Online Friendships

Recently I was pondering how much the internet brings to our lives. We have endless information at our fingertips and can access it from our desks, our cars, even from the middle of the wilderness. The information itself is great, but what brings more to my life is the people. My life has been completely transformed by the sharing, the caring, and the fantastic support that I get…and give…as I interact with people all over the world.

In a typical week I might exchange emails with a dozen customers about their projects. I might commiserate with my friend Lynda about the frustrations of dealing with Etsy and being a self-supporting polymer clay artist. I usually share jokes (and commentary) with Facebook friends most days. And I constantly encounter new people, too. Some who I know for just a few comments, and some who become a permanent fixture in my world. I truly do cherish each conversation, and I never forget that at the other end of the email or chat or comment is a real person with hopes and dreams and frustrations remarkably similar to my own.

And I wasn’t kidding when I said that my life has been transformed by online friendships. Read on to see what I mean!

My Experience with Online Friendships

Way back in 2002, I met my very best friend online. I lived in Chicago and was in the process of moving to Missouri. I mentioned this in a thread at Polymer Clay Central. A woman there put me in touch with “olrebbie” from Springfield, Missouri. It took about a year but we finally met up in real life and Rebbie and I have been fast and close friends ever since.

Then in 2006 I started taking photography seriously and posted my photos on Flickr. I joined a group called 365Days, whose participants shared a self-portrait each and every day for a year. That led to meeting hundreds of other people who were also participating in that project. It was a life changing experience for me, on many levels, and I learned so very much about humanity. Because we each shared a daily picture of ourselves, we participated in each others’ lives and hopes and dreams and struggles. We carried those people with us into our “real” lives. My family began to hear me speak of new people as if I knew them in person (because you realize, to me…I did). They put up with me taking random pictures to share with people they’d never heard of. And then they started to hear me talk…a lot…about a wonderful man in England named Gary. You see, sometimes these people who shared their lives online actually fell in love.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear you now. Internet long distance trans-Atlantic relationships never work out. And I assure you…I was thinking the same thing. But sometimes magic happens and it works out. Our online friendship blossomed and just four months after adding him as a friend on Flickr, Gary flew here to meet me for the very first time. By that point we already knew we wanted to get married and would have done it on the spot, that day even, but we had to wait for him to tie up his life in the UK and get the immigration process moving. It was intense, it was crazy, it was really, really hard. We spent hours on the phone each day, shared tons of pictures, and exchanged thousands upon thousands of emails. Finally, eighteen months later, Gary moved here for good and we were married. And we’ve never regretted it for a minute.

Ginger and Gary Allman meeting for the first time.
This is the day when Gary and I first met in real life. He had just flown in from the UK and we were still in awe that this was real.
Ginger and Gary, newly married.
Happily, happily married. Just look at our smiles!!

And there have been more real-life Flickr Meets. When I went to visit Gary in the UK, we met up with our online friend Jacqi for a wonderful afternoon of rapid-fire conversation. Later, in Durham, Gary and I met another couple of friends, Cath and Jon, for a walk around the town and nice visit to Durham Cathedral. (Cath and Jon met on Flickr just like Gary and I.) And then, a couple of years later, here in the US, our friend Jim from Omaha was shooting a wedding near here and took an alternate route through our town just so we could meet for breakfast and say hi.

Ginger, Gary, and Jacqi at Bletchley Park in the UK.
Ginger, Gary, and Jacqi at Bletchley Park in the UK. We all met online doing the 365 Days Project on Flickr.
Jim, Ginger, and Gary meeting in Springfield, MO
Jim, Ginger, and Gary all became friends online doing the 365 Days Project on Flickr. This was our first time meeting Jim in real life.

When Jacqi and her partner Rik were touring the US on their way to emigrate from the UK to New Zealand, they stopped here in Missouri and stayed on our couch for three days. It was an amazing time. Really, truly. We had so much fun, including one night sitting around drinking White Russians while chatting and sharing pictures on our laptops…online…while we were all sitting in the same room. It was truly hilarious (okay, you had to be there).

