You can’t hug your imaginary Internet friends…

Imaginary purple wild rose?

Years ago, maybe in the beginning of my blogging career, two non-computer non-Internet friends gasped in horror, “Your Internet friends are not real!” (They did not gasp simultaneously, but gasped with the same frowning disbelief in the space of a couple of months.)

NOT REAL???  All the hackles on the back of my neck stood up.  I glared and squinted and got defensive and annoyed.  How dare they?  How dare they say my Internet friends weren’t real?  Well, I would SHOW them. 


And over the years, I have met a lot of these unreal imaginary friends.  Mostly through the group Gaia, which no longer exists in its original incarnation. 

The first person I ever met was a wonderful lady named Susie Q.  Turned out that she grew up in these neck of the woods (thereby making her a “real” Yooper, a feat which still eludes those of us not born here, even though we may have lived here for more than thirty years.  And Sue doesn’t even live here anymore!  Go figure!  Oh, pardon me, for that momentary rant.  Back to the subject at hand–realness.)

Sue, by the way, is the person with whom I went camping on the sand under the Meteor Showers a few weeks back.  She’s also a regular reader of this blog.  And I’m going to meet her for lunch again tomorrow.  Hi Sue!

Real wild rose?

I later met several more Internet friends.  My daughter and I even stayed with Gaia friends in Belgium and Amsterdam, deepening friendships kindled on-line.

Each meeting revealed an incredibly lovely being.  Some people surprised me with physical, mental, emotional or spiritual attributes which weren’t apparent in the computer world.  But everyone was 100% real, 100% non-imaginary, 100% human.

And, best of all, you could hug them!  It was a joy to see these folks in three dimensions with smiles and feet, personality quirks and hairdos.  What a gift to deepen beyond the one-dimensional typewritten word. 

1st view of dawn

Over the years, I have learned a LOT about Internet friends and relationships. 

I have learned that in some ways the Internet sometimes helps create an environment of safety and confidence in which you share your thoughts and feelings much easier than face-to-face.  Especially in small intimate blogging or social networking groups.  You can say “I love you” to virtual strangers much easier than in person.  You can express yourself in ways which sometimes feel more complicated in face-to-face relationships.

People fall in love and dance off into relationships after meeting on-line and revealing their deepest selves…only to discover that the three-dimensional relationship can be more challenging.  Sometimes people fall in love on the Internet and live happily ever after.

Which brings me to the part of Internet relationships which sometimes challenges me:

2nd view of same dawn. Same clouds, same sun, same camera.

How to put this?  After getting to know an Internet friend for a while, I sometimes begin to experience an underlying feeling of sadness or frustration.  It feels like we are only seeing one another in snippets, as one-dimensional cardboard paper dolls.  That sounds extreme, I know, and probably isn’t true.

But there is a feeling like that–a deep desire to know the Internet friend more intimately, more clearly.  To move deeper into childhood stories, to sense a roundedness which can not easily be portrayed through a single media, to hug.

Yes.  That’s it.  Even though I am not a person who hugs easily, I have learned to hug more openly over the years.  As my Internet friend Carla puts it to sometimes even give or receive a melting hug.  To feel the place where physicality meets with the spiritual, mental and emotional parts. 

Will the real dawn please stand up? Which one is "true", darn it?

Another Internet friend, Amy-Lynn, who writes a blog called Flandrum Hill discussed this dimensional quandary in relationship to nature in her recent blog: Living the Three Dimensional Life

My friend (and blog reader) Cindy Lou, who lives across the bay, said her family calls all of us Internet buddies “Pigments of her Magical Nation”.  Translation:  Figments of her Imagination.

I stopped by to visit Cindy Lou the other night. Her husband answered the door.

“Hi!” I said to her husband, who may or may not recognize me, “I am one of Cindy’s imaginary friends!”

He nodded.

“You’re Barry’s wife, aren’t you?” he asked and then hollered inside, “Hey, Cindy, your imaginary friend is here!”

