• Making Friends

Online Friendships: As Close As A Keystroke

Published: May 29, 2007 | Last Updated: August 23, 2022 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading

Carole* (who prefers to use a pseudonym) is a 40-something career woman who works in the area of information technology. It’s no surprise that the internet has become one of her favorite playgrounds for making friends.

In this candid interview, Carole shares her own experience with online friendships and makes some insightful comparisons between these and offline ones.

How do online friendships develop?

Shared interests are the main meeting point—usually through messageboards or blog comments. But with the advent of social networking sites like Facebook, with its concept of accumulating lists of “friends”, things have changed somewhat.

Online “friends” can consist of people with whom you interact online or people you meet on fan pages for music bands, politician pages, and the like. However, sometimes these sites seem to be more about accumulating numbers than real friends.

Can you describe your first online friendship?

I met B. on a movie message board almost a decade ago and we started writing some fan fiction together.

B. had written some fan fiction before; I had never done any. She is about twenty years younger than me, but we shared a passion for early 20th-century social history and embarked on an extensive correspondence with each other and with other aspiring writers as we dug up interesting historical information.

Then B. got married and had two kids, and I went off and did other writing. Our project fell by the wayside.

But the experience opened my mind to original characters and plot lines so that I’ve had a novel in the works and another one in my head for about six years now, and work on them a bit on rare occasions.

For a while, I had so many online friends of varying degrees of intensity that I spent all my time writing and reading emails! I had online friends through movie sites, about five through fiction writing, and a few who simply READ the fiction and kept in touch.

Right now I correspond intermittently with a young grad student in Hong Kong who is enthralled with film and writes his own fan fiction.

What are the characteristics of an online friendship that create bonds between women?

Primarily, they are “drive-thru” friendships because there’s often very little, if any, face-to-face interaction. The friendship isn’t gauged by the amount of time spent together.

While I’m not as regularly in touch with my fiction writing friends as I used to be, I stay in contact with many a few times a year.

Online friendships can be closer in some ways and more trusting than real-world ones. T., for example, was a stay-at-home married mom who during the course of our friendship, came out as a lesbian after a lifetime of trying to be straight, and relied on me to provide emotional support during the coming out process.

I think the relative anonymity of online friendships provided a safety net for her.

How are these different or the same as offline friendships?

Since some online friendships turn into real-world ones, sometimes they don’t differ.

The biggest difference is in the amount of time required to keep in touch. For those of us who hate talking on the phone (and are fast typists), online friendships can take less time. If I want to stay in touch with an online friend, I just pop off an email. It takes 15 minutes and you don’t have to shoot a whole evening or afternoon.

But T’s story shows that the relative anonymity behind the wall of cyberspace can create greater intimacy and willingness to talk about things you might not talk about offline.

In fact, sometimes the more you know about someone in virtual life, the more awkward it is to meet in “real life.”

Can online friendships substitute for the “real thing”?

Not from the standpoint of when you need a friend to be there for you, because of the time delay of email. And of course they can’t help you when you’re sick or injured.

But for those of us who have had trouble making real-world friends and/or who feel like we don’t quite belong, being able to find online friendships, often with people who feel similarly isolated, not only provides a way to find like-minded people but also builds the kind of social skills that make it easier to extend oneself in real life as well.

Online friendships have opened a lot of doors for me, and have made it easier for me to interact with people in general. And having so many interest groups available with just a few keystrokes makes it easy for busy people to get involved with groups and meet people without having to scour their communities.

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Category: MAKING FRIENDS

Comments (3)

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  1. Irene says:

    Linda,

    It may be obvious— but your comment makes me realize that when people (like me!) are obsessed with the internet, we have less time for the real thing.

    Thanks for visiting and posting a comment.

    Best,

    Irene 

     

  2. Anonymous says:

    Interesting topic. Makes me think about living an on-line life. The internet appears to increase the possibilities for friendship and even intimacy. But is it ultimately isolating? Does communicating on-line rather than face to face contact or even voice to voice create a false sense of intimacy? It seems to me that we can be who we want to be rather than who we really are more easily on-line. We can control when we communicate and edit what we say. On-line communication is easier but only time will reveal the unintended consequences of this information and communication revolution. Linda

  3. Anonymous says:

    Irene, I love this post on online friendships. I find that some of my online buddies and I have become quite close friends over the years. We may see each other once a year or so, but the frequency and ease of e-mail makes it easy to share our lives, even from across the country.

    Kathy

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