Gary, Jacqi, Rik, and Ginger having a Flickr meet in the US.
Gary, Jacqi, Rik, and Ginger having fun with our cameras and laptops (and beer) in Gary and Ginger’s living room in the US. Gary, Ginger, and Jacqi all met online, separately. We’d met with Jacqi before in the UK and then she and her partner Rik came to visit us in the US.

Benefits of Online Friendships

We all know that social connections make us healthier. Online connections are no different. Especially for people in isolated areas or those who are housebound, online friendships are truly a godsend. Having a network of friends to connect with, to share with, to support you in the down times and laugh with you in the good times is absolutely essential to human psychological health. Even fairly anonymous friends can still give good advice, validation, and just the feeling that you’re not so alone in this often harsh life.

You might think that online friendships aren’t “real”. But are they any different to the real life ones? In real life, people are often too busy to connect. To be honest, I get most news from my “real” friends online nowadays anyway. Often, I know more about my online friends than I do my “real” friends. And just like real-life friends, online friends need support, too.

I’ve had late night Facebook messages and Flickrmails that would wrench your heart. “I’m pregnant and it’s not expected.” “I left my boyfriend after he hit me.” “We’re getting divorced.” I’ve shared in the joy as people who were in a down time when we met are now living fantastic lives and married in whole new countries. I’ve watched and shared as friends whipped cancer. I’ve seen accounts go ominously silent when cancer won. I’ve seen people fall in love. Babies have been born and I’ve watched with pride, just like a relative, as each new picture is posted as the babies grow into children. Life is a full, rich, beautiful thing, and I feel lucky to have the privilege to join in the stories of so many people.

Social Media Has Increased our Connections

As more people become connected online and as social media use has skyrocketed, we truly are becoming one large community. Threads on Facebook become conversations as collections of friends enter the dialogue. We join online groups and forums where we share common interests or experiences. My experience with the Flickr 365Days group was so fruitful because we all shared a common interest (photography) and a common project. We had common ground. Through this blog and my Facebook page and Etsy I have met so many wonderful people who share an interest in polymer clay, art, and creativity, and their contributions and support truly do brighten my days. The internet allows like-minded people to gather together to share ideas, techniques, successes, and camaraderie. Because the world wide web allows any two people to connect, anywhere, people who share obscure interests with few others are able to find each other and share common ideas.

Because the web truly is world-wide, and because people in developing countries typically have good smartphone access (even better than many areas of the US), people just like us all over the world are connecting and sharing their lives as never before. Remember my Flickr friends? Six years later I am still connected to 37 of them on Facebook. They’re on six continents!

Language is no longer a barrier. Online translators are now so accurate that people converse without having a common language. We have all learned to be more tolerant of people who might not understand the subtleties of our language. The need to share and connect overcomes the frustrations and quirks of Google Translate.

Take a Chance

I think my experience with meeting people online has made it easier to contact strangers and suggest a real-life meeting. Recently I read on the Facebook page of a website I follow, Creativity Tribe, that the owner, Rachél Payne, was on a tour and was stopping in my town that very night. Even though we’d never exchanged so much as an email, I wasted no time in messaging her and suggesting we get together for coffee. And we did! It was really great meeting another blogger and creative person. We had a lovely time chatting about everything under the sun.

Creativity Tribe's Rachel Payne was passing through town so we met for coffee.
When I found that Creativity Tribe’s Rachél Payne was passing through my town, I took a chance and messaged her to see if she wanted to meet for coffee. She did! It was really cool meeting another blogger and creative person like myself.

If you’re going to be travelling to a new area, take a chance and ask people who live in that area if they want to meet up. At the very least you’ll have a great conversation and at the most you’ll make a new friend for life. If you’re ever coming through Springfield, Missouri, and want to meet me, send me a message and we’ll see if we can coordinate our schedules. I know some great coffee shops!

