This is a post I have been meaning to write for some time. This is a thought or two on friendships.
When the internet first burst out of it’s box however long ago the idea that we could all chat with complete strangers was bizarre. Forming friendships with them was ridiculous. Certainly I never imagined that I would spend more time chatting with virtual friends online than my real life companions.
But somehow that is what has happened.
Seven years ago I searched online for a forum about becoming a mother. Being pregnant was an entirely new experience, the things happening inside me were exciting and frightening, the future an unknown entity. As anyone who has been pregnant knows there are questions we want to ask. Not just the obvious medical ones – how is the baby growing, what is giving birth like? Little questions. Embarrassing questions about bodily functions for example.
I found a mums group where all of us nervous expectant mothers were due in the same month. Which was great as it meant we were going through the same changes at the same time. I joined in under a pseudonym and began my first forays in to chatting online.
To start with there were probably a hundred or more women on the forum. Some left, others joined. Over the nine months of pregnancy there were of course arguments and trolls. Even online personalities clash. But at the core of the group there were a number of continuous posters who became individuals in their own right. They stood out. I began to remember details about selected members and to have chats and laugh at jokes. Much like building a relationship in the real world we got to know each other by sharing experiences and parts of our own personal histories. Without ever actually knowing the basic information of the girls real names. After all, this was a public forum.
Our babies were born. We shared birth stories. Our babies began to grow and we told each other about their first teeth, their first taste of food. My forum friends and I discussed first birthdays and first steps.
And then along came Facebook and everything changed.
I cannot remember who first brought up the idea of having a private group on Facebook. At first it was a worrying idea, to join in with my given name and allow my virtual friends access to the real me. After all I may have been sharing intimate personal details with complete strangers online for about two years but they didn’t actually know who I was.
I umm’ed and ahh’ed but in the end the group was set up and I joined in. And there they were. The actual names and faces of about 25 of the loveliest women I have ever met. Or not met, as the case may be.
We have had a few more people leave us over time. But that’s ok. Having virtual friends means that dropping them if you want to is easy. No embarrassing encounters over shopping trolleys or awkward silences at the school gates.
What is left is a group of the most supportive women I have ever known. We don’t all agree on everything, of course. There are different viewpoints on politics, child rearing, breast feeding, education. We discuss all sorts of topics in our private group and it’s ok for us to disagree, to explore different ideas and have our own opinions.
One of our ladies lives abroad. The rest of us are spread out across the UK. Some of us have met now, physically. Some of us haven’t. It doesn’t matter. We come together in our virtual meeting place for a coffee and a chat. If one of my friends has a problem they can ‘talk’ it through online and the rest of us are supportive. If they want a rant, we can join in and rant with them. When they feel sad, we take time to cheer each other up. Between us we have a variety of work experience in different fields we can use to give each other advice. While we still talk about our children, we went far past that a long time ago.
What makes a friendship? If it’s spending time together, we do that. In fact we can chat every day, even if we just pop in for 5 minutes. Which is more time than I get to spend with my ‘real life’ friends. Shopping together – we do that too, online. Sharing worries and concerns, having a laugh, moaning about husbands, families, worrying about children. We do all that and we can share a virtual hug too.
Is this a way of life today – are online friendships becoming more common? Is it all we have time for now in our busy lives. I don’t know if our group is unusual in how close we became or if this is becoming ‘the norm’.
This is what I do know.
Seven years ago I met group of strangers online and now I am pleased to be able to call them my friends.