Why is it so hard to write about friendships forged in the era of the internet?
Is it because these friendships were made online, in cyberspace? Is it because these friendships were, in other words, first forged in the realm of virtual reality where things are only as real as… I don’t know… only if – if – they appeared on our computer screens? Is it hard to write about them and our endless conversations – always taking flight on their own without a roadmap or guide in hand – because their presence and our friendships mess with my reel/real persona and alterna-realities? Or… could it simply be that it is difficult to write about these strangers-turned-friends because for the first time, I am writing about people who I-know-you-know-we-all-know actively read this space – those who, simply put, have unmasked who I am figuratively, literally, and physically?
For the record, this isn’t a bad thing. Not at all. But – there’s a but.
These days, I think I am present, really present, in my real life – note the added word real. Life at home, like I’ve admitted many times before, is different and takes a life of its own in the physical world. Despite all that I’ve written and shared here, these stories and narratives, while they play key roles, in reality still only make up fragments of my life as a whole. I’m certain my life is just like yours: havoc i.e. filled with people, responsibilities and mundane, household chores as well as familial and friendly pastime activities… you get the picture. My life at home is full. Unlike the last two years abroad in grad school where I was present but almost always by myself – sometimes to the point I forget that I am a real person because my online persona seemed significantly more animated than I am – these days, I am present. I mean it in every sense of the word.
But you know what’s interesting? I think my two lives – reel and real – are colliding, intersecting… and I feel okay about it. I think. Slightly over a month ago, some of us blog-pals-turned-Twitter-pals-turned-friends decided to take our years-long (online) friendship one step further: Skype. For four weeks, we spent Friday or Saturday night, once a week, in each other’s company. Virtually? Not-virtually? I don’t know how to put it. Phone Skype, so – no videos. We’d talk the night away, literally, until it’s 3 AM on my side of the world. The longest I’d stayed up to chat was our last Skype session, which if I recall right, was a crazy 4-hour. I know the question probably swirling in your mind is, “But what do you guys talk about that your Skype sessions would go on for 4 hours?!”
And here’s something that’s also new to me: I think what surprised me and still do, is how well we connect with each other on a wholly fundamental level. Sure we connected because of Asian dramas, but so far every time we talk, this topic doesn’t come up until two hours later or until we’ve exhausted talking about our lives and lamented life questions with no easy answers that often plague us. Asian entertainment is to be frank, something (easy) to fall back on if our conversation hits a halt because it’s common knowledge that it’s a shared interest, but no – we actually spend the bulk of those 3-4 hours talking about ourselves with each other.
It’s a new, surprisingly profound, maybe-not-virtual experience.
I wrote this about a month ago and have tried, over and over, to finish it – because those conversations mean a lot and these girls mean something in my life and have since made up part of my small-but-close-knit friendship circle. Yet, how odd. I can’t seem to write this to a definitive ending. On one hand, the narratives are already formulated, complete, in my mind – they’re just waiting to spill out on (e)paper but on the other, there’s this nagging feeling that this is like summer camp. You know, the kind where we’re caught up in the moment – the now – because we’re experiencing something meaningful together; time feels like it’s at a standstill; words and laughter are flowing so steadily that hey, why break the mood?
And then summer’s over and a month passed without anymore conversations and… reality.
To be honest, for the longest time, maybe the reason I struggled so much and even now, still wary to write about this is because like I mentioned earlier, I’m writing about people who are active readers of this space. This is kind of scary because the way I always think of it is: to everyone who wonders or gets scared thinking I am or will be writing about you – I am.
And uh, maybe you don’t want things written about you – if there are any, maybe you don’t want to be reading them.
I still don’t know where I’m going with this topic – it’s all scattered and convoluted in my mind, but it’s been bugging me for weeks to no end now. I think it’s because I’m thinking about friendships a lot lately; those I’ve lost, some I’m at present fighting and working to keep, the rest I’m keeping alive via casual and occasional updates while accepting the different phases we’re all going through, and coming to terms with each person’s revised priorities… adulthood taking over, basically.
And whenever I think about these ‘online friends’, I don’t know where to place them in my life and maybe more importantly, where to compartmentalize and categorize them in my shelf of thoughts in the library within my mind. I know I’m overthinking this – surely, it’s not as complicated as I make it out to be; I know. Yet there’s another part of me that can’t silence this nagging thought that I don’t even know one of the girl’s last name, for instance. I’ve only met one of them in-person, as another example. I’ve only held broken and fragmented text messages and email conversations with the third. I text-messaged ‘listened’ to the fourth about two weeks ago, though in reality we’ve only cyberspace-met a month plus ago. If we all met in my real life – the physical world – I’m certain we’d all be fast friends. Herein lies the dilemma.