As Amy-Lynn said in her blog, I don’t have answers.  Just more questions. 

What do you think about this topic of Internet friends?  What have you learned?  How do you navigate between the incredible gifts and joys and the challenges?

P.S.  This desire to know Internet friends more deeply has helped sparked my new plan to introduce readers/commenters to everyone who reads.  Even if we can’t hug–yet–we can learn more about each other.  That’s my desire anyway!

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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48 Responses to You can’t hug your imaginary Internet friends…

  1. Nicole Smith says:

    I love it! “your imaginary friend is here!” I think you know most of what I think on this topic but I couldn’t resist responding to this one and hoping that you can drop by Southern Ontario sometime to collect that hug. In the meantime, take care!

    • Kathy says:

      Well Nicole Smith, as I live and breathe! How wonderful to see you, my imaginary friend with whom I’ve conversed on the phone several times so truly do know you exist. Yep. Southern Ontario. One of these days. We’ve got a date to collect our hugs. Hurray!

  2. Kathy – Your blog post today brings up a terrific subject and I’m glad you hung it out on the line for all of us to see.

    Like you, I met most of my internet friends in the original Gaia Community. Many of those relationships started in December of 2006. And they’ve grown, and Grown, and GROWN.

    I feel a sweet, underlying interconnection with our frequent (or infrequent) touch-bases. Some of those friends I touch base with daily — whether it’s through the new Gaia platform, through blogs, or through regular email, others are sporadic. It doesn’t matter — we’re connected.

    In fact, because of the nature of the beast — mostly busy schedules — I sometimes have more contact with my internet friends, than my face-to-face friends.

    What have I learned? That people are people no matter how you know them. And we all have one thing in common – we want to be loved and accepted, regardless.

    • Kathy says:

      Laurie, I think it was the wonderful experiences meeting the people through Gaia Community that has made me long for deeper, more intimate friendships. We ARE all connected, all of us.

      Much of the time I feel completely satisfied with whatever arises in friendships during the day. Other times…I long for more. A cuppa tea. A walk on the beach with you guys.

      Love what you’ve learned and how you share it with all of us.

  3. Dawn says:

    I’ve never thought about my internet friends as imaginary. They’ve always been real friends to me. In fact I now talk to one of my dog blog friends on the phone, as she’s ill and isolated. And I’ve invited others to stop here on their way through Michigan. It’s always special to finally see them, but I’ve always felt I knew them…especially the long term friends I’ve blogged with for several years.

    • Kathy says:

      A dog blog friend? (sorry, Dawn, I am giggling for the way those words sound together!) Which I shouldn’t, as you said your friend is ill. Now I am saying a prayer for her. It’s so wonderful to be able to meet others on our travels (or their travels). Perhaps one day we will sit in a cafe in Ann Arbor together and sip coffee or tea. Zingermans! We could go to Zingermans. In the summertime. And sit outside. I miss Ann Arbor… and would LOVE to meet you face to face.

      • Dawn says:

        If you’re ever down this way we will do Zingermans! I never went there during the two years I was at UM in 06-08. Funny to go there later! 🙂 And if you need a free place to stay when you’re down here ever, let me know! I’m not in AA, I’m about an hour north and east.

  4. Robin says:

    I encountered the same type of gasping and frowning from friends and family when I referred to my internet friends. I’ve met several of them and it has been, so far, a delight to finally get to know them in “real” life. The internet has opened up a whole world of new people and friends to me, and I am grateful for it. 🙂

  5. Cindy Lou says:

    I, too, am grateful for a new world of people and friends. And I also agree, Kathy, that it’s somehow less comlicated to get to know folks this way. And then when you get to see them and get an honest-to-goodness hug – what a treasured thing, hey?

    In so many ways, our own friendship has blossomed incredibly because of you and the friends of my Magical Nation. Remember when the girls were so busy, we drove them back and forth around the bay but barely got time to visit ourselves? Ah the growth we’ve all experienced in those few short years, hey? And you continue to stretch me to grow beyond my boundaries and more importantly, to be present and thankful of the simple pleasures of life. Thanx!

