I noticed my friends list one day on my Facebook. How in the world did I get almost 300 friends? I wondered. I struggled to be noticed in high school and now I have 300 friends on Facebook alone? When did I make that many friends?
The Internet has expanded my world. Whether this has been a good thing or a bad thing, I’m still trying to figure out.
I think it began with email. As a person who despises talking on the phone and a woman who craves isolation and solitude, once I discovered email, I was the happiest person alive! I’m a writer. What I didn’t have the courage or the skill to say verbally I could write in an email. People who felt the need to be in contact far more than I did, seemed to be somewhat accepting that I might not return calls but I would always return an email. Not only would I return it, I would probably “talk” more through that, than if I was on the phone.
My world grew bigger when I discovered blogging and the network that comes with it. I stumbled on this quite by accident. When I was running a private counseling practice, one of my clients asked if I could keep a blog for encouragement’s sake; a blog in which I wrote little thoughts and tidbits on life that clients could access during the week between sessions. Again, as a writer, it made sense. Why not? I wouldn’t share anything personal, just write things that would lift others up.
I didn’t realize that strangers would come across my blog, and that once they did, they would begin to ask questions. As the questions trickled in, I began to respond. I guess you could say “relationships” were formed. They were formed with women who had similar interests, whether it was because they were mental health professionals, they embraced Christianity, or they were in recovery from eating disorders as I was (something I did end up sharing on my blog).
I was so intrigued by the people I was meeting this way that I thought I would start a personal blog — one that was unknown to my clients so they didn’t see my personal life, but that was still open for people to access. Because my husband and I were going through infertility, this new blog became my written thoughts on our struggles, and that’s when my world blossomed!
By the end of the first year I had met over 30 women also going through infertility. By the end of the second year, it was almost 80. For the first time in my life, me, who loved to stay home day after day, completely content to never see a single soul, was surrounded by friends — a lot of them! Friends that I began to “talk” to every day, via our blogs, comments, and even emails.
I began to know them. I knew their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and what made them cry. Because we talked about infertility, I knew where they were in their cycles, when their next doctor’s appointment was, and what their infertility diagnosis consisted of. I saw the inside of their homes and met their family members via pictures. And it was all vice-versa, too. All of a sudden I had friends. And they were as close as my two real-life best friends were.
As time went on, some of those women emerged from all the others and became what I began to call “my inner circle”. We had common interests beyond infertility, similar life stories, and/or personalities. To read their blog posts was like reading my own. Emails were exchanged, and then phone numbers.
Then came the summer I will never forget. I was pregnant with our miracle baby and, due to complications in my very dysfunctional family, my baby shower was canceled. Unbeknownst to me, two others would be scheduled by other people in my life a few months later, but at the time, the entire situation was so heartbreaking to me I could hardly bear it. I poured my heart out to my blog friends.
A few weeks later this huge box came in the mail from one of my friends in Canada. I was puzzled. I was even more puzzled when I began to pull presents out of the box from other blog friends. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Eventually I got to Brie’s letter, which explained it all. She had organized a blog baby shower for me through the mail. The tears are coming to my eyes even now, as I think about it. It was by far one of the kindest things that has ever been done for me, and to this day I can’t speak of it without choking up.
Within another month, I had the sweet privilege of meeting three of my blog friends in person. One was flying in from Germany to her home state and had a layover in NY City, which my husband and I are only four hours from. We only had 1 1/2 hours in the airport, down in the dark, gloomy baggage claim area of JFK, but it was one of the sweetest 1 1/2 hours of my life. I think my husband wondered why it was so important for me to do this, but he gamely went along for the day trip. (I think he was making sure I wasn’t meeting up with a killer or something!) Meeting Courtney in person was like meeting a piece of myself. They say kindred spirits are few and far between, and I met one in Courtney. I never once felt nervous or awkward with her, and it was the most natural thing in the world to chatter in some moments, and sit in complete silence in others.
A week later my husband and I traveled upstate to meet two more of my blog friends and their husbands. One couple was from Canada and we met at the Falls. It was another instantaneous connection, and Chuck and I still talk about, “Remember when we met Chad and Brie? It was so cool! Gosh, we sure wish we could see them again!” Our connection in person has lasted more than a year later, and now, even our husbands email each other. As a rare treat, we even brave the phone charges across country lines and call them sometimes.
In that same weekend, we met the third couple when they generously opened up their home to us. This took true courage and bravery on their end, because for all they knew, my husband and I were weird, annoying people who would trash their home. I will never cease to be amazed at their generosity or the way they made us feel like royalty when we visited. This family we have now seen two other times since our original meeting, even though we live four hours apart, and we consider them precious friends of ours.
I would say that because of the Internet, I have found true friendships — some casual, some close. Some very close. I believe this is a good thing.
My experience with online friendships has been a positive one. However, at the risk of ending on a negative note, I have noticed an unhealthy tendency on my part. I have, at times, hidden behind emails and blogging. In some ways, it has fed my isolationist tendencies. While I am totally content to communicate via the written word, I have heard from those I love, “Hey, we’d really like to hear your voice or see you sometimes, you know!”
When I do make the effort to make that phone call or meet for coffee, I find myself struggling with my social anxiety to the max. Things that I could have so easily written, I find myself unable to utter. These things usually fall into one of two categories: either it is voicing my opinion about something I disagree with or it is voicing how much I care for that person.
To speak up is unbearable in person. To speak up by writing is easy. To say “You are so special to me. I love you!” in an email comes so naturally. To say it when looking the other person in the eyes makes me freeze in my tracks. The words get stuck in my throat. I feel too vulnerable, too weird.
One of my best friends and I have a relationship like this. My husband shakes his head in disbelief at the completely sappy emails we’ll write to each other, but then in person, we tend to be sarcastic with each other and hugging each other takes a huge effort. “How can you girls write the things you write, yet feel weird hugging when you see each other?” he asks me. I just respond with, “I don’t know. It’s just how we are. It works for us though!” And it does.
I’m don’t think this tendency of mine means I shouldn’t communicate with people online or via email. Quite the contrary in fact. Those methods have taught me how to have friends, and I wouldn’t ever want to go back to my small world where I knew hardly anyone. What my downfalls do teach me, however, is that I need to be aware. I need to be aware that face to face is just as important as online friendships.
It requires more vulnerability to be face to face with a friend, but that is exactly what a true friendship is based on — vulnerability and authenticity. This can only be displayed so much through written words. True vulnerability and authenticity takes place when two souls meet each other through the window of the eyes.
I am seeking to balance out my online friendships with real-life friendships for a healthy mix. Whether it is traveling to see my online friends as often as life allows or making a more concerted effort to call and go to coffee with my real-life friends, I’m trying to make it happen.
As far as those Facebook friends, well, not everyone is a “friend” really. They’re people I know and we’ve accepted each other onto our lists, more so we can see what the other is up to than because we really want to work on our relationship. But still, it’s kinda cocky to say your friends list is almost to 300. I wonder if I can break that before year’s end? Guess I need to make some more friends.