Just like with everything else, friends come in all shapes and sizes - they also come from many different places and today I wanted to focus on long-distance friendships.
Ever since the internet arrived in my house (I was 13), I have been conversing with people from all over the world. Very quickly I was considering these people my friends and I was closer to them then I was to anyone I was at school with. Mostly because I really struggled with my friends in school. From being ignored for no reason, to being teased, to having to sit through sex talk, etc, I ended up flitting from one group of friends to the next like a yo-yo and never really feeling like I belonged. It became easier to deal with knowing that when I got home I could talk to my real friends. School and my friendships there meant nothing to me, the internet meant everything.
Before I continue on, I want to let you know that I know all about the problems with creepy people on the internet trying to lure children. I was aware then and I am aware now. This is in no way a post to say it doesn't happen, this is just my experience of how things panned out.
The people that I spoke to were people that I was writing with - we were roleplaying. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a game where you are on a forum and you have a character or two and you interact with other people's characters. I ended up on Harry Potter Roleplaying forums and really enjoyed coming up with plots and writing out scenes with my friends. It wasn't until I had been writing and talking to people for three years before I even considered meeting any of them. Three years meant that I was fairly sure they were who they said they were plus, it would take a lot of effort to keep up a charade for three years including writing on a forum daily so I was fairly confident I knew it wasn't a creep on the other end of the computer. But before I went, we all had a skype session as well, so we all know what everyone looked like too!
Meeting my first two internet friends was an amazing experience. It felt like we'd known each other for years - I mean, we had. We hugged for the first time and it was wonderful, and then we grabbed coffee and chatted together for hours. It was such an incredibly experience. I left them both promising to meet up with them again for sure. I never did. I have now, in fact, lost touch with them both which is incredibly sad but also a part of life. They were in my life when I needed them and I was in theirs when they needed me.
Since that first meeting, I've met a lot more of my online friends. And every single time it is an amazing experience. It's like we've known each other for years and that added goodness of actually seeing them and being able to hold them and hug them is incredible. Because as amazing as having internet friends is, having real life people around you for comfort is a good thing. It also makes the friendships stronger because you suddenly know for sure that the person you're conversing with is real and they're wonderful and amazing and always there if you need them.
These days most of my online friends are bloggers like myself - although I am still in touch with some of my roleplaying buddies, ten years and counting! - and, fortunately, a lot of them are based in the UK and we get to meet fairly regularly with all of the blogger meet ups, etc. But there are still some online friends that I have never met and, honestly, may never have the opportunity to meet due to where they are based in the world. Such as two of my most favourite people living in Australia.
And thus I wanted to end this post on the downside of online friendships. Because although I love having people I can talk to with similar interests, people who have helped keep me sane over the years - sort of - and who have stopped me from doing the terrible things my brain sometimes tells me to do. There are drawbacks to only knowing someone online. You can never hold them and hug them. You can never look into their eyes. You can often feel hopeless when they're struggling because you're miles away unable to really help. You can feel sad and alone yourself because they're not online when you need them and even if they were, they couldn't help you anyway. It might not be the person you think it is.
But even with those downsides, I wouldn't stop having my online friends. My online friends are the ones that know me inside out. They've heard my deepest secrets and healed my deepest hurts. They metaphorically hug me when I need it and wipe the tears from my eyes. My soul is open to them and it's wonderful. All of my online friends have become closer to me than most of my offline friends and once again, knowing they're there helps me get through each day. And, in this wonderful world of technology, I am also able to contact them whenever and wherever I am.
So to me online friendships are just as, if not more valid, than offline friendships. They're the glue that keeps me from breaking, the crutches that keep me from falling. Without them, I'd have crumbled a long time ago.