“Real” Friends

October 28, 2011


That’s what you are if your social life is often online. And I have difficulty publishing this entry because I don’t want to risk being called that.

Qué sera sera, I suppose.

Around two months ago after The Help was released to theatres, one of my friends was going to see the film with his mother, albeit slightly begrudgingly. Although I had no interest in seeing The Help, I opted to see it as well so that my friend wouldn’t suffer through it alone.

A little bit about him: He’s three years younger than me, and is a film critic that writes well. Our movie tastes are very similar, and we share the same interests. So I’m very comfortable calling him a friend. The punchline? I met that friend on Twitter and he lives in a different state than I do.

When it donned on me that I was seeing a movie that I wasn’t interested in, alone, to share sacrifice with a person I had never met, I felt time freeze as I wondered what it meant. “This isn’t something that online friends do!” I thought. “This is crazy.”

I’ve made dozens of friends online over the years. A few of those had alluded that they thought of me as a real friend despite only knowing me online, and I’ve always been afraid to admit the same. I remember one IM conversation with one friend vividly, from when I was 14. It ended with this:

Him: …You’re one of my best friends…
Me: You mean online friend.

We still keep in contact. He has the cutest kid in the world with his girlfriend that’s lucky to have his attention. But something changed in our relationship when I belittled his “best friend” remark. And what’s sad, is that I secretly had felt the same way. I was just too self-conscious to admit it.

So are online relationships healthy?

There’s a saying, “friends are the family that you choose.” However in the traditional sense it isn’t accurate; the friends you meet in person are who you settle for. When “choosing”, you’re restricted by your location and occupation(s). There’s little choice.

If you take to Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network, you can discover millions of people, many of which share your interests. You can meet whoever you want and grow to care about people you’ve never met. And artificial barriers (such as age) are nonexistent. It’s perfect.

The importance of being socially capable in real world circumstances can’t be undermined; social skills are important to ensure a healthy and successful life. But there sometimes seems to be nothing except a stigma associated with developing friendships online. It’s absurd.

I have enough friends that I know in person and I love every one of them. Though however strange it may be, I feel the same for many of the people I know online. I think it would be genuinely healthy for more people to, and to give up the conventional wisdom that binds us in so many areas.

A final note…

Earlier this year a friend on Twitter passed away. We didn’t talk (“tweet”) often, but I shed a couple tears when I heard the news. I had never met him; but knowing that I never will is sad. Knowing that I’ll never tell him my thoughts on Lucky Number Slevin is sad. It would be sad for anyone.

And if you can cry for them, you can call them your friend.

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