In Defence Of “Internet” Friendship

“So, where did you meet your friend ___?”

“We used to post to the same blindness forum, and–”

“Oh…so not, like, a friend friend.”

“A friend friend?”

“You know, like a…real friend. Someone you actually know.”

Friendships forged through online interaction have gained considerable legitimacy since I was a young teenager first experiencing the internet, but it’s dismaying how often online friends are casually dismissed by people of all ages. Apparently, there was an authoritative friendship conference several years ago that resulted in an unofficial friendship hierarchy, which influences the way friendship is viewed by everyone ranging from seniors to high schoolers.

According to this mystical hierarchy, you can’t measure a friendship in love, but rather in geography. If you only see your childhood friend once a year for a quick coffee and cursory catchup, that still ranks higher than an “internet” friend whom you haven’t met in person but with whom you communicate daily. Friends who live across the street usually carry more weight with people than a friend who lives across the world, regardless of intimacy, frequency of communication, and overall satisfaction derived from the friendship. (This also applies to romantic relationships, as I learned to my immense chagrin while dating men I’d met online.)

Besides the fact that I find this arbitrary standard inflexible and anachronistic, I also feel it comes down heavily on disabled people, who seem to have an especially large number of online friends. Anyone experiencing loneliness, isolation, and/or a lack of typical social opportunities can benefit from online social networks, and reducing internet interactions to something pale and second-rate targets a population that is already marginalized. While many disabled people can and do seek social opportunities within their geographical sphere, the internet is an enticing place where the playing field feels more equal and the supportive communities are numerous.

My isolated childhood is a living advertisement for the value of online friends. I was an introspective soul who struggled to make friends in traditionally-accepted ways, and internet social circles were far easier for me to embrace. Online, I didn’t have to be the awkward, introverted blind girl. I could talk to people who were older and wiser than me, share resources with fellow blind peers, and enjoy a sense of social freedom that couldn’t be found in my small-town ecosystem. I treasured the offline friends I did make, but they didn’t offer the diversity and understanding I found online.

Now, as my life becomes busier and my chronic pain limits my social activities, I appreciate my supportive online network of disabled and non disabled friends more than ever. The love, encouragement, assistance, and companionship they offer are as real and meaningful as anything provided by my equally-adored offline friends. As my heart breaks with the death of an online friend’s husband, and soars with joy at another online friend’s success at work, I do not doubt the gravity and significance of friendships conducted and sustained via the internet.

My internet friends are indeed “real” friends. When they are troubled or grieving or frightened, I comfort them. When I need a friendly ear in the middle of the night, there is always someone to call. My online friends send the best care packages, letters, and virtual (but no less heartfelt) affection. We pay astronomical amounts to visit each other, and make memories we cherish for years. We assist each other financially, emotionally, and spiritually. My online friends may not be able to drive me to an appointment or hold my hand when I’m ill, but they can provide love, advice, compassion, empathy, and laughter.

Never let anyone disparage your online friendships. The internet is a fickle friend, and you may certainly find dangerous, duplicitous people there–people whom you will befriend and later delete from every social network, wondering why you were ever naive enough to trust them. But more often than not, you’ll find people who are excellent friendship material–people who will fuse your happiness with theirs and do everything in their power to enrich your life. Whatever people say, however much they scoff, appreciate and cherish the friends you make online, and always measure your relationships in love and respect, not geography and popularity.

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8 thoughts on “In Defence Of “Internet” Friendship

