If you’ve never met someone in person, can they still be a friend? I remember the days before there was this internet thing, way back when we would write letters to strange kids in another country. We called them pen pals.
Which makes me wonder, can we call our online friends web pals? That sounds like something the Japanese already invented.
The virtual friend dilemma popped up a few weeks ago (or maybe it was a few months ago, whatever) when I wanted to tell my husband about something one of my friends posted online. Words often pour out of my mouth as my brain struggles to keep up so I simply used the word “friend” but then retracted and clarified that it was, “actually, a guy that I have in my circles on Google+,” which sounds like an unnecessary mouthful to me. At the time I thought it was important to avoid confusing the people I have actually met (and that my husband has actually met) with the people I hang with online.
My lip slip haunted me for weeks because I’m a classic ruminator but I really needed to process this. You probably don’t want to hear about all the repetitive banter that bounced around in my head between myself and I as we tried to sort this out so I will spare you and just reveal my conclusion:
As of this moment I have declared that if my heart considers someone a friend then they are a friend regardless of how or where I met them.
If in future conversation I refer to someone I chat with on Twitter as a friend then they are indeed that until the point I no longer consider them a friend for whatever reason. Which brings me to an important point: One of the lovely things about online friends is they are typically a lot easier to get rid of if need be. At least, that has been my experience. Not that I’ve had to get rid of anyone but it just seems easier to block out someone in electronic form than it does in real life. I’ve only had to do it once (with a long-time friend) and it was bloody awful – I wrote about it in my book which you should read because it would make me feel great if you did. But only if you enjoy reading it. If you think I’m a dreadful bore I would hate for you to be forced to read anything I’ve written.
This topic was inspired not only by my own experience but also by a comment Eric Deeter made on one of my other posts recently. He said:
I know you’ve got a lot of people pulling for you. I know virtual friends aren’t the same as those who will sit in silence with you until this storm passes. But know we’ll do the best we can for you. And, yes, the storm will pass.
Sure, few would argue that a friend sharing the same physical space is not comparable to a friend who exists as little icon and a few paragraphs of text. However, in my case, I base my definition of the word on the emotional connection and not the environment. Is this the birth of some messed-up virtual reality? The long distance relationship between people who have never met and might never meet at all?
This brings me to the real friendship test: Will they help you move?
This idea bothered me because, at first, I wasn’t able to find a way to test my online friends in this regard. However, because I am so clever and sleep deprived, I have since come up with a solution, two of them in fact! If you want to see who your real online friends are simply set up a Paypal account and ask them to contribute funds to hiring movers for your next relocation. If your virtual friends ante up – hold onto those people – they are golden!
The second test is a little easier for me because I don’t plan on moving any time soon. Simply write a book and see which of your friends, both real and virtual, will actually read it. Sadly, far more of my virtual friends have read my book than my IRL buddies so I’m not quite sure what to make of that. Except that I suspect the rule of the weak tie might apply here. If you don’t know what that means, click the previous link (or this one) to read more because I really need to eat lunch and don’t have the energy to explain it to you and include references.
AKA – I’m lazy.
But my real friends won’t care right?
What are your thoughts on the real life vs. virtual friend debate? I would love to hear your perspective on this one. Have a great weekend, friends!