I think many people nowadays have friends they've made over the internet. Whether it's through blogs, Facebook, message boards, forums, or other social media platforms, it's not at all unusual for people to become virtual friends before they meet IRL (in real life). I see it happen all the time. I've even met up with gals I've met via computer, and I have even set up friend-connections (which I'll discuss another day). I know there's a lot of bad stuff on the internet, but there's some great stuff too.
For several years, I was an active member of an online Christian women's ministry message board community (very wordy for a descriptor, but I'm trying to keep it anonymous). I started out as a member, then became a member of the board's junior leadership team (it was structured with two tiers: the original "top" members, and the next-in-line "secondary" shepherding team. I always thought of it like the administrators were pastors, and the next group were the deacons). We had a unique and wonderful ministry to women, encouraging them and strengthening them in their walks with Christ. Real-life meet-ups happened, phone calls happened . . . friends online became friends in real life. It was a beautiful thing.
When Facebook went public and people began migrating there, the message board started to fade away from disuse. Eventually the leadership decided to close it up, and the owner of the domain let it go. Of course there was a lot of Facebook-friending going on, and even a couple different alternate closed groups were created in order to keep the message board community going. But it was never, ever the same. I chose to leave the community group on Facebook when a couple of the members became openly outspoken about issues I felt strongly about but felt I couldn't discuss, and other members were becoming mired in negativity and politics.
Sometimes online community can be a beautiful thing, and sometimes not. I don't know any women who are online and on social media who don't feel pressure to show their best selves, or struggle with authenticity on the other side of their computer screens. What is right? What is wrong? How much "real" is too much? Or not enough? How opinionated can I be on Facebook without losing friends and alienating family members? Should I only post funny or happy things, or only political things and shun other views? I would even venture to say there is no such thing as a right answer, or balance, in online relationship. We are all trying to figure it out as we go.
So back to my online group. I am still friends on Facebook and through email with many of the ladies I met online ten or more years ago, and this year so far I've met four of these virtual friends in person (one of them I'd met before, but we reconnected when she invited me to stay with her since my daughter now goes to college nearby. Two I met on my trip home from delivering her to college, and one I met just this week when she drove by my town on her way to Florida).
Putting a face to a name, hugging a real live friend, watching their eyes light up when they talk with passion about anything and everything . . . that is friendship. But it all started with words on a screen. And that is friendship too.
To read the introductory post and find links for my whole #write31days series, click here.