Sunday, 29 July 2012

Are Online Friends Real Friends?



I discover a new blog and read a few posts and think, “I can relate to this person!” After enjoying a few stories, I leave a comment or two, and soon I am on my way to making a new friend. But will we ever be ‘real’ friends?

What is a real friend? Someone you trust enough to reveal who you really are? Someone you know will accept you, regardless of your faults? Someone you feel comfortable with? A real friend loves you, supports and encourages you, prays for you, is always there for you. Can an online friend be such a friend?

Most friendships are formed in a private way, without the whole world looking over our shoulders. Online friendships are very public. What we say to a friend can be read by anyone. We don’t really want to reveal too much about ourselves when we don’t know who might be reading. But…

Sometimes public friendships can go private. I have a few online friends with whom I exchange emails. We can say things we don’t particularly want anyone else to read. We can extend blog comments into real conversations. We can really get to know each other.

And then there’s Facebook. For all its faults, it is a good way of helping to build friendships. Some of my blogging friends have invited me to be their Facebook friends. I get a clearer window into their lives. I can see photos of their family and where they live, chat in public or exchange private messages, learn what they like or dislike, keep up-to-date with their everyday happenings… just like I do with my face-to-face friends.

I have a few online friends I would love to meet. I imagine getting off the plane halfway around the world, and catching sight of a vaguely familiar woman standing on the other side of the airport barrier. Could that be …? Will my friend recognise me? I’ve been posting only flattering photos of myself since our friendship began. Will she say, “But you look older than I imagined?” Of course not! But will she be thinking those words? Will she say, “I thought your accent would be broader? I thought you would be taller?” Or will we embrace in a warm hug and just be glad we have finally met?

I pick up the phone. I have the number of an online friend. I enter all the digits and then I hear the dial tone change. My heart rate quickens a little as I imagine my friend picking up the phone. What will she sound like? Will she be able to understand my accent? What will we talk about? “Hello?” “Hello. It’s Sue…” The conversation is awkward for a few moments and then we are chatting away. Soon we are exchanging information at a much faster rate than we could online. And next time I read my friend’s posts, I imagine her beautiful Southern accent saying the words. A phone call has added a new dimension to our friendship.

I write about how sad I feel or how I have had a bad day or how I have been unwell. Before much time has passed, my online friends have stopped by to leave encouraging comments and assure me of their love and prayers.

I write about my birthday or anniversary and online friends are quick to share in my joy and offer their congratulations.

Or I feel lonely. I haven’t seen a friend in a long time. I turn on my computer and soon I am chatting away, and smiling. Someone is glad to hear from me. 

There is no doubt the Internet has reduced the size of the world. I can chat with friends from anywhere, regardless of how far they live from me. We can even join talents and work together. I can share interests with like-minded people. That is a great blessing.

What if I were to disappear from the Internet? Would my online friends quickly forget about me, or would they come searching for me? Would they email, write, phone, leave me a message…? Would they be like my local friends who’d worry about me if I were silent too long? Perhaps a few would.

I return to that initial question: Are online friends real friends?

And I have come to the conclusion that my online friends can be real friends. They are a real blessing in my life. I think they will remain real friends unless they decide to…

delete me
unfriend me
unfollow me
unplug me
block me.

Online friends have the option to do all these things, but real friends wouldn’t even think of doing such things...

Would they?

22 comments:

  1. Wow! So much food for thought!

    I shied away from Facebook, thinking I already spent too much time on the computer and out of a bit of mistrust of FB itself. Now, I'm wondering if I did the right thing. It would be nice to get to know online friends better.

    I think you're right about private emails helping people to reveal themselves. I imagine opening up like that would help form real friendships better than from the public image of our blogs.

    Deleting a friend does seem easy, doesn't it? It's something I'd never consider in real life but I guess people do become estranged from each other.

    Maybe, real friendships depend upon the effort each side puts in to open up and trust each other. I'm wondering if, perhaps, that's where loyalty to a friendship and understanding of each other comes from. A blog is a bit one-sided, at times, isn't it? Especially, if the comments don't lead to a conversation. It seems that it takes both friends to open up to each other for a friendship to really grow, don't you think?

