I’ve realized that I’m not really cut out for Internet relationships. Maybe it’s more that I wasn’t properly prepared. It’s been gnawing at me for awhile…through a few losses and gains, that maybe the ability to “turn it off” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Most of us can see the supposed benefits of an Internet friendship, right? I mean, it’s wonderful really because you can spend all day chatting it up with various friends, sharing your life with them and learning about their life as well. You can be there for them, and they for you at almost a moment’s notice (barring real life, of course). There’s also the benefit of being able to contemplate your words before you “say” them without the person knowing just how long (or not, lol) you thought through what you said. The ability to meet people from all around the world, easily find people who share your interests, and the ever important, number one benefit: The option of turning off the window to that world and going back to your real life.
Is a friendship really a friendship if you have the ability to just bow out of it at any moment? I dare say anyone who has been on the net for more than five minutes has already made, and lost touch with, at least one friend. I think back to the people I’ve met over the years I’ve spent on this darn machine (or its’ predecessor) and they fall into a few categories. There are the MIA, those that just *poof*, disappeared. I miss them, I wonder where they went and what they’re doing…and being who I am, I wonder why I wasn’t important enough to receive a quick note or explanation. But then, when I think about it, I think I’ve done it myself. It’s not that I meant to disappear exactly, but things taper naturally and the newness of a relationship wears off. Your email address changes and you just don’t bother sending it to everyone…to them, you disappeared, but to you it’s just a matter of practicality. You can only learn so much about a person and then, without being able to get together and really discuss your life, things just get too difficult. It becomes less about fun and it becomes less interesting. Things start to take more of the shape of a regular friendship and that requires work – it requires give and take. It requires that you use your valuable computer “escape” time to sometimes make someone else feel better instead of just entertaining yourself. It requires that you spend time and talk…even when you don’t necessarily feel like it. But…doesn’t that sort of negate the purpose of the net relationship to begin with? Sometimes I admit, I have wondered if Internet friendships are really about friendships with ourselves. Think about it, why are message boards so much fun? Well, they’re fun because we can talk about how WE feel at anytime of the day or night about almost any subject. We can be entertained by the opinion of others. We can get a little boost when we know we’ve made someone else smile. We can hear about other people’s problems, and let’s face it; it’s human nature to feel just a touch better about our own lives when we hear how tough it is for someone else. That doesn’t take away from the well wishes we send their way, it’s just a fact of life. Everything can be put in perspective in a moment.
Once you’ve gotten to know your friends and you’ve established rapport, it can be great for a while. I’ve found that it’s great as long as everyone keeps the efforts up. It’s like a house of cards though, because once someone makes a change, gets busy or just plain bored, things start to change. Change isn’t always bad (or so I tell myself) and the great thing about the net is that there is always someone else out there who is worth getting to know. Of course, the problem is that there is only so much room, right? You can’t have twenty-five confidants, and there really is only so much time in a day. New people come, old favorites feel pushed out or looked over. Dynamics change, people change, but the steady flow of talking never changes, well except the voice, that is.
There are also those that don’t completely disappear, but the relationship goes as far as it can and then you’re both sort of stuck, wondering what to do about it. Two people share all kinds of information and advice, share their very lives really and then *uh oh* …we’ve sort of used each other up. No one is getting anything out of the relationship anymore but no one wants to cut it completely off either, so it sort of lingers out there basically unfinished and a reminder of how easy it is to take things lightly when you haven’t had to look the person in the face. I dare say (again) that most of us have shared things over the Internet that we wouldn’t have shared nearly as quickly with someone we met a month ago if that meeting was a real, in person, meeting. The Internet affords us the ability to bounce personal problems off of a room full of stranger/friends, help those same (or different) people with their problems and then shut them off if we feel like it. That’s something you do NOT get to do in real life. It’s definitely one of the benefits of an electronic connection. Real life friends require that you answer back when they talk to you. They require that you be there for them like they were for you…and apart from not answering your phone ever again, you’re kind of stuck with either being part of the friendship or having the guts to end it. On the Internet though, there is an in between…how convenient.
Do I sound bitter? I’m not actually. I’m just learning. I’m learning and discovering more about friendships, acquaintances, the difference…and their repercussions. The third group of Internet friends is the kind that actually seems lasting. The types that after a LOT of time spent talking and just “being” there…you realize you still actually feel like that person is there for you. That’s not to say that all three groups wouldn’t be there, because actually they probably would when the call went out. But then so would a stranger passing by if I yelled loud enough, lol. Even this group, precious though they are, can never be taken for granted. Any one, at any moment, could just decide they need a break…from you, from everyone, from life. It’s just different than your friend from down the road…barring death or kidnapping, she doesn’t just leave without warning. Computers turn off very easily though, and any difficult, stressful, boring or annoying ties turn off with it. I’ve been lucky, overall. But watching it happen and realizing the fragileness of any electronic connection makes one take assessment from time to time.
Life is so short, and I know that well. Life is also time consuming (that’ll keep you busy thinking, lol) and at some point every person has a moment when what they’re willing to spend that time on becomes very clear. I had that moment four and a half years ago and some of us are lucky (?) enough to be left with a constant reminder of that moment. Every so often, it’s imperative to reevaluate your life and your relationships. Know what is important to you; know how hard you’re willing to work to keep it. Know that if you aren’t willing to work at keeping something, say so and move on so that others can do the same. The Internet itself is fragile in a way, so if you’re counting on it to keep your friendships strong you may be making a mistake. Information may travel at warp speed on the net, but emotions and feelings don’t. I’m making it my goal to never forget that, never forget that those people aren’t just cute little posting names or email addresses, they go a bit deeper than that. I need to be careful to honor what I get into, and to know when I can no longer do so…and I need to do it all with the same respect I’d give a real life acquaintance of the same caliber. I’ve watched other people do Internet relationships very well and I’m learning from them. I’m learning to be a bit more careful about putting myself out there and about what I should and shouldn’t expect in return. It is well worth the time and effort to reevaluate and be sure of where you invest…I have the friends to prove that, I’ve been very lucky that way.
Who knew something that requires the push of one button to power up would be this complicated?
Take a couple minutes today and remind your Internet friends that you appreciate them, you never know when you might wish you’d put in a few extra minutes, trust me.
**Disclaimer – In the interest of keeping the friends I have, lol, you can rest assured that none of you actually prompted this little rumination. The person who did, unfortunately, will not be reading this. Thanks for allowing me to share something I needed to get out. I’ll be back in a few days with soaps on the brain, I promise!
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