This is a topic I’ve been discussing on and off for the past month now with a lot of my friends: the validity of relationships we form online. There is a high chance that you, the reader, have Internet friends, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this post. There is also a high chance that you also get grief from other people in your life about your Internet friends, from your parents or your siblings or your offline friends who just don’t get it. Maybe you don’t even feel comfortable telling them about us in the first place. Because they just don’t get it.
To someone who uses the Internet casually, it is full of games and social networking sites and pornography. Said social networking sites are full of people they know offline, too, and they probably don’t spend much time using them, because they could call the person up and make plans to get dinner and talk face to face. To someone who uses the Internet more than an hour a day, sure, the Internet is full of all those things, but it has one primary attraction: other people.
A few years ago, when we were all in middle school, and were supervised by our parents on every website we clicked, MySpace was an empire. But at that point, the Internet was seen as one thing: a group of smelly old men and you. It didn’t seem real that there were other teenagers actually using the Internet; you heard left, right and center about predators and protecting yourself. My first set of Internet friends I met on an AIM icon-making site called Iconator. We exchanged screen names, made collab accounts, and got to know each other. I was sat down every other week to watch an Oprah special about rapists by my mother, who was completely unaware of my (innocent) online life for about six months, before I promptly banned from the computer for a month and my AIM privileges were taken away.
What my mother didn’t realize was this: the Internet is full of teenagers. The Internet also has a lot of creepy old men who are out to sext me, but the number of young adults on the Internet outnumber that twenty to one. I was talking to real people all across the country, real people I was forced to cut off communication with. Sure, I was thirteen, but my online friends knew me better than my best friend, Cami, did, who had known me since fourth grade.
I’m eighteen now. I have different online friends, some that I have known for two and a half years now. Two and a half years! One of the people I know offline that I consider one of my best friends I haven’t been close to that long. I have these deep emotional connections with people that I have never even given a hug when they needed one. I have friends who know me inside and out, friends who I feel like I can legitimately tell anything to. That’s great, isn’t it? I think so.
I have people that scoff at me. I have a mother who still wouldn’t understand that the people I talk to every day are real people with real personalities that are more than just a zip code or a phone number. They are just another person sitting on the other side of the screen, and just because I don’t go to school with them doesn’t mean I can’t understand them or miss them when they’re gone.
I have friends who completely denounce the idea of knowing someone virtually. I think that certain people just don’t translate well online, and then completely write off everyone who does. For a long time, I thought — am I just weird? I have people offline who like me, but they don’t Get It. They don’t get me. And when I met people on here, I thought, hey, I’m not so crazy. There are people out there just like me, and the fact that someone I know can just write that off as nothing is offensive simply because they don’t have it themselves or will open their mind to the idea.
And then there’s Internet relationships, romantic ones. I’ve never experienced one myself, but I’ve watched close friends enter them, successfully. Relationships are first and foremost two people who like each other romantically who want to make it exclusive. And I hear complaints all of the time from people offline about two things: their relationship lacking trust, or their relationship lacking communication. And those are the two things Internet relatjonships need first and foremost. If two people are willing to put in the effort, to communicate, to give each other that trust and not betray it, I don’t think anybody has the right to look down on an Internet relationship.
Internet relationships have been played up for so long as things you can only find on eHarmony or through online predators. I can’t wait for ten years time when Internet relationships and friendships aren’t this awful taboo anymore, and are generally accepted, because this thing called the Internet is really just this hub of people all dying to make a lasting connection. There’s some pornography, too, though.
tl;dr: Internet relationships are awesome and valid and legitimate and if you can’t accept that we can’t be friends. This post is dedicated to Miranda, who inspired me to write it tonight.