Love Is Not What You Think It Is: On Internet Friendships

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I have a regular date, every Sunday, for the next seven weeks.  It is a very romantic date.
It is with someone I have never met.
See, I’ve known my friend K. for years, having friended her on LiveJournal, and we’re both big Game of Thrones fans.  So when the Game of Thrones TV series began, we watched it together, texting each other snarky comments about the actors, asking whether that happened in the book or it’s an HBO invention, wondering what episode Character X is going to get knocked off.  This started off as a “Hey, we’re both here,” and evolved into a weekly event where, after a late dinner where I missed Game of Thrones but missed K. more, the date has become unstoppable.  Sunday at 9:00 is when I snuggle up in Gini’s lap and give my time to K.
And it’s very, and oddly, romantic.  I’ve seen pictures of K., and she’s a cutie. (And not just the model-quality, posed photos – we have a habit of sending each other “Look at the hair I woke up with!” texts.)  We text each other when we’re down, giving advice on romantic entanglements and career stuff.  I’ve even got pre-approval to smooch K. should we ever meet, which seems unlikely, as she’s a thousand miles away and neither of us can really afford to travel (or at least I can’t afford the vacation time between cons and family get-togethers).
Yet K. and I feel very loving towards each other during Game of Thrones.  We text hugs to each other during the week, but GoT is the one time of week where we’re completely synchronous – most of our interactions involve tossing out a text or email, to be read whenever, but come Sunday we’re both seated in the same space, as close as we can get to being next to each other.
I didn’t realize how strange this all was until last night, when K. missed our date because she was in the ER.  Some kind of infection.  She was too sick to text, nauseous, sad.  And I worried about her the whole night as I would for any close friend, checking my phone at every buzz and waking up to instantly check Facebook for status updates.
She’s all right, thankfully.  But the point is, K. is a closer friend to me than many of my real-life friends.  I’ve certainly shared more emotionally with her than I have with a bunch of people I see on a semi-regular basis.  I was deeply concerned with her well-being.  And if she’d really needed me to, for some bizarre reason, I would have flown out to see her.
That’s not an Internet friendship; it’s a friendship.
And I think of all the people who go, “Well, you can’t really know someone until you meet them,” and maybe that’s just part of the way I communicate with people – but the folks who I’ve corresponded with extensively have inevitably been as I knew them.  Maybe people are strangely fronting on the ‘net, or just drawn to the wrong people, but by the time I’ve emailed with someone back and forth for a year, I have a pretty accurate idea of what they’re like.
And I think of all those folks who think, “Well, they’re just internet friends, they’re not real,” and I feel very sad for them.  What a small world they must live in, to have to touch and sniff someone to feel connected to them.  To be restricted to such a physical, mundane quality before they can clasp hands and trust.
Me?  I feel blessed in that I can use my intellect to find wonderful people and connect to them with this intensity through nothing but words.  I have many, many wondrous friends within a dinner’s reach of me in Cleveland – and that is a delight, as Cleveland is full of so many grand people that I can’t possibly hope to see them all with the amount of time they deserve, and so I spend my days constantly feeling that I should be getting out more. I remember the days when I was stuck in an apartment in Ypsilanti with no real-life friends, and remember how isolated and lonely that made me feel, having only words for friends.
But I also have a lot of friends who are pretty much only available to me through words – and yes, I may meet up with my sweeties periodically, but they live in different towns.  And so what tethers us is flurries of texts and emails and silly pictures.  That’s real.  That’s real enough to cheer me up when I’m down, to rouse my ardor with the right set of beautiful words, to share happinesses in way that have me jumping for joy.  And my life would be so much poorer if I could only get that joy through being within five feet of them physically.
I’m not saying that a texted *hug* is more comforting than a real hug – that’d be foolish – but I am saying that sometimes the advice I’ve gotten through these typed words has helped me in ways that only a real friend could do.
In the meantime, I live a strange life.  Half of me is here, typing on a keyboard.  The other half is in Florida, standing by K.’s bedside, it’s in Michigan, standing in a lawyer’s office as she works, it’s in Wisconsin in a house I’ve never been in but have seen pictures of the new kitchen, it’s in a cheap bar in France, it’s in a new apartment in Oregon, it’s in a hundred different places with wonderful friends who I may have only seen digitally, but dammit they count.
And that’s a privilege and a pleasure.  I feel a deep, deep sorrow for those who don’t get it.  Because I fished a wonderful wife out of nothing but words, which evolved into the deepest and greatest and most satisfying love of my life…. and that love was every bit as real when we were just emailing each other back and forth on Compuserve as it is when she sits next to me in our living room.
This is real.  And this digital life is as painful as so-called real-life friends, and as loving, and as complicated, and as messy, and as happy.  And I thank everyone who contributes to that with an email, or a text, or a comment, because I know more of you than you think, and I think about you more than you know.
Message ends.

5 Comments

  1. Lyn Belzer-Tonnessen
    Apr 15, 2013

    Amen.

  2. Sara Harvey
    Apr 15, 2013

    <3

  3. LaShawn
    Apr 22, 2013

    Sweet!

  4. Johnlava
    Apr 26, 2013

    I love this!! absolutely true.

  5. livelaughlovedream3
    May 6, 2013

    Thank you. I completely agree.

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