    Oops…almost forgot to comment on the glorious sunrise series today! 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      A treasured thing indeed, Cindy Lou! Absolutely… and I do love how our friendship has blossomed because of this here Internet. I also LOVE how you welcomed me into your home (and lent that book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, which I am devouring) when I hadn’t called first. Thank you for liking the sunrise series. That was out in Skanee on the way to work. A gaspable sky!

  6. Colleen Lloyd says:

    Kathy, I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Just how this all works. How I feel about it. As a non-blogger, very new to this whole idea of internet connections and friendships and blogging, I found myself hanging back for quite some time before I found the courage to join your community of commentors. I think it was Gerry, back in your 365 Day blog who talked about some of the reasons that readers were maybe reluctant to join in and encouraged people to do so if they were so moved. I was moved and you were so very welcoming and gracious. It can be somewhat frustrating, getting to know people in bits and peices, often wanting to know more, sometimes sensing a kindred spirit but not really knowing how to approach getting to know them better. Especially if they are other commentors without their own blogs. I wonder if it encourages us to let go of some of our old ways of relating and to just open our hearts and learn to know people in a different way. Beyond appearances and words.
    I’m also growing to appreciate the sense of community that seems to grow around blogs like yours (and Laurie’s)……especially as our own lifestyle is temporarily so transient and ever changing.
    So yes, I am beginning to understand the frustrations that sometimes must come with this but to also appreciate the amazing possibilities and the wonderful people who connect in this way.
    The hug part is definately a challenge though 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      I think you hit an important nail on the head, Colleen. Perhaps it encourages us to let go of some of our old ways of relating and to just open our hearts and learn to know people in a different way. Beyond appearances and words.

      Like how you said that. I like how you think so deeply. I have wondered why people are reluctant to join in and comment and become part of a blogging community.

      I feel it is always important to bring together both the frustrations and challenges and the joys and amazements. To look at both aspects. Someone recently said that the state of joy is tinged with a little bit of sadness. Because joy contains it all, even the opposites. That has been resonating with me lately.

      • Colleen Lloyd says:

        Kathy, am having a private chuckle at your comment about deep thinking. I think my family and friends might be smiling too. Deep….not so much! Lately… much more random and unconfined and maybe more self-reflective than in the past. I blame it on exploring new and unfamiliar territory…my 60’s!! But thank you 🙂

  7. flandrumhill says:

    Kathy I have felt close to you for some time even though we are *just* imaginary friends. Of all the million blogs out there, somehow we crossed paths. We’ve often been on the same wavelength about things. Surely there must be something more to our connection than just words typed back and forth on keyboards.

    The slight changes in the cloud colors fill me with awe. We live in an awe-some world. Thank you for being part of it 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Amy-Lynn, here you are!! We did cross paths…almost immediately after I started writing the outdoor blog. Never imagined that we would still be friends all these months down the road. We DO live in an awesome world, ever-changing. I love it. I also love how your thoughtful post sparked so many thoughts & musings. Thank you.

  8. P.j. grath says:

    Well, you and I did meet, Kathy, and we did hug, but then there’s my friend Valerie, way out in the Pacific Northwest, whom I’ve never met in person, though I have to keep reminding myself of that fact. And what about friends you’ve lived either with or close to who move far, far away? Do they BECOME imaginary? I don’t think so!

    • Kathy says:

      We DID meet, didn’t we Pamela? Oh that was a lovely day! A book-filled, friendship-filled day. Now that’s a good question about whether people who move far away become imaginary. Because if they do…then I have imaginary CHILDREN!! We can’t accept that, can we? lol & a big hug back!

