of friendships forged in the era of the internet: epilogue.

…or this is just an intermission, I don’t know. I’m still not sure. There are one or two more big points I’d like to write about since I’m already on this topic and talking so honestly about it, but real life just decided to greet me with something – two things really – so pressing and real that this topic now feels trivial; one that I can no longer devote time and heart for.

But let’s stay on this topic for now, one last time.

It puzzles me, I’ll admit that much. It perplexes me, even though I have reminded myself dozens of time that there’s no need to make things complicated; likewise, there’s no need to turn a good thing awry. But here I am, rehashing old wounds again maybe because I’m curious how far I can go with this; how deep my understanding can reach; how many people will finally step up and tell me they’ve either had enough or relate totally. How many of us are true strangers to each other? Or is it that we are veiled friends …or are we, like I’d described in the earlier write-up, simply moments to each other?

I don’t have answers, but I have a not-so-little story and perspectives from a kindred soul.

Below is a reply to Part III written by my good friend Rosie (whose real name isn’t Rosie…), the second  – I think second – ‘online friend’ I met in-person. I was in Austin, Texas, where she lives, for spring break earlier this year. We hung out for two days, hiking and driving around and chatting the whole time. Great times. And to be honest, it’s because I recalled the conversation we had in a local Starbucks in Texas, chatting the evening away, upfront and candid with each other about being ‘online friends’ that I nudged her on Twitter asking if she could please read and share her thoughts on this.

At one point in our conversation, I remember going, “Honestly this whole scenario is weird for me,” and with a laugh, “I’ve always obsessed over staying veiled and anonymous, you know? It’s only recently that I thought hm, maybe it’s okay to be less guarded.” With a grin, she replied, “This is normal for me!” We laughed over our different takes and continued talking like the old friends we never were, yet maybe in our own ways – are.

So here it is, what she wrote in reply to my last write-up, probably my most honest on this topic. I decided to share because when I first read her comments at 230 AM two nights ago, her points hit every nerve that legit, I sat facing my Macbook for a good ten minutes in tears over her words and sentiments (…okay fine, I’m ridiculously emotional like this).

Her (combined together) comments are lengthy, yes – but truly, they’re everything. I think she captured this that I’ve tried, but failed, to describe in full form: the fear of losing… friends. So simple, yet not insignificant. “But in spite of that, I was afraid,” Rosie wrote, voicing out what I struggled to over three write-ups. Of not knowing how to be a better neighbor, as she exemplified perfectly in one paragraph, and perplexing over questions like, “Am I ‘work’?” and “Did a piece of me go with them? Did they steal it, did I give it willingly? Will I ever get it back? Will it matter?”  Ooof. Oooooof.

“I remember them, the places I think they lived…as if that city is her grave. She disappeared into it a long time ago.”

“You know, sometimes I think about your sisters. You never talk about them by name, I don’t know their faces. But you quote their words. I feel like I know them, even though that knowledge isn’t physical. … Or is it? Maybe it’s very real.”

And at the very end, this: “…That part doesn’t die.”

God, my heart. There goes my heart.

Maybe we’re all little liars and a lot scared. Maybe we’re all sincere with hearts on our sleeves, maybe we’re all forever trying to find reality in an ocean of illusions… maybe I’ll love you today and forget you tomorrow; maybe you’ll always live in me. Fine. If we are all moments to each other, then I hope you know this – in this moment, thank you so much for your care and understanding; thank you, sincerely, for taking care of my heart. I hope you know how much this means to me (everything).

I’ve been thinking about friendship a lot lately, the ones I’ve made, lost, retained, rekindled, or purposefully let drift away. Some people aren’t good for us, for me. Some will never know how much they meant to me. This fall, I went on a road trip with my best friend from high school. 10 years we have called each other best friends, and even though we live far away and our lives are so different now, I find myself treasuring her. Where I am bad with long-distance relationships, she visits me at least once a year. Whenever she flies to see her family, she drives 3 extra hours to spend a couple days with me. I never go to her. I feel guilty about this. But I talked candidly to her once about how grateful I am that she is who she is, and I confessed that if she didn’t make a bigger effort than me at ‘friendship’, on my own I would have probably let life drift on by and lose her forever. We’re honest with each other. I think we’ll always be friends, no matter where or how. After years of planning a big European vacation together and it never happening, we went on a road trip to Montana. It was wonderful, comfortable. It made me grateful once again that I have 1 friend who is and has been and probably always will be friend.

But even in spite of that, I was afraid. Thoughts like, why are we still friends? Why does she bother. Why do I? Is it habit? Is she trying hard to be the friend I want her to be, because she thinks she ought? Am I tedious? Have I grown boring? Dull? Am I ‘work’ ? If I’m not as adventurous or brave or capable as she is, will she think less of me? Does she already, but she doesn’t show it? My best friend for a decade and I had such DOUBTS. Such fears! Why, why do people – particularly this person – even bother with someone like me? Because everything in this world points to us having very little in common except that we Used to be. 

