There are people out there who will say that friends you’ve never met face to face aren’t really friends. As if physical or geographical closeness is the true indicator of friendship. If someone is your friend, it doesn’t matter where they are.
That’s why I get upset when people say internet friends aren’t real friends. Over the years, I have made plenty of friends via social media, and our friendships are incredibly important to me. And I know that when I need them, they’re there for me no matter what.
I can remember when I made my first internet friend. When I was a tween/teen, AOL chat rooms were the only thing we had resembling social media. I would spend hours in the chat rooms for my favorite boy bands. Fandom is always a solid way to make internet friends, even to this day. While I certainly made several dozen friends in internet chat rooms, one has managed to stand the test of time. We became friends when we were 13, and we’re still friends at 33. Unlike many of my online friendships, I’ve actually gotten to meet her in person. When we did, we were in our late-20s. We’ve gone through high school, college, relationships and babies.
When I was younger, my parents’ biggest fear was me making friends on the internet. And now, it’s where like 80% of my friends are. Because of the nature of life, friendships evolve and change. It feels like adulthood hits friendships harder when you’re in the same place and know each other outside of the internet. There’s an endless cycle of randomly running into each other and saying, “let’s hang out” and never actually doing it.
But because internet friends are already kind of portable, you don’t feel that same kind of disconnect. Of course, those friendships still ebb and flow, but changes in location don’t matter so much. Even though you may not be super close all the time, internet friends feel more dependable. Maybe because they’re only a Facebook tag away.
As a black woman who runs in a lot of social circles with white women on the internet, I find myself needing backup from my internet friends sometimes. Mainly because some of their peers find things I say offensive. While I’m usually willing to provide those folks with as much emotional labor as I can, my friends don’t want me to. So they will step in, allowing me to step away and refocus my energy.
Recently, I found myself in a position where I really needed to rely on my internet friends for support. I had created some friction between myself and some former friends I met through social media. While I certainly knew what I was saying, I had no idea that things would escalate the way they did. Suddenly, people were jumping into this fray, not really knowing the whole story. When it became clear that I was under siege, my internet friends stepped in.
The outpouring of support still amazes me. These people, most of whom I’ve never met IRL before, came to my aid when I needed them most. Instead of spreading myself thin, beating my head against a rock, I was able to step back. While they handled the ignorant people trying to start a fight with me, I focused on a few private conversations to sort through the chaos I found myself in the middle of.
It’s important to note that I didn’t ask any of those internet friends to step in. They simply saw that I was in trouble and graciously took the burden off my shoulders. Stepping between me and the people looking to start a fight, they were telling me that they had my back. Even on social media, you need to know there are people out there who will not only fight alongside you, but will fight for you when need be. Many of my internet friends provide me with that sense of security I didn’t even know I needed.
Making friends on the internet is still such a crapshoot. You may think you know someone because you’re seeing lots of glimpses of their lives via social media. Sometimes people will surprise you with their selfishness. But other times they will surprise you with their generosity of heart.
In the last six years, I’ve found my community on social media. These are “my people.” We have similar interests and professions. These people hold similar values and ideals to me, and that really strengthens the bonds of our friendship.
Those are the friends who will always step up for me when I need them. I never seem to have to ask; they just do it. Most of the time I don’t even know how they even find out I need them. But their spidey senses will tingle and suddenly there they are.
When you’re busy raising kids, it’s easy to feel alone. Because we all have very busy lives and don’t always have time to tend to our friendships. And it’s much easier to let long periods of time pass without checking in or having a conversation. But our internet friends will prove time and time again why it’s not fair to dismiss these kinds of relationships. Whether we need solidarity because our kids are being assholes or we need to step back from an onslaught of troublemakers, we’ll always simply be a tag away.