Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Online Friendship

Recently, my blogging friend Macaholiq8 posted a question asking “Do You Take Online Friendships Seriously?” The question pops up often, along with the “can men and women be friends?” question.

I like questions like that. You think the answer is easy, you have an automatic response, and then you find yourself days later re-visiting the question, pondering the question. That’s a good question, isn’t it, when it comes back and haunts you and makes you think some more?

In social environments, my mother trained me well. I know how to be pleasant, how to make small talk, how to amuse people with anecdotes that are short and funny. I know how to mingle, I can put people at ease. I have a wide range of connections; I have a lot of friends, i.e. people I know socially.

Only one of these friends knows that I blog.

There is another level of friend, friends with whom friendship has developed slowly, and usually cemented by some event during which we connected at a deeper level. I know one blogger, for example, face-to-face. I liked her anyway, but when my Father died, she sent me her real name and phone number and told me to call her. You know how wary I am – her compassion and grace, her trust, brought me to tears. She is the one exception to my “stay anonymous” rule; she broke through the barrier by her one act of grace – and by her body of work, which helped me to know her temperament and her character.

Most of my friendships occur online these days, but through e-mails keeping me up to date with those whose friendships I have cherished over the years:

* My college friend
* My childhood-live-across-the-creek-in-Alaska friend
* My Chinese-Mormon-Army Wife Friend
* Several mentors, hobby-buddies, church buddies, expat-abroad buddies, as well as family members, some of whom are also buddies!

AdventureMan is my very best buddy. When we met, my sister was getting married in the Heidelberg castle, and there was a lot to be done. I didn’t have a license to drive in Germany, and AdventureMan would come and get me and take me places like the florist’s or the officer’s club or wherever I needed to go to run an errand that needed to be run. We weren’t dating; he was just very kindly ferrying me around. As he would drive, we would have good conversations. The night my sister got married, he looked at me and realized he wasn’t going to see me again if he didn’t ask me out. We’ve been best friends ever since.

Friendship, deep friendship, doesn’t always mean you’re going to agree, in fact sometimes it is only your very best friend who can give you bad news and make you listen. When friends tell me about big fights with other friends, I tell them (whoa! when did I become a mentor???) that fighting and even hatred is not the opposite of love, disengagement and indifference and not caring is the opposite of love.

I have a good friend now in Kuwait who is helping another friend walk through a terrible situation. The friend gets really really angry with her, and even says behind her back (and to her face) “I hate it when people try to tell me how to live my life.” Because the helping friend is loyal and committed to the friendship, she persists. It’s like dealing with an animal in pain, when we are in emotional pain and don’t want to hear something, we might strike out at the person bearing the message. It takes a very special friend to stay the course, to be committed through that kind of emotional pain.

As I see it, there are an infinite number of levels of friendship, and different friendships for different times in your life, and different needs.

In times of crisis, when a friend needs someone to talk to who can keep her mouth shut, I’m there. If you are my friend and want to spend a lot of time with me, you’re going to be disappointed. If you need me to head up a project, I’m there. If you need me to head up a group – no way. Some people, mostly introverts, find me a great friend, and others, those who are good at hanging out, find me lacking.

I DO think you can be friends with bloggers and never meet them. In the days of snail mail, people had pen-pals who lived in distant places. They might write for decades and never meet, and yet there was a lasting and genuine relationship that I would call friendship. We meet in a realm of ideas and experiences. Meeting in person, the differences might overshadow that which we share in common.

You might think I am just blah-blah-blah-ing, but there is a method in my madness. I think we relate to one another and influence one another in ways we are just beginning to realize. I think there is great value in what we gain from our online friendships.

Later I will post on a hotel AdventureMan and I stayed in, a hotel I would never have known about or heard of were it not for the recommendation of a Kuwaiti former blogger (one who I hope will one day blog again) Gastronomica who now owns and operates The Slider Station and who hasn’t blogged for quite a while. His posts were so educated, so interesting and so reliable that I truly miss his presence in the blog world.

I am guessing that the secret to maintaining friendships is to understand who the friend is and what he/she is capable of. One of the great pitfalls is expecting more from the relationship than the friend, or the relationship can merit. Different friends bring different gifts to the table; I think you need them all to some extent, and it is up to you to determine to what level YOU want the relationship to go, depending also on the capabilities and needs of the other.