  9. Karma says:

    I have also met “imaginary” friends in person. A small photography community developed at another blogger’s site, before I know about Scott Thomas, who is how I found you! Some of us met in person in 2008 for a mini-vacation together in Newport, RI – that was extrodinarily cool. I hope you don’t mind my mentioning it here, but one member of that original community (who I’ve unfortunately yet to meet in person) has just experienced a horrific loss: her house and all her possessions burned down this past Tuesday night. She and her family thankfully got out alive and have been taken in by friends. If anyone would like to learn more about our dear Ivoryhut, you can go to this website:
    You can also link there from my most recent blog post.

    • Kathy says:

      How wonderful, Karma, that you were able to meet in person with a group of people. Some of the people in Gaia did that, as well. How terrible to hear about this woman’s loss. I will go over to Ivory Hut and check it out. (That’s when we know our friends aren’t imaginary…because our hearts feel the pain and joy of their lives…)

  10. Jessica says:

    Hi there Kathy! I think you’re as real as real can be. Heck, I know so because we’ve talked on the phone. I even had a dream last night with you and your husband as the star. Do you own a pink floppy hat? You were wearing it last night. I was cleaning out your coat closet and found one of my sweaters in it. Of course, dreams are just “pigments of my magical nation” anyway, but they sure are fun; real or not.

    I have a genre of friends I call “zaadz friends”. I haven’t met them in person face to face but I’ve read how they think and the connection feels real. It’s the emotion connecting two people that makes a connection feel more real. It’s like “entanglement” (quantum physics term). We find people in our soul pods through the internet even easier than we can find them by rote day to day routine.

    • Kathy says:

      Jessica, how funny. I hadn’t yet read your comment when I just wrote to Karma (up above) that we know our on-line friends aren’t imaginary because we feel the pain & joy of connecting with their lives. And here you write: It’s the emotion connecting two people that makes a connection feel more real.

      And, hey, if you were dreaming about us last night–of course we’re real! ha ha…and no, no pink floppy hat. But I am thrilled you were cleaning out our coat closet but I SWEAR I did not steal your sweater. I don’t know how to teleport sweaters yet. lol! Glad you’re in my soul pod…

      • Jessica says:

        Hahaha, you’ve got quite a cluttered coat closet, but my sweater was there because I had left it there the last time I visited; you didn’t steal it! More seriously, for any dream interpreters out there, I know that you appearing in my dream is really me. It was my cluttered closet, too. In dreams, all I see really is a part of me. It’s my waking pastime to figure out why in the world my dreaming self chose these particular symbols to give me a message.

        I’m glad you’re in my soul pod too!

  11. Susan D. says:

    Loving reading the responses here. See, I feel like I could email any one of the readers here and she/he would welcome me in for a chat. If, by chance, I wasn’t welcomed … well, so what? We escape the in-person pain of rejection, though it would still sting a bit.

    It’s nice getting to know people while I’m sitting around in my jammies, hair all messy, not worrying about superficial appearances. Being in such a state, sometimes, allows for a feeling of intimacy that would be lacking were I to meet face-to-face for coffee, etc. The outward layers are already gone when I “talk” to people on the internet.

    One thing that has happened for me, too, is the meeting of family I’ve never met while searching the internet. No one can tell me that the primal response of connecting with “my blood” is imaginary. The same primal response occurs when someone comments and it zings, pings and resonates.

    Long live internet friends and cyber hugs and human connection … until we meet in person 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Hi Susan D! Boy, everybody has lots to add about this issue, don’t they? So are you STILL sitting around in your jammies at 8 p.m.?? Or did you just put them on in preparation for bed? ha ha…I am wearing a ragged out pink shirt with stains on it and jeans. The stains are there after freezing tomatoes earlier and getting a lil bit sloppy.

      So blood sister, and actual physical three dimensional person, loving the zings, pings and resonates of all you “family”! (I just wanna know more… does that mean I am not accepting ‘what is”?? Yikes!)

