The internet can be a toxic place sometimes.
From people who ruin fandoms with their toxicity, to individuals being targeted and harassed simply because of an opinion that differs, there’s a lot about being online that’s stressful, disheartening and anxiety-inducing.
Having said that though, the opposite of that can be just as true.
The internet can be a place where hope and faith collide by means of a single tweet, an adorable cat pic or an exchange that can and has often lead to lifelong friendships.
Some of the best people I’ve come to call best friends are the ones with whom I’ve first made a connection online.
I’m definitely not knocking meeting people in other social situations (far from it), but as someone who suffers from social anxiety disorder, meeting and connecting with people online beforehand has made the transition so much easier for me.
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Online spaces have become easy ones for me to navigate as I’m a lot more relaxed and don’t feel the pressure to perform on the spot.
In many ways, the fact that you have an idea of what someone’s like before getting to hang out with them not only provides you with more ways to break the ice, but the awkwardness that you often feel when meeting new people for the first time isn’t as magnified when you’ve already interacted with someone before.
One of my closest friends, Tallulah, and I bonded over books, gaming and shared views over the exhaustion of having to constantly be switched on and engaged at social events. We’re introverts who love hanging out together, but also understand the need to recharge our batteries before we can be amongst larger crowds of people again. Or even make plans to see each other again.
It took us a couple of months of really getting to know each other – through Facebook chats, Twitter and the occasional Whatsapp message before we decided that we’d finally meet up and make a day of it.
Our plan was for us to meet at her place, explore all the best bookstores, grab lunch and end the day off with a gaming session – a day that could have ended up being super awkward had we not had some aforementioned idea of what we’re both like, sealed the deal for me and a lifelong friendship was born.
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I really have social media networks to thank for helping me to make friends, because the truth is that I’m really, really awkward and bad at making small talk.
Over the years I’ve cultivated some wonderful friendships with people online – some friends I see more often, some I have yet to meet, some are overseas – I don’t always talk to many of them all the time, but when I do, it’s like we haven’t let any time pass us by.
It turns out, that I’m not the only one who has made some great friendships online.
Thobekile says that one of the best friendships she has is a long-distance one that relies on wi-fi and video chats:
"I have this friend that I’ve known ever since I was in 3rd year, so that makes it almost three years now. We started off talking on Twitter, and then we went on to emailing each other; and now we occasionally talk over the phone via video calling.
He’s a pretty dear friend to me and the feeling is mutual – we’ve shared most of our life-stories with each other. The craziest part about it all has to be that we’ve never met in person: he lives in the Eastern Cape and I’m in Jo'burg.
It’s a long-distance friendship that relies fully on good wi-fi connection and fulfilling conversations."
Tessa met a really good friend through Gumtree and still connects often via social media:
Other people on Twitter also shared stories about how they’ve formed connections:
80% of my life is made up of people I met first online. 2 examples:@SheBeeGee and I decided to live together before we'd even met in person.@gijane_zn @JustineJoyIt @RobsFrancis and make up the #goodvibetribe and have never - all 4 of us - been together IRL at the same time.— The Other Sarah Marshall (@cathjenkin) July 2, 2018
Some of my closest friends IRL are people I first met online. Some are geographically separated but we meet regularly for group chats via Skype.— I KILL YOUR DARLINGS (@nerinedorman) July 2, 2018
One tweet that particularly struck me was this one that I feel implies that some online friendships often feel more intimate because you know their hopes, dreams and fears more so than some of your family members.
I’ve made friends I’ve never met in RL, but I know more about their hopes, dreams, fears and daily life than I do of some of my immediate family.— Cat Hellisen (@CatHellisen) July 2, 2018
For over a decade I’ve seen them struggle, grow, change careers, have kids; celebrated and commiserarated with them. https://t.co/UBjzQc2CYP
I was reading an article on Psychologies.co.uk which asked if it’s actually possible to make real friends online and I think the tweet above more than answers that.
Of course the article goes on to add that it also depends on what your definition of a friend is – but I personally feel that’s the wrong way to look at it and that the question in itself is the wrong one to ask.
Yes there are different levels of friendship intimacy, but intimacy takes on many different forms and can be achieved in ways that transcend the traditional.
That’s the power of apps, Facebook and other forms of social media – it’s not a replacement for traditional methods of meeting people, it’s an enhancer of it. And honestly, a life raft for people who otherwise struggle to make connections offline.
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One might argue that friendships cultivated offline can stem from years of knowing each other but length doesn’t determine the strength of a friendship – genuine connection, unconditional support, encouragement, respect for each other’s values, desires and ideals, to mention but a few, do.
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