I just watched a Momversation video on whether online friends are as important as "IRL" friends.
My response is an emphatic YES, but somehow, that just doesn't do it justice.
First off, my closest, most important, best best BEST friend EVER is someone I met online. Most people would, of course, consider this person very much an IRL friend at this point, because hey, I married him, and really, what's more IRL than that?
And could I possibly have used more commas in that incredibly run-on sentence? That's what I get for blogging as though I'm speaking and not as though I'm writing a thesis.
I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today if not for the internet. My parents didn't have a lot of friends while I was growing up. I'm sure they had a lot of "friendly acquaintances," as Alice from finslippy referred to them in the Momversation, but there wasn't a whole lot of socialization. How much of it can be attributed to the fact that they worked opposite shifts, how much of it can be attributed to my mom's extreme insecurity, shyness and homebodyness and how much of it can be attributed to the fact that we really didn't have a lot of money... I'll never know what the percentages were. But the bottom line is that my parents didn't exactly set any examples for us in regard to making and keeping good, solid, lasting friendships. As a result, I was quiet and shy - being the fat, four-eyed nerd didn't help, but I've known plenty of people who were either fat or four-eyed or both, who managed to be quite popular. Not me. I just didn't know how to be that person. The one who made friends easily. The one who was unafraid to be myself for fear of losing what few friendships I had. To this day, I can be very outspoken, but typically only with the people with whom I feel exceedingly comfortable. On the inside, I can still be the quiet, shy little girl, scared to disagree with a friend for fear that they won't be a friend anymore. The internet has helped with that quite a bit, because as I've gotten more and more used to being myself online, I'd be lying if I said that it hasn't spilled over into my real life interactions. Not to mention the fact that I've met quite a few of my online friends in real life, and interacting with them the way I do online has gotten me more and more used to actually - gasp! - being myself IRL.
I'm a classic illustration of the socially awkward child who didn't blossom until they found the fertilizer that is the internet. My parents have never been early adopters. I was in junior high by the time we got our first microwave and our first VCR. They only got cell phones about 2 years ago. My mom still records her soap opera on a VCR, and the last time she came to visit, I don't think she really ever got the hang of the DVR remote. But when we got our first computer... back in the golden month of December 1997 (!), a whole new world opened up to me. I started visiting chat rooms - places where I could be myself. The person who wasn't fat and insecure and quiet and shy. The person who could say what she felt, because if the people there decided they didn't like her, she could always find a new place to go, somewhere she'd never have to "see" or talk to them again. Real life just doesn't always work that way, and let me tell you, that was the most liberating feeling EVER. I conversed with all sorts of people, all over the country.
That computer allowed me to begin the process of becoming the person that my insecurities about face-to-face interaction never could. It allowed me to start the process of becoming... me.
Within 11 weeks, I'd met the person with whom I'd spend the rest of my life. It didn't stop there though - I loved the newfound freedom anonymity brought, and I continued for many many years - and still continue - to delight in being myself and making new friends, both online and off.
Within a year, I'd moved halfway across the country.
Within two years, I'd found two wonderful groups of women, both on iVillage, on completely separate boards. I still converse with the core group from one of them on an almost-daily basis. Some of them are now internet-famous in their own rights, and I couldn't be more proud. *sniff* The other group, I still have no idea how I found these wonderful women. The first group was geared toward women my age, but the other board was a debate board in one of the iVillage parenting communities. I'm not a parent and I suck at debate - but I was fascinated by the board and the wealth of knowledge and ideas (and nipple forks and Golden Vaginas and Buckley Manifestos). I still suck at debating, but many of us have stuck together through 3 or 4 (or more?) board moves. While I don't post much on that board, I read it every day. I know I'm there, many of them know I'm there, and I'm now friends with a bunch of them on Facebook (and I know there are more, but I'm having trouble putting IRL names with screen names), so we're definitely in touch.
Within four years, I was introduced - by my husband - to yet another group of fabulous people. Ironically enough, I now participate on that board more than he does, and I'm now one of the admins.
I've even reconnected with people I knew years ago, but somehow lost along the way.
And most recently, through the magic of local blogs and online communities, I've started to converse with people who actually live nearby, as well - two of whom I'll be meeting on Monday, one of whom I recently found out is one of my new coworkers, some of whom I eventually hope to meet.
All of the wonderful people I've met, all of the wonderful people I have yet to meet... all in some way have helped shape who I am today.
So yes, my online friends are just as important, just as life-affirming, just as dear to me as my "IRL" friends.
And after all that, I still don't feel like I've done my YES answer justice. But hopefully I've provided at least some perspective.