Do you believe online relationships are real, honest to goodness friends? I do. I think a lot of people my age think that they have their limits, but I will stand up and say that I can and do embrace them fully.
My first experience with relating to people online began over seven years ago when I joined an online forum for a band I loved. For quite a while I wanted to stay anonymous and protected all aspects of my personal identity – real name, where I lived, family status, etc. But then I really started to get to know these people. We were talking about way more than just the band and their music. I even had two sisters who were also on the forum and it became quite apparent that we were a sister group. So, anonymity started to lessen. A different, more tightly knit online group was formed and we all got to know each other much better. People started meeting each other. In Real Life. This group had people from all over the world – US, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Australia, Finland, Sweden, South Africa, Croatia, Belgium, and I am sure others that I can’t remember. People were traveling to meet each other, to go to shows together, to make lasting friendships. I also started meeting up with people from around the US for concerts of all sorts of bands and people came to me as well. I went to *London* to see a show and stayed with a group of these people! All the while, we were still growing our online friendships. I’ve had subset online groups going where 4 or 5 of us end up talking about particular issues for months (or years in some cases) and some of this migrated to Facebook. Some of these people I will never meet. Some of them I went to Ireland to see when I took my first solo trip in 2014. But either way, they are real and true friends.
There are other kinds of online relationships too. Twice I have been involved with men online as well. Now don’t be aghast, I met both of them in person first but neither lived local to me. They were short, intense things and although I didn’t see them very often, it was what I needed at the time. I don’t regret being involved with someone where our primary interactions were online, but I can’t say I would do it again.
Which brings me to the newest kind of online relationship I have started. I am currently at a place in my life where professional counseling would do me good. I have been less than impressed with the therapists I have used in the past, but I know some great ones exist (my son’s is a gem!) Knowing that I am comfortable expressing myself in writing (and I really like the idea of being able to think through what I am saying several times before committing to it…) I embarked on an experiment with online counseling. My therapist is someone I email. Any time I want, as often as I want. She emails me back, usually the next day. We’ve even had a live chat session. I have been surprised by how well it works for me. The ability to “access” someone anytime I want (rather than once a week) is surprisingly valuable. One of the biggest upsides is that I have someone to “talk” to who’s business it is to listen to me. I don’t feel like I am burdening a friend with my sorrows, my troubles, my whining. Sometimes I have to talk about something over and over and over before I get off my butt and do something about it and friends get tired of that. Therapists, not so much. Sure she asks me the tough questions, but if I ask her to back off, she does – for a bit and then circles back later when it is more appropriate. I know there are many people out there who would say that too much is lost when a therapist isn’t face to face with their client. And I agree there are many, many instances where that would be a valid concern. But for me, this seems to be the right level of support and I know that I was willing to try it because I believe in online relationships and know that they are real.
That’s my experience. Fairly varied, all successful in my eyes. What a world this is when my best gig partners live in New York, Austin, and Arizona, I’ve “dated” a man from a far away city, and my therapist is from the mid-west.