  1. Meagan, the minute I sat down to read this post I knew it was a post I would happily comment on. sit back and relax with your metaphorical cuppa as this will be long. we tend to use the word “friend” rather loosely and it’s sometimes a tendency to get attached to people too quickly and just pass them off as friends. While I’m here I’ve got a confession to make. I tried getting as many mobile numbers as I could when I started learning to text as at the time texting was a bit of a novelty but I’ve backed off from this a bit and now I only ask for contact details when I know somebody well enough and sufficient trust has been established. 12 years ago I met a young man in my second week of year11 who took me under his wing as a friend and he’s my best mate as he has been for the past 12 years. We caught up almost all the time back then but now he’s busy with a wife who has been having health issues since their daughter was born plus his job in real estate but we do catch up when he has free time and we still text and call each other from time to time. It’s all very well that I go out socially with the lions club but trying to socialise with people in my own age bracket is easier said than done. One online friendship started on a games client close to 3 years ago and the lady lives almost 3 hours drive away from me. We have met twice although her father passed away a few weeks ago I’ve been in 2 minds whether to give her support or give her privacy. I’ll admit I’m not that great at offering comfort whether that’s a man thing or that is just me. I myself have a hard time knowing who to consider a good friend. knowing who one can confide in is difficult as it takes quite a lot to gain trust. and one friendship I’ve reluctantly had to put by the way side is one that was made in a work shop called up close and personal. I met this lady elsewhere but met her again in this work shop. She had severe anxiety and depression and PTSD after an abusive relationship which culminated in her having been raped by her ex. After hearing that I knew I had to tread extremely carefully with that because she had trust issues but I think in the end I just had to let it go because she was dragging me down. When it comes to relationships on the other hand, I’m not particularly into online dating as often times photos are going to be part of the deal. That’s all very well but also knowing whether they’re jenuin is another risk that has to be considered. I have however gotten in touch via fb with some friends or aquaintances from as far back as my primary school days but some of them have got kids and they’re going through relationships like underware. I’ve resolved I’m not going to be like that I’m not going to rush anything I know that fear of rejection is an excuse here but being that I had anger issues and temper issues as a young man I’ve worked mighty hard to get those under control and one slip up and I’d have to start all over again People change their contact details so much that often times I’ve had to consider being friends who don’t change their details or if they ever do change their details a heads up would be nice I’m picky I know but that’s just me. I think the thing that scares me at the moment is often the amount of baggage that some people carry am I going to be dragged down with them or do I need to brush up on being a little more maternal? I think when I’ve kept myself to myself for a long time I know I’ve got work to do to try and change things. I’ve heard that one can still feel lonely despite being around lots and lots of people whether this is true or again whether that’s just me something’s got to change but I’ve got to want to change it. I don’t go out to night clubs or pubs I know I’m just sensitive in some ways and I hate letting go as I never want to hurt people’s feelings and if either I or said person is upset letting go is only going to pushe either me or them over the edge. do I lack experience or is it just fear standing in the way? I know fear has a lot to do with it I hated admitting I sat alone during lunch at school or at TAFE admitting that I was lonely only ever ended in tears so I avoided it With you for instance, I’m not sure if I do consider you a friend or an acquaintance we do interact from time to time and I do read your posts but haven’t commented on them often I probably admittedly attach myself to people I think are friendship material only to get burnt.

    • There’s a lot to unpack here, but I do want to focus on something you said in your comment about loneliness. You say you’re not sure if you’re the only one who experiences loneliness even when surrounded by people, and you wondered whether that was just your lack of social experience talking. I can tell you that I’ve spent many a lunch alone (and, yes, I do feel squirmy about it), and that I still often feel totally isolated in a crowded room. I occasionally experience feelings of confusion and displacement, as though I don’t belong with people my own age, going through the same life stages I am, even though theoretically we should be getting along well. It’s quite normal, I think, to struggle to make new friends, especially once we reach adulthood, and I empathize with your fear. I wish I had some good advice for you. All I’ll say is that you should continue to cherish the friends you do have, and continue to proceed with respect and caution when acquiring new friendships.

  2. Thanks for this excellent post! I completely agree, I’ve found that the internet and social media are invaluable resources when it comes to getting to know other disabled people especially. I understand what you mean by the diversity and the understanding you’ve found online, it’s a really great addition to surrounding yourself by good friends offline.

    • Thanks for reading, Lisa! Yes, I think it’s important to balance your social circle with on and offline friends, just as it’s important to balance your circle with disabled and nondisabled friends. Diversity and growth are crucial.

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