I think I am, at the end of the day, a ‘physical person’. As much as words anchor my heart and soul and is the tool that I use to make sense of the world – they must be complemented with physical, tangible actions. I’m not talking material wealth but something solid – there’s nothing quite like in-person interactions, in the end. Skype is a great tool that is representative of how far we’ve come in technological keep-in-touch terms, but its limitation is something that I fuss over. Maybe many of you reading this are fine with it – better this than nothing, that sort of viewpoint – and that’s fine, I’m just the kind of person who, after a connection is made or identified, would go, “Hey! Let’s meet up for coffee or meals sometime?”
Because eight out of ten times, the best conversations in my life thus far have all been intimately in-person.
You get where I’m going with this? My life isn’t linear, hardly so – but in my mind it is.
I readily admit this: I am paranoid and rigid such that mentally, I meticulously categorize things and people – it’s not confusing to me, usually, whether you’re a close friend or an acquaintance or just “Yeah, she’s someone I sorta know.” Until now. There’s also this that I don’t know whether to deny or confirm: am I so insecure that I need something physical, tangible before I’m able to call someone a friend in the truest sense? Am I so insecure that after four consecutive weeks of meaningful, cross-continent late-night conversations, the month of silence that followed has burst my bubble?
Yet I continue to share and post things – thoughts – on Twitter and here, updating those of you who are in these mediums of my whereabouts and real-time random thoughts …many of which, ironically, I would never voice out to ‘real-life friends’.
Is it me, in the end – am I making this difficult on myself because I overthink every damn thing in my life? Is it simply that we showcase different sides of ourselves, putting up different personas depending on our company? Is it as simple as that? Could it also be that it’s my fault – again, as usual – for trying to put a definition of one thing on another thing?
But it bugs me. It bugs me, a lot, that words are essential in cyberspace – they are our tool and vice here. They are also, conveniently, what many of us are most comfortable using …so much that I can’t help but wonder if we’ve – we are – abusing them. Saying things we don’t really mean because they’re the politically correct – according to the laws of cyberspace – responses or commentaries. Cooing aw and ah, extending virtual hugs and kisses for decorum and saying “I’m sorry for your loss” as we, in reality, continue to scroll down our feed and like silly photos of our favorites idols and stars.
You get where I’m going with this?
There’s a lot of sincerity in cyberspace, no doubt – hell, blogphilic is exhibit A because if it’s not then I’m an eight-years-and-counting ultimate hypocrite – and I’m not implying that everything we put out especially those towards each other are lies or simply ‘online manners’ …I think it’s simply because I find myself feeling, genuinely caring about certain people – the number grows by the month, it seems – I’ve befriended online yet I’m equally guilty with politically correct responses and at the same time, can’t seem to make sense of my own feelings of warmth because hell, forget how you look like or where, specifically, you are in the world – I don’t even know some of y’all real first names and neither do you with mine.
I still don’t know where I’m going with this topic – this is literally an exercise and classic example of, “Let me just write these thoughts down and see where I end up by the end of this…” which explains why this theme is still in parts. Here’s what I’m trying to make sense of: I think reel and real are finally colliding mentally, emotionally, and physically for me in ways I don’t know how to avoid anymore – like it’s not funny anymore when I get weird stares and obvious worried looks from my siblings about my safety and well-being whenever I mention or talk about my ‘online friends’ – and it’s not that I’m fearful of you guys – so far, none of you who I interact closely with are creeps… – but I think I feel a kind of gap that I can’t close and partly why I’m not able to is because I’ve no idea if this gap is reel – virtual – or real – like, real.
You can call my BS now and tell me quit it, I get it. But honest, I’ve been trying to make sense of this maddening confusion because on one hand, I’m trying to come to terms with the ever-gnawing bittersweet sadness I feel about losing friends – caused by physical distance, natural growing apart etc – and balance that with friends who I would like to fight for and work to keep. Amid my scattered, haywire thoughts, I don’t know where friends like those girls, for instance, stand in my real life – this physical one where I exist in full flesh and frequently hold intimate, meaningful conversations in-person. Because not to discredit them – not at all, forgive me if I come off sounding this way – but in this physical, real world; technically, they don’t exist. That gap I was talking about – it doesn’t exist either. Does this make them, us, any less real to each other?
Honestly. Why is it so damn hard to write about friendships forged in the era of the internet?
(But no, I am not yet done trying to write about this)