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How many friends do you have on Facebook? And how many of them are people you’ve never actually met? Chances are that you only ‘know’ most of them online. Yes, the irony of social media is that it’s not actually very social. But is it genuinely impossible to make friends online? Not in my experience.
As long as the Internet has been around, it’s been said that you can’t make real friends online. People with online friends are characterised as loners with a lack of social skills. They can’t face getting out there and dealing with people, so they take refuge in clocking up online connections. Or they’re outright liars posing as an online persona. Well, caution is clearly wise with online interactions. People do lie. But equally, people don’t.
Here’s something that might surprise you. I’m still in contact with online friends that I got to know ten years ago. People who live on the other side of the world. People that I hope to be able to meet in person one day. But does that make the friendships any less real because we haven’t been in the same room? Many ‘real’ friendships don’t last that long. Many of my online friends came into my life when I was going through difficult stages. These people helped me through. They listened to me (via IM) during many dark times.
One woman I met through a forum even travelled 1,000 miles to keep me company on my 40th birthday. We had not actually met at that point, yet she was prepared to take a chance. She believed I was real. She trusted her own judgment, and she’s now one of my closest friends. In fact, I met a significant proportion of my closest friends online. Nearly all of those online friends have gone on to become ‘real’ friends. Without the Internet I would never have met these people who are now so important to me.
I actually feel that online friendships can be more real. They offer you the chance to connect with likeminded people. For many folks this can be difficult in real life. Talking online can be more relaxing than trying to get to know people in person. So my conclusion is, don’t dismiss Internet friendships as a poor substitute for the real thing. Even if you never meet, they can still be valuable. And maybe you’ll meet some of your best friends, like I did.