Internet friends are so different, but still very much the same. You said, “But my biggest flaw, I think, is viewing and taking in cyberspace, virtual reality, as a world that is as real as the physical world. No matter how learned or naive I may be, I just don’t know how not to be real.” I think that hits a very large *ding* in my head. Sure there are acquaintances that I chat with bc we are in the same fandom and it’s nice to just spazz and do fun things for about 10 seconds of our time. But beyond those, there are still the “friends” I’ve made. And I’ve made so many of them over the years, from different fandoms, from different eras. Some linger, and many disappear. Some remain on my periphery and we chat once every few months, but each of us are still “on the internet” and until either of us disappears from the internet, we’ll always be around. Like a neighbor who lives across the street that you wave to, or acknowledge they’re still alive because they still put out their trash can out like clockwork on Sunday night. And I think, “Old Mr Floyd and his dog are still well, and I know this because they go for walks every morning to the end of the block and back. His wife lives in a nursing home now, and that’s all I’ve learned new about him in 2 years.” 

I hate that, but I don’t know how to be a better neighbor any more than I know how to keep friendships from withering. Especially on the internet, especially from people that I’ve gotten past the acquaintance phase. For the people I met once or twice, and online we share pertinent life worries and details but our worldviews are so different we don’t know how to respond anymore. We just talk, one-directionally. For the fic writer I drove 5 hours out of my way to see in Wisconsin because I wanted a ‘solid connection’ even though we chat every day. I wanted to see her face, I wanted to see her house, the other side of her computer screen. I wanted to know her address and her number so that I can flatter myself and if something happens one day where we no longer sign on to twitter in the morning, if she disappears, then I will know who she really was. For people like you who used to live in the same country as me, but now that you’re home, I don’t know anything about your country and that stifles me. There is truly nothing I can share on the culture and politics of your home nation that wouldn’t sound like ‘well meaning but ignorant foreigner’ at best, ‘meddling mental do-gooder’ at worst.

I’ve said it before, but I love you and how you use your words to describe not just situations, physical, real, but ‘the other reality’, the one that makes your brain compute words that communicate your heart in so many tangible ways. “I do alone well, but not loneliness.” That strikes a nerve, because that’s me. You don’t have to say more than that for me to feel a connection that crosses the globe. Does that make the feeling less real? Less sincere, that I am relating to someone whose face I can’t see? Maybe. Maybe not. Even in the physical realm people interact differently. We say things we don’t mean or don’t immediately have time to ‘mean’. I pass on condolences just as awkwardly to people standing in front of me than to people who tell me over the internet, ‘my father died yesterday.’ I don’t know HOW to react. I don’t know which words to use. I stumble and scramble and get awkward and worried that my sincerity isn’t being understood. And sometimes my scrambling makes me accidentally less sincere, because now I’m worried about my words and not about the person I’m telling them to. I feel like we’re all lost like this, no matter the medium. Some people do it better. Some people aren’t introverts. Some people FEEL all the time and do so vocally, from the heart, and in my bitter thoughts I wonder if it’s an act. Or if it’s not. I can’t tell, and that scares me. How much scarier is it on the internet, where my tone and inflections of my head may be read in a completely different manner? Try to read this and picture me laughing, giggling as I come up with bullshit. Or maybe I’m crying because this topic distresses me. Would you know? You can guess, based on the years we’ve talked, blogged, shared our lives, not the details of our lives, but our heart, of what we think is our heart. Maybe that’s all we can do?

I fear losing friends too. I wonder if they take away parts of me, and they recall me years later in a random situation and wonder how I’m doing, as I do for them, sometimes, when I remember. Did a piece of me go with them? Did they steal it, did I give it willingly? Will I ever get it back? Will it matter? 

“Admitting this requires another confession: I don’t do friendship breakups well.” Neither do I, and I mourn them the same way, friends on the internet, friends in the physical realm. People I went to school with, people who I only see on FB but it’s been so long that it would be awkward if I suddenly stepped in and ‘liked’ a picture of theirs less monumental than marriage or having a baby. I wonder if FB will still exist around the time our generation dies out. If a relative will step in and say something. “RIP” on their wall. What if I don’t look there. What if I don’t see it? Will it be my fault? Yes, partly. 

I have a list of internet friends I stopped talking to years ago. I remember them, the places I think they lived. Every time I watch English football and somebody says “Bournemouth FC” I think of a very important, very influential friend I had who lived in that city, as if that city is her grave. She disappeared into it a long time ago. I am still sad. I wonder about her, I think about her, I pray for her. Maybe that’s all we have left now. 

You know, sometimes I think about your sisters. You never talk about them by name, I don’t know their faces. But you quote their words. I feel like I know them, even though that knowledge isn’t physical. They impact my lives through you. Just as authors impact their readers. That’s not real either. Or is it? Maybe it’s very real. 

Now, before I ramble — TOO LATE! — I just wanted to restate how glad I am that we met, even that once. 2 days and that may be all we ever. I don’t know how long we’ll both be on the internet, but I have a face and an address, and if you someday disappear, I probably won’t fly to your last known place of residence to see if you still live (because that would be creepy, and also require a lot of effort, and be creepy…) But… you shared something precious with me: yourself. That part doesn’t die.

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