Online Friends: Just as Good as Real-Life Friends?

by MomGrind

Photo credit: pensiero

Are your online friends as important as your real-life friends?

I used to consider my real-life friends as “real friends,” while my online friends seemed more, well, virtual, and since they were less “real” to me, I didn’t consider them as important.

But this blog, and the relationships I am gradually forming through it, is making me rethink my initial attitude towards online friendships.

What other bloggers are saying about online friends

Anyone who ever doubted that an online community can be a real community and provide people with real support, should read Jenn’s BlogHer post about going through a stillbirth and a miscarriage.

Jenn says: “Today, there are amazing resources to help a Mom go through such a horrible time. Support groups. Online groups. Blogs. Friends you have met through blogging. You can say what you need to and find love and support. I wish I had that 16 years ago.”. Jenn makes an important point: sometimes, especially when you go through a trauma, you find that your real-life support system fails miserably. In a situation like this, finding online friends that have been through the same experience can be a lifesaver.

Zoe makes a similar observation about people who belong to a minority group. Zoe is a lesbian. She started blogging in an attempt to find others that are like her: “I started blogging to find me, and to find a place where I fit in. I started blogging to find other 30 something, long term coupled, RPG playing, video gaming lesbians, with less mainstream taste in movies and music, because in my town they don’t seem to exist.”

Suzie doesn’t feel alone anymore. She writes, “I had discovered that even though I live in a big city I had started to feel really alone… So I started blogging and I met people, all different types of people. I started feeling like I wasn’t so alone anymore.”

Denise values her online friends at least as much as she values local ones. She says: “The internet has helped with that whole friendship thing, for me and my older kids. And, I’ll just be really honest and admit that it’s been a long time since I formed really strong bonds with members of my local community.”

Barbara writes about the power of an online community to transform a life. “Something about that online communication began to “fill her”, not with food, but with a sense of belonging. A sense of value.”

Joel mentions the benefits of participating in an online community. “Becoming a part of the online community isn’t just great because you can ease the feelings of web-worker loneliness and have some laughs, it’s great because it leads to long-lasting relationships and even new opportunities as far as that work-from-home career goes.”

Robin says, “when I began this blogging adventure 3 months ago I didn’t anticipate the feeling of community that has come with it.”

Amy acknowledges the importance of her online community of moms. She says, “through blog posts, comments, emails and tweets, I’ve been fortunate enough to become part of a community of women who truly care about each other.”

Speaking of Twitter

I used to be a BIG skeptic, but Twitter is a great tool for networking and for keeping in touch. In fact, since none of my real-life friends uses Twitter, I sometimes feel more in touch with my Twitter friends than I do with my real-life friends, because my real-life friends and I get together probably once a month or so, and email weekly, but my Twitter friends have a constant presence in my life through their frequent tweets.

Bloggers who meet in real life

In July, I am planning to attend BlogHer Conference ’08 in San Francisco. I am excited to meet face to face with several bloggers whom I have really come to admire over the past few months. The BlogHer Conference illustrates the way in which my “online” life as a blogger for hire blends with “real-life.”

Some bloggers choose to hit the road and meet their readers in person. Bossy chose to do it on a large scale, others quietly find a way to meet online friends, then blog about it in their blogs.

When Robin and I jokingly talked, during a recent discussion, about my readers coming over for a dinner party at my house, I realized that it wasn’t really a joke. I would have been so happy to do that. Just imagine – a group of intelligent people that have strong opinions about anything and everything, yet know each other and share a common respect for each other. Wow. What a dinner party that would be.

The bad news

Since “online” and “real life” are becoming one, the other side of the realness of online support is that online meanness is also very real and has a way of affecting one’s real life. And, since online meanness tends to be unfiltered, it can be even more devastating and cruel than real-life unkindness.

A Final thought: should we ditch the dichotomy?

Maybe we should just stop using the term “real-life friends” as opposed to “online friends.” Isn’t online just as real? Isn’t it part of of our real life? Beth Blecherman points out: “I am a true believer in online social networking for social and career development. I feel that people who don’t have an online presence will miss out the ability to keep in touch with large networks of people online – as well as the “real life” events and invites that are outcomes of those networks.”

I completely agree.

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