    Great post, Sue! I'm now wondering if I'm outgoing enough to try Facebook, again!

    God bless:-)

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    1. Vicky,

      Thank you so much for your interesting comment!

      Yes, a blog can be a bit one-sided. I really feel posts are only the beginning. It's the conversations that come out of them that are more valuable, where everyone can have a say. We can get to know each other to a certain extent but I agree we have to open up and trust each other if friendships are to be real... open up on both sides. Hard to do in the public arena of a blog! But there are emails and FB...

      FB... Come back Vicky! Can I entice you by telling you I belong to a couple of groups where we have some very interesting conversations? What I like about FB is I can pop in and out and contribute as much or as little as I like. I can skim through the feed or settle down for a good read. It's also very good for networking. Our grief ministries communicate through FB and then there's the unschoolers, the trying-to-be-gentle parents...

      Yes, I know even face-to-face friends drift apart. But deleting a friend online seems somehow more final. You are cut off instantly. Though if the friendship was only superficial do we really mind?

      I hadn't seen any posts from a certain blogger recently and decided to visit her blog to see if all was well. I discovered she'd gone private and I can no longer access her blog. That is her right and I am unaware of her circumstances so I can't really comment on her decision, but in a way I am sad that a promising friendship has come to an abrupt end. Deleting, unfriending, blocking... easy to do online. I am glad it's not possible with face-to-face friends!

      See you back on FB.

      God bless!

      Delete
  2. Yes, I know what you mean about blocking, unfoloowing, etc. It can seem a bit harsh, at times. Another thing is that there seems to be different standards of etiquette. Some people respond as they would in real life and others have a more reserved response to communicating. It can be confusing! And, easier not to expect anything - until you discover that you've really clicked with someone. Then, it becomes really rewarding, don't you think?

    More to think about, Sue!

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    1. Vicky,

      I try to just be 'me' when I am communicating online. Am I different to real life? I think I actually reveal more about myself online than I do in general conversation with my face-to-face friends. I think my local friends know far more about me and my inner thoughts and feelings (if they read my blog) than I know about them. That is scary at times!

      We can expect a lot of both our online and face-to-face friends. However expectations sometimes aren't met in either case. I have learnt to be grateful for what friends can give me, and I try to be understanding rather than disappointed when they fail. We all fail at times. None of us really knows another's circumstances. All I know is we wouldn't want to deliberately hurt each other.

      I had another thought: online friends may not be able to DO anything for us, like make us a meal or give us a real hug or look after our children. But we can really affect each other's lives by our words. Some words people have written to me will stay with me forever. We can really turn a person's life around by our encouraging words, empathy, suggestions... That's what I call real friendship and that is rewarding!

      Delete
  3. I definitely consider my on-line friends my real friends. Sometimes we send snail mail, sometimes we chat on the phone, and a few very lucky times we actually meet in person! I love my sister mommas whom I've met through the years starting back in the CCM days - in that, the internet is a real blessings. How very lucky I am to have a community who shares my faith, my values, my beliefs! That drizzly fall day in a TX parking lot when my sis and I met an online friend in person for the first time is still vivid in my memory - there was no awkwardness and despite this being the time before a plethora of online photos, we recognized one another instantly. What a lovely day that was :-)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Beate,

      I started thinking about this topic when I kept hearing people describe certain friends as being friends In Real Life. And I was thinking, isn't the Internet part of our real life too? Aren't aren't our online friends real? That's why I called my local friends face-to-face friends in this post, and not IRL friends. Just because you and I have never met doesn't mean we aren't friends.

      I agree that we are very blessed. It is so easy for us to find a community where we belong because of the Internet - find 'our tribe' as we've been discussing recently. I was so lonely as a new mum. The Internet would have made such a difference in my life. Also, when I was grieving.

      I am imagining you meeting your online friend in the parking lot. What a special moment! I hope one day I'll be meeting you. I will wave some knitting at you just in case I don't look anything like my profile pictures. Then you'll know it is me!

