By: Sasha Dhesi
When I was in the eleventh grade, I befriended a girl named Neba. It was a pretty typical friendship: we were two girls who understood each other’s situations, had mutual interests and talked every other day or so about our lives and whatever was taking up our time, whether it be school, music or anything else two 17-year-old teenagers would encounter. It was a typical friendship, save for one thing: we met online and have never seen each other in real life.
With the advent of new technology come innovative ways of using it. Many people will join online communities based off of a mutual interest, whether it’s something as simple as a mutual love for a TV character to sharing the same political beliefs, and it is common for people in these communities to reach out to each other and form relationships. Unlike many real life relationships, the friends you make online definitely have something in common with you.
Despite this, when you say, “I met so-and-so online,” you’re met with many discouraging questions surrounding the validity of your friend’s identity and their true intentions. Shows like Dateline: How to Catch a Predator and Catfish serve as aggressive reminders to what could happen to those who trust too easily.
But these are extremes that shouldn’t represent the norm. More often than not, online communities give people a chance to explore their interests with like-minded people and build lasting relationships when their offline world is depressing. This is especially true for LGBTQ+ folks who have the misfortune to live in homophobic areas or are uncomfortable talking about their sexuality with people in real life. This is also true for a kid who really likes art but couldn’t share it with her offline friends. If you were to interact with someone a few times a week for a year who connects with you in a way that people in your offline world don’t, that person is a friend. It doesn’t matter that those interactions occurred over a forum, a blog or a chat room.
In my experience, online friends give you an interesting perspective on your life: they’re aware of it, but due to the physical distance, they’re often able to give an impartial view. Your offline friends may be swayed by how charming your cruel boyfriend is, but your online friends, assuming you tell them what’s going on, will tell you what you need to hear. More often than not, the distance allows people to be more candid about their lives and garner the emotional support they need without the risk of having it brought out to their community. Online friends give people an outlet to express themselves without fear.
However there is room for this to be abused. There have been many cases in which people take advantage of someone’s vulnerability and hurt the person beyond compare. But this is a risk that is undertaken whether the relationship is online or off. To be in any sort of relationship, platonic and romantic, means to put yourself at risk of being hurt. A friend knows your fears and intimate details about you. It’s just as likely that you’ll meet a horrible person at a bar as it is online.
The Internet is a wonderful tool to find people who share your interests, and carries its own risks. Many friendships are formed through it, and even something as simple as recognizing someone’s username in a forum can lighten someone’s day.
As for Neba and I, we’re still friends today despite the fact that we both stopped using that forum last year, and both of us continue to have offline relationships of our own. Balance, after all, is key.
Photo Credit: Adam Roberts