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January 7, 2008 - Posted by | Blogging, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Locard Exchange Principal, Relationships

14 Comments »

  1. By far this is the most rational explanation of online (and even offline) friendships.

    When I asked that question a friend of mine asked me few days before whether I’m seeing any benefits in spending all this time on the internet. I told him I sure do, I have made lots and lots of friends online. He laughed sarcastically saying no online friendship is a true friendship. That’s why I asked on my blog if people take them seriously or not and it turned out not a lot of people do.

    As for myself I do consider online friendships true on a certain level as you mentioned.

    Comment by MacaholiQ8 | January 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. As far as I am concerned, online has just enhanced friendships I already have, and expanded the number of kinds of friendship opportunities out there, Mac. I think you see it pretty much the same way.

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 7, 2008 | Reply

  3. Not very much, but if they are interested(like occasional wishes,comments,etc) I’did appreciate it and make no point in trying to meet them offline.

    Even before the internet I’ve had pen friends which was fun in a way

    Comment by Joel | January 8, 2008 | Reply

  4. What an insightful post. I do believe you can develop on-line friendships, for in many ways we bare our souls on the blogsphere than we tend to do in ‘real life.’ I’ve thought quite a bit about the male vs. female friendship bit too…can men and women every be friends? It really just depends on the situation. It is inevitable that we may develop feelings for someone and vice versa but I really believe you ought to steer clear of anything more than an amicable rapport. Chances are you may loose out on a wonderful on-line friend.

    Same goes for revealing your identity. I recently revealed my true identity to someone I know in real life, a guy, who wanted to ‘get to know me better’ but it was not like that between us in real life. Because I felt it was necessary to do so or else be rude and stop talking to them, which is what I didn’t want, I told them who I was. Suffice to say it was an awkward disaster for both of us, I think. And yet I also told another male friend in a neighboring state who I was and we are very good (platonic) friends now. So I guess, just like in real life, on-line friendships really just depend on the person and the click you have with them.

    Long comment!

    Comment by harmonie22 | January 8, 2008 | Reply

  5. Joel, I agree. Not all friendships are defined the same way. 🙂

    Harmonie22, you know you are always welcome to comment, as long as you would wish, because you always have such interesting thoughts, and I love hearing them.

    I DO have male friends, and you CAN keep friendships within boundaries. Even with female friends, lines have to be drawn, don’t they?

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 8, 2008 | Reply

  6. Goodness, I need to be more careful with my choice of words and with what I say when I comment, don’t I? Absolutely you can have on-line male friends- and female friends. I focused specifically on “can men and women ever really be friends?” which wasn’t even the point of your post but rather a theme on my mind recently. I’ve met some brilliant women too who I consider on-line friends; friendships with members of your own gender,in Arabic culture, are less complicated and without baggage. For me, anyway. Thanks for letting me explain and I hope that I didn’t offend you or give the wrong impression.

    Comment by harmonie22 | January 9, 2008 | Reply

  7. No! No! Harmonie22, don’t watch your words here! You didn’t offend me at all! You are always welcome.

    Comment by intlxpatr | January 9, 2008 | Reply

  8. Wow, I never knew my blog had a such a lasting effect !! Actually i have so much to post about, but the backlog is so big and my schedule is so busy that i could only read blogs (sometimes). I think I may go back to writing sometime in the near future.

    Comment by Equalizer | February 12, 2008 | Reply

  9. Hey hey hey! Welcome back! You MUST read the post about The Talisman! YOU will love the Talisman – hope you can take a good vacation soon, Equalizer. And I hope you are doing well with Slider Station 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 12, 2008 | Reply

  10. hello i want trustful friend who likes me and i like him/her
    i want you dear and most welcom.

    Comment by Asad | August 3, 2008 | Reply

  11. LLOOOLLL

    Comment by intlxpatr | August 3, 2008 | Reply

  12. I am meeting an online friend of 9 years this weekend and really enjoyed coming across your blog!

    Comment by SKidd | August 7, 2008 | Reply

  13. Good luck, SKidd!

    Comment by intlxpatr | August 9, 2008 | Reply

  14. wow,this site has really made me see comon sense about online friendships,I guess I will have to be more careful on my leval of my expressions and the way the other friend reads my expressions,thanks for the eye opner,good stuff

    Comment by jess | July 14, 2009 | Reply


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