      • Susan D says:

        Lol …. No, Sweetie – I was speaking in general terms about being in my jammies …. not specifically today. Although, I am getting ready for them soon. And I wasn’t clear in communicating, I don’t think. I want to know more about people, too! Yes, yes, I do. I ought not to watch football and post comments at the same time. Enjoy the sweet rain and your wonderful pink tomato-y shirt 🙂

        • Kathy says:

          You were clear, Susan…I was teasing you! Because you said something about your “jammie days” last time we were together. Boy, it’s raining cats and dogs this morning! Happy Labor Day weekend!

  12. Carol says:

    I’ve never thought of you guys as imaginary either. But I suspect I’ve not really talked about you to anyone other than my hub and my daughter. She also blogs, so she understands. He accepts me as I am, whether or not he understands. I find that I’ve developed an attachment to those of you whose blogs I read on a regular basis. If you suddenly change your blogging schedule with no warning, I worry. I fear something terrible has happened in your life, or you’re ill – something unpleasant must have happened. That’s my let’s make it bigger than life before we really know for sure habit.

    Do I think I’ll ever meet any of you? Probably not. But I think you probably already know me better than most of my local friends. I think I share more of me, how I really feel, in my blog than I do in regular conversations. That environment of safety that you mention, although in reality it can be just the opposite. I love hearing about what you think and feel, what you do, your passions, your pet peeves. I love seeing photos of you and your world.

    Maybe I should do a post about this some day. Or maybe I should just shut up!

    • Kathy says:

      Did you worry, Carol, when I didn’t post for two days? I was having so much fun letting Laurie take over the blog that I decided to take a mini-break!

      You make a really good point that some of our Internet/blogging friends may know us better than our local friends. I know that I am more lively and talkative on line. Can sometimes be more quiet and shy in public. But the more I blog, the chattier and easier I get in public…

      And no, you should never shut up. The Internet has given us the gift of sharing of ourselves. Let’s keep sharing!

  13. Marianne says:

    Great topic, Kathy! I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I agree with what you say about internet friends. I find it easier to share my thoughts and feelings with the written word rather than face to face. I too, get funny looks when I mention something about someone I met on the internet. I love the imaginary purple wild rose. I’m thrilled that I found your blog also and I love your open and friendly nature.

    • Kathy says:

      Oh Marianne, I am glad you liked the imaginary purple wild rose. It was fun to play around with that image and create something different and exciting and interesting. So glad to have met you, too! (Giving you a mental hug!)

  14. Kathy
    I love the thpought of having the physical meet face to face with emotional,spiritual,mental side….most importantly the human side!

    I have so enjoyed the online blogging so much. I have learned and grown myself so much in the last year or soM Also opening up a whole new world of expression. The variety and depth of your blog is so trully felt deep down in that humanside, and yes we the online do somtimes want to develop deeper undrstanding of those relationships, ::hugs:: and all.
    I personally give my all in relationships and that in its self can intimidate!
    The thing I enjoy the most about the part where we can truly drop in on one another in real time, however respect that time as well.
    My favorite thing is to have house guests, however it seems everyone is too busy or somehow intimidated by it….
    Come over the hugs are freely given and welcomed…

    • Kathy says:

      Kim, I am so glad that you are enjoying the online blogging world so much. It has been such a gift to so many of us! One of these days or months or years I would love to get down to the Chicago area and visit you and Laurie. It feels half-way close to us, even though it’s 9-12 hours away, depending on how many times you stop. 🙂

  15. Gerry says:

    I don’t think blogging is much different than Emily Dickinson’s correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, or the relentless letter-writing of late 19th century youths. (OK, it is possible that Miss Sadie and the Cowboy are somewhat less poetic than Death, but really, can’t you just see Emily as a blogger?)

    People blog for as many reasons as we ever put pen to paper. We are perfect twits, engaging companions, good neighbors, some guy driving a clunker with a busted muffler, self righteous, pompous, insightful, hilarious, uptight and whacked out. Very few of us are stinkin’ blog-scraping algorithms. It occurs to me that when I’ve gone looking for a particular kind of blog, I’m often disappointed, but when I am introduced by a Pigment of the Magic Nation, it’s delightful. Kinda the way I make new friends in the rest of my life.

