Being a personality that thrives on solitude and is usually plastered up against walls in social situations, the need for a huge group of friends just isn’t a factor in my life. I don’t feel the need to go shopping with someone on a weekly basis, talk on the phone for hours at a time each day, or get together for play dates so I can share my Mama woes with other moms.
In some ways, I have actually avoided friendships. I say it’s because of my personality but really there are deeper issues at stake in this avoidance. The question as to whether I’m really someone others would want to be friends with, a deep-seated fear I’ll end up being rejected, and an abhorrence for drama, which in my experience, seems to come with female friendships, have kept me in a non-real-life friendship sort of living the past few years.
I have found a security in online relationships that I haven’t obtained in face-to-face relationships. When conflict got out of control it was easy to just stay away from the Internet and then pretend nothing happened once I went back. There was no awkward face-to-face contact to suffer through. If a person became downright rude and mean, all I had to do was block them from my blog or Facebook account. Though rejection was still possible, it was hard to come by in the blogosphere and gossip didn’t bother me all that much since I never had to get wind of it.
Just recently, however, I have found myself lonely. Yes, me who-loves-to-be-alone, experiencing feelings of loneliness. It hasn’t helped that those I have found myself the closest too are no longer even living in the same state as I am. My sister-in-law, who is also my friend, lives a day’s drive away. My best friend, who is like my sister, had to move unexpectedly almost two years ago to the middle-of-nowhere Texas and my life has never been the same.
Though I’ m not needing another best friend, per se, I am realizing how badly I need at least one, maybe even two, face-to-face friendships. We all do, even those of us who enjoy our solitude and privacy. We were created to be in relationship. Some of us only need one or two close relationships, others were cut out to have several. No matter how many, or few, we have, there is something a real-life girlfriend can bring to our life that we desperately need as a woman (and vice-versa).
I have had plenty of conversations with my online friends, via blog comments, forum threads, instant messenger, and wall-to-wall on Facebook. To me, it was enough. I felt connected to them all. Then, recently, a college friend of mine and I met for dessert and coffee. Imagine my surprise when she left my house after almost four hours and I realized I had enjoyed myself the entire time! Not only had I enjoyed myself, I felt so incredibly refreshed from talking about life that I couldn’t even fall asleep for a few hours.
Not normally a talker (I usually express myself by writing instead), this was a foreign concept to me; that talking would refresh me. Yet, there was something to be gained from verbal agreement and a fast flow of conversation that I’ve never gotten from an online conversation.
Talking helps us get perspective
Once upon a time, when I was a newlywed, I told my husband in a state of exasperation, “I don’t need you to fix something when I talk about it. I just need you to let me talk. Usually, I can talk enough that I’ll find the answer or solution I’m looking for, myself!”
Although I’m “talking” online, there is something about the words coming out of my mouth in a real-life conversation that helps me sort everything out better. I can hear the logic, or illogic as the case may be, and suddenly what was confusing has a clearness to it that I wasn’t able to see when it was still banging around in my head. That’s what real-life girlfriends provide — the ability to express what’s in our heart and head, and in so doing, find the answer we were looking for as we talk it out.
You can’t beat eye contact and body language
We have things like emoticons and abbreviations to indicate what tone of voice we’re saying something in when we chat online but it can never fully take the place of body language and tone of voice in real life. This is especially true during disagreements or difficult conversations. I have disagreed with people online, knowing I was doing it in a quiet, gentle voice, but somehow the written words turned out to be strongly offensive.
Other times I have laughingly joked about something but because the person couldn’t hear the laughter or see my face they were hurt at how I came across. This can happen in face-to-face conversations but not as much. Facial expressions and tone adds a rich dimension to conversation that just can’t take place online.
Real-life friendships teach us how to (really) handle conflict
Chances are, the people we have conflicts with in real life are people we’re going to run into again. Our MOPS group, church, the PTA — we can’t just block them and be done with it. Instead, we have to learn to get along with people that seem to do everything they can to make our life difficult. Through these circumstances we learn self-control and humility. We learn how to bite our tongue and, in some cases, we may even learn how to argue effectively.
We grow through conflict, as painful as it is, and we become better people for it in the end. Sometimes, relationships and friendships become better because of the conflict, something we would never have found out online because we just ended up blocking the person out of our life permanently.
Our husband can’t be our girlfriend
I can truly say that my husband is one of my closest friends, but he just can’t take the place of my real-life girlfriends. I can’t talk about my emotions of being hurt by someone and have him fully understand. He’s a guy. He rarely gets hurt. He just gets angry and as soon as he’s angry, he’s over it. He doesn’t get it when I talk about how hurt I am, especially if it’s weeks later from the initial situation.
And forget talking about fat, ugly days! Only a girlfriend can understand how that goes.
Chick flicks? Husbands just can’t do chick flicks. Mine can’t, at least, without inserting a dozen, “oh brothers!’ with rolled eyes and accompanying snorts. No, only a girlfriend can do chick flicks with us.
In this thing we call life, we all need friends, no matter what kind of personality we happen to have. Online friendships can be rich and satisfying, but a real-life friendship has something that an online friendship doesn’t have. We’re women and we need real-life conversations and relationships to help us keep going. Of course, some days conversation isn’t even needed, just a triple chocolate brownie from Starbucks with a caramel latte — something a real-life girlfriend will be happy to indulge in with us. You can’t get that in a chat room!