imagine people too much. Also there’s a mismatch where you know a lot about their inner lives, but not that much about the obvious stuff about their history, but I think that’s just part of the nature of the thing, that maybe says more about the more traditional and ways of making friends which rely on piffling things like geographical convenience and belonging to the same socio-economic group.

    If only you lived a bit more over here, bunny. Sigh.

    January 20, 2015
  10. Amazing skin indeed. And the gift of gab. And wit and sincerity. She’s a good egg, that one.

    and oh. my. heavens. That Bunter is scrumptious! He looks just like your other two Buns.

    Friendship is a gift. I do not really mind what wrapping it comes in. It is the substance of it that I care for. Like yours. I care for it very much.

    January 21, 2015

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