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!
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.
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:
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.
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!”
“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!