      Delete
    2. LOL - I think I'd recognize you without the knitting and we'd chat like sisters despite the different accents! I do love reading your thoughts here, Sue. Thanks for sharing them :-)

      Delete
    3. Beate,

      "we'd chat like sisters" Yes, we would! I'd still like to see your knitting though... all those beautiful socks. I love sharing with you too, Beate.

      Delete
  4. This "Will my friend recognise me? I’ve been posting only flattering photos of myself since our friendship began." made me laugh and laugh and laugh!!!!

    I think I'd recognize your smile, that's for sure.

    Yes! Online friends are real friends. I have met four in person so far, and to a great extent I think we all felt like "instant friends".

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Amy,

      We are going to have such a laugh when we finally meet. We will sit around the table with our coffees and we will have a wonderful time chatting. I am sure you have a great sense of humour that will match mine perfectly.

      You have met 4 online friends? Wow! Maybe I will join that number one day.

      Thank you for your comment and for being my online friend.

      Delete
  5. :)

    I will comment more later. But I must tell you, dearest Sue, that I sincerely hope that your Southern accented friend KNOWS how truly blessed she is.... to have someone as WONDERFUL as YOU for a friend. ♥

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Susan,

      My Southern accented friend is kind of very special herself! Couldn't do without her. God bless!

      Delete
  6. I've met some wonderful people online, with whom I have built some fantastic relationships - and it has been a great blessing to meet some of them them in real life!

    But others whom I've met face to face - let's just say it didn't go so well - some judged me on my faith (very sad situation), and others - we just didn't 'click' as much as we thought we would. That's life.

    Online friends sometimes get upset with you when you don't post on their blog, comment on their FB pages, etc. REAL friends know that you don't always have the time, and are just happy to hear from you as time allows.

    Online friends can be a wonderful blessing, but we must always keep in mind those that are here with us, and not put someone we've never met on a pedestal - it's easy to take the 'grass is greener' approach with online vs. face to face friends - after all, we're all human!

    But I am glad to have 'met' you Sue (online) - your posts are often of great encouragement to me - thankyou!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Linda,

      You have given me something extra to think about: "but we must always keep in mind those that are here with us, and not put someone we've never met on a pedestal". Yes, sometimes we don't get the full picture and can think our online friends are rather more perfect than the people we see from day to day.

      My online friends can be very kind with their words. They often say such lovely things to me. Perhaps they don't always see my faults. (Perhaps I don't reveal them!) I wonder if my face-to-face friends (who read my blog) think, "We know better! We've seen a lot of Sue and she's certainly not perfect!" I think that's funny. Yes, none of us deserves a place on a pedestal.

      "REAL friends know that you don't always have the time, and are just happy to hear from you as time allows." I remember when I was worried about upsetting my blogging friends by not commenting enough, and you sensibly said something like: do what you can and don't worry about what you can't. Yes, real friends understand... the others will probably drift away eventually.

      Linda, I am glad to have met you too! It's great to share thoughts. Thank you!

      Delete
  7. Sue-

    In so many ways, online friendships are more challenging. When I first joined facebook, I was so excited to re-connect with friends I had lost touch with. Then, I realized it is hard to re-connect online, and especially when those old friends did not seem as interested in spending time catching up as I did. I ended up un-friending most of those people. Of course, I eventually quit facebook altogether, but that is another story.

    Anyway, I think blogging is a much better medium for meeting new people and really getting to know others but that too has its challenges. You have shared your struggle with finding time to keep up with all the reading, commenting, and responding that is necessary to keep it all going. I am not always great at any of that. Sometimes life just gets too busy and it can be hard to communicate that with followers.

    Also, I have found often times my face-to-face acquaintances think they know me much better after reading my blog, and they probably do, but I am pretty reserved about what I post. Sometimes when others think they have the whole story, or a complete picture of who I am, they are really not even close.

    I'm not sure, I have made any sense here, or that I even had a point to my ramblings except to say- all relationships take time and commitment and an open mind and heart whether the relationship is primarily online or face-to-face. And no two relationships will ever look the same. I think online relationships can be real but like face-to-face relationships they do require lots of commitment and understanding.