I realize that online friendships might not be for everyone. There are valid concerns about the privacy of anything transmitted over the internet. And maintaining online friendships takes time. (But then so do real life friendships.) And you have to be wise about things. You need to limit your online activities lest you become “that guy” guzzling energy drinks in his mother’s basement because he can’t stop posting on anime forums. We all do need a balance in life but perhaps having a few online friendships can be a good thing, too.

So the next time the chance comes to make friends online, don’t hesitate! You’re not going to hit it off with everyone (that holds true in real life as well). And you just might meet a new best friend!

25 thoughts on “Online Friendships”

  1. I originally “met” one of my best friends online in and enamel group.. we quickly hooked up on facebook and started chatting off and on. I was cautious, but over the next year we talked about our lives/family/kids/art and when I had a chance to meet her we actually decided I would just stay at her house. Our friends and family thought we were nuts, but I figured if I wasn’t comfortable I’d get a room nearby and just hang out with her during the day. We clicked in an instant! And since it was chat night with our enamel group we sat at her kitchen island .. me on my tablet and her on her laptop and drank wine and chatted with all the other friends online.. and laughed!

    Over the years on Facebook my list of friends has grown, some are just online acquaintances but others have become true friends.. friends from all over the world. I can’t imagine my life without them. Their support and encouragement means so much to me both as an artist and in my personal life. Who knew what the internet would bring all those years ago when I first got my computer and signed on to AOL.. What a difference a couple of decades brings.

    1. Rachél, you have such an infectious, bubbling energy. Just being with you for a couple of short hours that day filled me with hopefulness for the future. My usual pessimism was replaced and I saw the world with bright possibility. It lasted for a couple weeks, too! You know, just your mere presence is like magic. You are welcome here anytime and I hope our paths get to cross once again. Big hugs to you too!

  2. Great post, Ginger! I was just pondering this the other day…thinking about all the new people I have met online – especially clay friends. A couple of my ‘live’ friends have met their spouses online and have been married a long time. It is a great tool if we use it right.

    1. I just looked it up and depending on the source, between 16 and 35% of recently married couples met online. I think it would be higher in certain social circles and lower in others, of course. I know quite a few of them, actually, one of whom is my brother and his wife! I agree, the internet is a great tool. And it allows people to do what people do…share and have fun and interact. Good point, it’s up to the individuals to use the tool well.

  3. This is so true. I had been surfing the web for a long time and creating jewelry alone for quite a while. Three months ago I started blogging. Since then, connections have started and I can see what the possibilities of exchange and friendships are. I’m really excited about this whole new world that opens to me, where I can connect with people all around the world who share the same interests.

    1. Your blog is very nice to read. I’m so glad you’re sharing with all of us now! I used to have a job in telemarketing and when I’d ask people for their email address they often responded, “I don’t have a computer. What do I need a computer for. Waste of time.” And it always made me sad to hear that. People like that are missing out so much that life…and others…have to offer. There is a whole world that opens up, indeed!

  4. I so agree with you.. The internet reconnected me with my hubby after 20+ years of not seeing each other after high school. And I have made tons of friends who I consider family because of the net..

    1. Ah, so you’ve got one of those sappy love stories, too, eh? Isn’t it great? 🙂 I’ve reconnected with my high school people, too, and have also enriched friendships with them. We’re so lucky!

    1. Well, you have to keep trying. The first one I met wasn’t so good either. But I also kept trying and have had a lot better results since then! I don’t stay in daily or monthly or even yearly conversation with a lot of my online friends. But it’s really a lot like people from a church or art group…you might not see them all the time either but you still have a kinship and an email out of the blue is most welcome!

  5. Love this post! Your “how I met my husband story” is so cute.

    As a “creative-type” living in a rural area, online friendships are one way to find like-minded people.

    I’m going to meet some of my online PCAGOE friends in August at our first in-person clay retreat. One of the members offered up her home near Williamsport, PA. (only a couple of hours from me!) I’m SOOO excited!

