Hey, I’ve Never Met You, And This Is Crazy, But Can We Be Friends Maybe?

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A friend died in a car accident.

The first night was the hardest. I couldn’t sleep, so I wrote a blog post about it. The next few days were particularly difficult as well, as there wasn’t a lot of time spent not thinking about it. It was strange and surreal, and most of all it was terrible. This man that I’d only met a couple times, who lived across the country from me, who I only knew for a year… his death upset my whole life. Even now, when I really stop to think about it, the sadness can be overwhelming.

At first, though, my family didn’t understand why it affected me the way it did.

“Yeah, but I mean… you only knew him online, right?” My brother asked me.

“No, I’ve met this guy a few times. We just interacted a lot online.” Was my answer.

There was a general shift in the room as everyone more or less seemed to empathize a little better with my feelings on the subject. I see. They thought I only knew Spencer online. And why would I ever be so upset over someone who I didn’t “really” know?

Gather round, friends… because this, I believe, is a very relevant topic to our generation.

What if I had only known Spencer online?

I’ve given some thought to the idea. Mostly I’ve come to the conclusion that it all comes down to what your personal definition of what a “friend” is. When does someone stop being just an acquaintance and become someone that you could see yourself regularly chatting with over a beer at the local pub? And is there even a real difference between those two things? Is the real measure of friendship how much you care about a person, or how many times you’ve hung out with them? Because if it’s the latter, then a lot of the people who I consider my “friends” are, well, not.

So, really, the idea that friendships can only be marked by a physical presence is completely ridiculous to me.

It’s already a blurry line to begin with. I mean, what constitutes a “physical” presence anyway? If I’ve met you once, does that mean I’m allowed to call you my friend for now on? If I’ve met you twice, does that mean I’m now given leave to cry when we lose you? If I’ve never met you at all, am I really not allowed to be sad? Am I, indeed, seen as weird for being sad? I can think of one person in particular who I’ve only ever talked to online, but I know I would be devastated if something happened to him. He’s my friend. I know his interests, I know his humor, I know his personality. I know he’s a great guy. I was happy for him when he entered in to a relationship with his new girlfriend; I feel bad for him when something doesn’t go his way. In effect, I care for him. I didn’t need to first look at his face and shake his hand to form those emotions; I only needed to know what kind of person he was. And, wouldn’t you know it, when physical avenues are taken out of the equation… it’s actually very easy to get to know someone. I, myself, knew I was falling in love my my boyfriend before I ever set eyes on him in person.

Funny how that works.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for bonding over a cup of tea and then skipping merrily through a field of wildflowers with your friends, because physicality does have its place… But it’s not the only place.

The world is changing. There still seems to be a stigma surrounding online friendships, dating, gaming, etc., but I can’t help but feel like this is nothing but opposition to the change. Some people don’t want to accept the idea that you can form real relationships with people you’ve never technically “met”, simply because it’s different from how things have traditionally been done. Which is fair, because it certainly is. Look around you. With social networking sites like Facebook and twitter, our online presences are becoming a big part of who we are.

This is all just part of the so called ebb and flow of life. Things constantly change, progress runs up against opposition, people cling to what they know. There are certainly cons to beginning to live so much of our lives online, but opening our worlds up to new people that we never would have met otherwise is not one of them.

And I, for one, welcome our new online overlords friends.

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