I have a lot of online friends.
A while ago I had
an argument a heated discussion in one of my graduate classes about what constitutes a “true friendship.” The topic was the online lives of modern teenagers and whether or not the increased time spent in cyber-worlds is hindering young people’s ability to form and maintain friendships. I contended that some of my best friends are people I only know online; my classmate asserted that the only true friendships are those forged in each other’s direct, physical company. His contention (as I understood it) was that while we might forge ties to people we don’t know in real life, those ties cannot evolve into the bonds of intimacy required for friendships without time spent in each other’s presence. I countered with the idea that intimacy is far more an intellectual process than it is a physical one, and that as long as the people in question are able to express themselves honestly and well, friendship-level intimacy can certainly be attained online.
I know, because I’ve done it. Multiple times.
Case in point; I consider CV Rick to be one of my important friends. I speak to him regularly – at least three or four times a week – via Facebook chat. We talk about all manner of topics, from religion to politics to education to jobs to relationships and family. We talk about popular culture (we like a lot of the same kinds of books, movies, and t.v. shows), we gripe about everyday annoyances, we talk about the weather. Extraordinary and mundane; we share it all. He’s a part of my life, and an important part, too; his experiences are different enough from mine that he helps me gain a perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. He is my friend; the fact that I’ve never heard his voice or been in his presence is entirely inconsequential to the matter. I like him, I respect him, and I value the place he has in my life.
What’s more is I believe he feels the same way about me.
CV Rick isn’t the only one. I’ve made a number of important friends through my blog (I’m looking at Dingo, Mrs. Dingo, Eddie, and Gerry, specifically, but they’re far from being alone in that distinction). Facebook has broadened my web of online friends to a breathtaking degree (though my Facebook friends and my blog friends overlap only in very carefully considered spaces; I’m still trying to maintain a degree of anonymity here, fragile and tenuous though it may be), and I’m reminded, literally every day, how important connections are.
It really struck me the other day, though, how important my online community is. A Facebook friend (we’ll call him Matt) posted this:
“A friend I have never met just lost the love off his life and their unborn child due to a simple auto accident. I have no other words. My heart breaks.”
I love Matt, though I know him even “less” than I know CV Rick. I knew that his heart really was breaking, and so, too, was mine, for this man I’ll likely never meet; this man who is an acquaintance of an acquaintance. The fact of our connection is far more important than whether or not we would recognize one another on the street; it’s the energy we share and the care we’re willing to extend that make us friends.
I may be unique in this practice of gathering people so strongly to me; I’ve been told my whole life that I ‘care too much’ and that I’m too quick to offer my love and friendship. I am well aware that this practice can be off-putting to those who are more reserved (or less willing to trust) than I, and I will admit that I’ve gotten my heart singed more than once as a consequence of being willing to dive headfirst into relationships. I don’t care. I’m willing to get hurt because the payoff – finding the people who belong to me, who are my chosen family – is SO worth the risk.