Ever since the dawn of social networking, message boards, private and instant messaging, life has never been the same. It has often been, for me, a lifesaver. As one who rarely gets out and has few real, live friends, meeting and getting to know people online via the above mentioned venues has provided me with a new understanding of friendships.
I have been online for many years now and have learned a thing or two that, at the time, were upsetting and disturbing, but are now the norm and often anticipated with no great surprise. Whenever someone embarks on the new adventure of online ‘anything’, if my advice is asked, I try to enlighten them to some of the pitfalls as well as some of the benefits.
I didn’t want this blog to be a ‘training manual’ of sorts with a guideline on the do’s and don’ts of developing online friendships. Rather, I wanted to sum up one of the more glaringly obvious things I’ve come to understand and can now deal with from a better perspective.
People come and go and often in the blink of an eye. I remember one girl who I became friends with from a dog message board. I’ll call her Jenny. She was younger than I but we still found much in common as she worked in the same field as my husband. She was hysterical (in the funny kind of way). She also could appreciate my sarcastic sense of humor so we wrote back and forth for many, many months. I think we even chatted on the phone a few times even though she lived 1,000 miles away. One day, POOF, she was gone. She didn’t answer my emails and wasn’t on the board. I never heard from her again. I struggled through wondering what I had done and re-read my emails and messages and could find nothing to indicate I had offended her. I wrote imploring her to reply but she never did. I was baffled, saddened, upset and a myriad of other emotions. I eventually got over it but still wonder what ever happened to Jenny.
My point is that virtual relationships often have a hidden barrier to them. At any point, you can literally ‘fall off the planet’ and not be found or heard from again, much to the chagrin of many people. I think dealing with people that, one day are the best of friends and next, they’re nowhere to be found, has been the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around.
Over many, many years, I have had a number of friendships that I have developed online. Most of the ones I have today are as a result of a medical support message board that I had been on for 4+ years. They’re a completely different breed of people then dog people (excuse the pun). There’s been much more in common and much more to offer in the way of actual emotional support for each other. While many of those friends have come and gone, several still remain and for that I am very grateful. Still, lessons of the past creep in and I’ve fallen into the same pit of opening myself up too much only to be left hanging. You just never know … that’s really the crux of the matter. I don’t wish to speak about NOT opening up to people for there are friends I can and do open up to but it takes years to build up that kind of trust. Not usually a few weeks or months.
Okay, here’s where I’ll get a bit preachy so you can stop reading now if you’d like. I like to look at experiences, good or bad, as learning experiences. What can I learn from them so as not to fall into the same pitfall again? When I develop an online friendship, I need to give it time. It’s okay to swap stories and offer support but my mantra now has been, “Expect the unexpected!” Or, better yet, “Mankind will always disappoint you!” I like that one even better. To date, there has really only been one person in my life that has never disappointed me and that’s been my husband. BUT, I know that we’re both human and have the capacity to disappoint without even meaning it.
Having said that though, there is only ONE that I know with all my heart that will never, ever disappoint me or leave me and that’s my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. From scripture, Hebrews 13:5 tells me ‘He will never leave me nor forsake me’ and IT’S TRUE! He never has and I have full confidence and faith He never will. While others may come and go, He won’t. If I’ve learned anything about online friendships, that has been the most important. I’ve learned it, lived it and lean on it always. I will always hold dearly in my heart those that have come and gone for they have touched my life and blessed me in one way or another. For those true ones that have remained, I will continue to thank God for their trustworthiness. They’ve made my life richer and fuller.
So, there you have it, my small attempt at summing up something big. Virtual friendships can sometimes be hard and high maintenance. Though, I don’t think that should be the way it is, I do know that many times it just is. For strength and support, lean on that which you know to be real. Family, loved ones and God! If you have them in your life, expecting the unexpected, virtually speaking, gets a whole lot easier.