I have a good friend that said to me a few months ago, “Well, you know, this isn’t real life, right?” referring to my excitement about interactions on social media related to my blog. I quickly responded with, “Of course, I know it’s not real. I can just walk away from my computer any time.”
But then I started thinking.
I mostly responded that way because I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed that so much of my life is online now. I have a few friends that I see occasionally and I’m in a weekly Bible study where I connect with other “real-life” women. But for the most part, I’m connecting with people I have never actually met in person.
I also felt some of my deeper flaws coming to the surface: my struggle with making small talk and my lack of desire to be in social situations, particularly ones where I don’t know people well. But then I wondered if those are really flaws. I don’t like small talk, but I long to connect on deeper levels with other women. I long to share our stories together and relate with one another. I like to be in social situations where I know people and am known – where I’m accepted. I long to cut out the crappy discussions about the weather and the other woman’s new scarf and get to the good stuff that seems to take so long in real-life relationships.
Social media and blogging have given me an avenue to get to know people through their writing, their comments, their updates and tweets. It can be easier for some (if not most) people to be more open when they’re not face-to-face with a person. I find excitement in being able to give a voice to my thoughts that I’ve never had the courage or medium to do so in the past.
I’ve found that it’s easier to connect with women on social media than in real life. I can log onto my computer and chat with a number of friends at any time, sometimes all at once. Having kids makes it difficult to run over to a friend’s house or to have a play date that usually ends with our kids fighting, and I can forget talking on the phone with a friend when my kids are home – which is always.
A number of the mom-focused events or groups I’ve attended, left me feeling inadequate. I found that most moms were making every effort to show that they weren’t falling apart. To present themselves like the moms on the covers of Parenting magazine – like they had their crap together. Online, I can find moms that removed that pretention long ago. Moms that admit that sometimes they may not shower, but one or two times a week and that they screamed obscenities, in the heat of the moment, at their kids that day. I feel like I’m not alone for a change.
I’ve also seen a number of people on Twitter say things in reference to an argument that might have broken out on Twitter – yes, arguments on Twitter happen – like, “Why are people getting so upset, it’s not like Twitter is real life.” But Twitter is real life. Twitter and Facebook are made up of real people (minus the bots and spammers), with real issues and real feelings. Those real people can be hurt by harmful words and moved by inspiring or encouraging words.
Real life happens on the Internet. People make friends. People meet and get married. People have affairs. Real life happens. Precautions need to be taken, just like in real life, but denying that it’s anything less than real is ridiculous.
I understand that some people we meet online are wearing facades or can be out-right liars and total creepers. We have to be careful with whom we interact, but that’s true in every situation in life. Bigamy didn’t start with the invention of the Internet.
While I defend my online friendships, I agree that we all need friends in real life. There are things that Internet friends can’t do that real life friends or family can, specifically, anything physical. Internet friends can’t bring you a meal when tendonitis prevents you from picking up a pan to cook. They can’t watch your kids while you run to the doctor to have your first mammogram. And they can’t give you a hug when you’re having one of those days that make you realize why so many people become alcoholics. We need real life friends. But to minimize the friendships that some people make on social media is making those relationships seem less than what they are, less real.
Looking back and thinking about my friend’s statement, I think what she was really saying, what was underneath her statement, was, “I miss you. I don’t get to see as much of you anymore because you have all these new, convenient friends.” And I recognize that I need to make a better effort to connect with my real-life friends. It can be a little more work, but as I’ve written, I think they’re important and necessary, just like my online, “real-life” friends.