    I told one of my coworkers about the trip and she seemed concerned that I didn’t “know” anyone and I was headed to a stranger’s home. The concern struck me as odd. I never thought of these people as “strangers.”

    1. Living in a rural area is hard. I think that’s why I embraced the internet so early. I was hungry to know people who were like me. Meeting my husband was a very unexpected side benefit, LOL. Your coworker’s reaction is exactly the reason I hesitated writing this post. So many people STILL think online friendships are weird. (You wouldn’t believe how bad it was trying to convince people that my relationship with Gary was, in fact, real and that it wasn’t just something I made up and that yes, he was going to come marry me. Even after people had met him on visits, they still didn’t really “believe” that he wasn’t a scammer or something. And the people at the bank…there’s a story there!) You’re so lucky that PCAGOE is going to meet and be near you. I am JEALOUS. Nobody ever has any meetings near me!! You are going to have SO much fun!

  6. This is great post. I knew that my English is not good enough for write post, but you always try to understand me. Thank you for that. You encourage me to continue to write on English. This is friendship guest.
    I am happy when I get new post in my e mail. I read that with cup of coffee, I always learn something new about polymer clay or about life.

    1. I think people worry too much about not being able to understand or write English. Most people try to understand. And we usually do understand each other! It makes me feel good to know that you enjoy my posts. I’m glad that I have readers all over the world who like what I say and who also take the time to write comments. Thank you!

  7. Wonderful post Ginger. Thank you. I’m only really just now beginning to relax with the idea of online acquaintances becoming real, actual friends and you’ve really validated that for me.

    1. It’s interesting, but I used to think that the sort of people who met on the internet were sort of…weird. As in “who would DO that?” it just seemed so risky (before I did it). But I really do think I know many of my online friends better than my real life ones. We share our thoughts, pictures, ideas, interests. I wouldn’t even hesitate calling up many of these “strangers” and crashing on their couch! I’ve found that we really do have more in common with people out there than we would think. I’ve found that when people hit it off online, they tend to hit it off in real life, too. And a get-together of online friends? Wow, that would be so fun!!

  8. I have made some super friends online. Additionally, I reconnected with some acquaintances from high school and these developed into friendships that led us to arrange a get-together in our old home town next week when my husband and I visit the USA for a month (we live in Germany now.) I love love love the internet and the worlds it has opened to me in the last 20 years. How else would I “know” you?

    1. Oh man, I think having the internet is absolutely necessary when you have moved to a new country. And yes, it does open you to new worlds. Intellectually, emotionally, creatively…I’m a much different person that I was before the internet. I think it’s a blessing, indeed.

  9. Great post, ginger. I couldn’t agree more. 17 years ago I met a man online and we’ve had a long distance relationship ever since. Neither of us has wanted to move but we’re both very happy and visit often, Skype and email regularly. He loves my friends and family and the love him. He’s been here for my kids’ weddings and for the birth of one of my grandchildren.
    I’ve also made friends through Pinterest and Sixty and Me…and even while playing Lexulous on FB ( that’s where I met one of my favourite new friends who lives in Cornwall, UK)
    Isn’t it amazing that tech ology has made the world so small, and enabled us to meet people we never would have otherwise?

    1. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Gary and I had lived closer…moving is hard! Add grandchildren into the mix and the decision gets really hard! I can understand completely why you’ve chosen the path you’ve taken. I would have thought that games on FB wouldn’t be that “lucrative” for meeting people, but one of my Flickr friends met her husband playing games on FB and now has moved to the UK to be with him! I love it!

  10. I heartily agree about online friendships…they allowed me to make friends when working way too many hours , and when I retiredonline friendships allowed me to find artists to hang out with both in cyberspace and in my town. The internet has enriched my life in ways I never expected!
    And, hello from Kansa city, neighbor!

    1. See, I suspected others would have had similar experiences to mine. For me, I was cooped up at home with little kids and the internet was a way OUT. Hello back at you, neighbor! Kansas City’s not that far away, just a few hours. We make it up there a lot for our diocese’s youth events.

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