    ‘Course I had an imaginary friend named Bredge when I was four, so you probably have to discount everything I say.

    • Kathy says:

      Emily Dickinson the Blogger! Can’t you just see that as a blog title, Gerry? Love it! I like the analogy of old-time correspondence with new-time blogging. Very astute. I also like pondering the many reasons people write and our range from twitness to engaging. Loving that term Cindy introduced: Pigments of a Magical Nation. That deserves to be immortalized. THAT should have been this blog title…sigh…

  16. barb says:

    Hi Kathy, Like you and some of your imaginary friends, I’ve met several of my own imaginary friends on my travels or when they pass through my town. When you read a person’s writing and see their photography for months and then years, you begin to “know” them in a very special and unique way. I know immediately when I visit a blog if a person will become my imaginary friend – the same as when I meet someone in person.

    • Kathy says:

      Barb, I think the longer we read/view photos from a person, the better we get to know a fuller picture of them. Imagine if we read someone for five years! We might aquire that depth simply through long-term encounters. Loving all my imaginary friends…who seem just as real as my physical friends…sometimes even more so…except for that hugging thing.

  17. Beautiful photos today Kathy. I especially love the imaginary purple rose ~ gorgeous!

    A few years ago (in my pre-blogging days) I met a man through our both researching our family histories. He and his wife live in the middle of England, while I am way over here in Oz.

    After a while, along with emailing each other, we began making the occasional phone call. Last year he and his wife travelled to Australia and we actually met in person. Upon meeting him, he gave me one of the biggest hugs I have ever had in my life!

    I have many “imaginary” friends and feel so much gratitude in having “met” them all. 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Hi Joanne from Oz (grin…) That sounds like a wonderful experience! What a special opportunity you had to hug your imaginary friend… I felt the same way meeting Victoria in Belgium and Lucienne in Amsterdam. It felt so incredible to bridge nations and other non-physicality and actually skip along the sidewalk together. OK, maybe we walked sedately. But I am thinking it felt like skipping!

  18. Sue says:

    Good Morning Kathy!! We’re here in the UP staying at our favorite hotel in Calumet……the one with the saltwater pool that Russ is using as I write. I’m up and ready for this day, and can’t wait to visit with you again.

    I think it’s so funny that people think internet friends are imaginary…..I mean, Geez! some living soul had to type the words and post the pictures and share their heart song! Sometimes you meet the physical first and sometimes you don’t, but either way it’s the energy connection that matters. 🙂 See you soon dear friend! ~*~

    • Kathy says:

      Dear Susie Q, we shall be meeting in ONE HOUR! Hope you’re getting hungry! I sure loved staying at your favorite hotel in Calumet…told Barry it was my favorite motel in the Universe. OK, maybe the second. When we were kids we stayed in a hotel in Amarillo Texas that may rank #1. It had an indoor pool surrounded by plants. Glad you were the first imaginary friend I ever met!!

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  20. Reggie says:

    Hello Kathy – I really like that description of the ‘melting hug’… that meeting of the physical with the spiritual, mental and emotional… sooo true. Those kinds of hugs are the absolute best.

    From what I’ve read of your blogs over the many months, I definitely don’t regard you as an ‘imaginary’ friend, and if you’re ever in South Africa, we can prove to each other that we exist, complete with “smiles and feet, personality quirks and hairdos”! Giggle…

    • Kathy says:

      Hi, Reggie! Once I wrote an entire about melting hugs. So loved Carla’s description/image of it that I had to write a long blog about it. Thank you, thank you for your offer to get together in South Africa some day! Wouldn’t that be cool if it happened? Just imagining the adventures we would have…

      • Reggie says:

        Oh my gosh, that would be cool! We would have such fun, exploring all our spectacular landscapes and tucked-away coffee shops and of course all the important touristy places one just HAS to see, and taking hundreds and hundreds of photos for your blogs! 🙂

  21. Tom Mazur says:

    very good noticing and telling

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