    God Bless, Kari

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    1. Kari,

      "Sometimes life just gets too busy and it can be hard to communicate that with followers." Perhaps that's the real difficulty with making real online friends. We all have so many online friends because it is easy to meet people. But it is difficult finding the necessary time to give each friend, when we also have busy lives. There are only so many real friends a person can commit to, whether face-to-face or online.

      It was interesting what you said about people thinking they know you, just because they read your blog. Of course, we don't share everything online, though people do know a lot about us. I sometimes think my non-blogging friends (who read my blog) have an advantage over me. They know far more about me than I know about them. It's also hard sometimes when you feel like being quiet and private, like we all do at times. I occasionally feel like rolling up my family complete with their stories, and retreating from the world. But how can I do that when I have been so open in this public way? Even if I delete my blog, my stories have already been told, and my inner thoughts revealed. And I am only a small time blogger. Think how famous bloggers must feel at times!

      Kari, thank you for sharing your thoughts! God bless.

      Delete
  8. Sue, online friends are definitely real friends (and sometimes better friends than in person friends!) I'd like to have a Skype conversation with you sometime! And I'd love to visit Australia someday to meet you and your family since we have so much in common! Hugs and blessings to you and your family...Ellen

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Ellen,

      I guess we might share more of our passions with our online friends. I have only a couple of face-to-face friends who write or blog. I can share that side of me better with people I have met online.

      You'd like to talk to me? That's so lovely to know. I will have to overcome my fear of Skype!! I bet we'd have a great conversation... lots of things we could talk about. As you say, we have lots in common.

      I'd love to see you here in Australia! One day you'll have to do a tour and promote your books, and come and stay with us.

      I'm sending a big hug back to you. God bless you and your family!

      Delete
  9. Sue,

    Yes! Online friends can be as real as face to face friends. I have met, in person, several gals that I met online and they are lovely wonderful women! I wonder about the delete, unfollow, unfriend, too. Life has flipped and flopped for us lately and the last thing on the list to do is look at the computer for anything other than checking for "essential" or "real" emails - a quick note from someone or a rotten ol' bill to pay! I haven't had time, lately, to check in on blog friends or to leave anything on my own blog. I am hoping that will change as time is beginning to free up a bit, again. Crossing fingers that life slooooooows down!! :)

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    1. Hi Elm,

      I was so delighted to see your comment when I checked my emails. Thank you for stopping by. I have been thinking about you, wondering how you're going. Yes, life gets very busy with day to day stuff, and there is sometimes no time left over for getting online and catching up with friends and blogs.

      I guess there's always the risk of being unfriended or unfollowed or deleted... especially when we are quiet for a time. I often see posts on FB where people are announcing their intention to unfriend anyone they haven't heard from for some time. There are definitely some pressures that go with maintaining online friendships. Saying that, I have made some wonderful friends who seem to understand about busy times and are always there when I return. They are the real friends, I suppose.

      Anyway, I hope life does slow down for you.

      God bless you!

      Delete
  10. Sue, I definitely consider you my friend and if it hadn't been for the internet we would have never met. I still would like to meet you and hope that you are planning on coming my way for your homeschool conference. Believe it or not, I had SUCH a debate when linking to your blog on my blog. I have my "Real Life Blogging Friends" and then my "Other Blogs I Love" on my sidebar. Where should I put Sue's? I DO consider you my real-life friend and I am headed back to my blog right now to move you to that section. : ) Why do I consider you my real-life friend eventhough we've not me yet? Because we have exchanged e-mails privately and I know I could turn to you for help/guidance/advice. I hope you know I would do the same for you. : )

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    1. Stephanie,

      You have really made my day. Thank you! I am sitting here smiling. Yes, we are real friends and one day, sooner or later, we will meet. It's just as well I posted some big recent photos on this blog so you know what I really look like, with wrinkles enlarged... You'll recognise me and not be expecting some beautiful new shoe type person!

      I feel privileged to be email friends as well as blogging friends. help/guidance/advice? Definitely! We are always here for each other.

      When I next look under your title "Real Life Blogging Friends" and see my name, I'm going to get such a thrill. Thank you, Stephanie! And thank you for stopping to comment. I always love hearing from you.

      God bless!

      Delete

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