Last week, one of my closest friends (Heather, for those of you who haven’t been following along on our adventures via Twitter) came to stay with me for a few days. We did plenty of sightseeing, went to the mall, and ate a ton of delicious food.
In short, they were the best three days I’ve had in ages. However, I’m sure there are people out there who thought it was weird that I was opening up my home to someone I’d only met once before. You see, Heather and I are what some people like to skeptically call “Internet friends.” We met through LiveJournal, grew closer through Twitter, and support each other now through our blogs. And for some, that means our friendship is inherently less valid than any we form with people we meet in person.
There’s still a real stigma around friendships that start in various corners of the Internet. I know that there’s the potential to be building a friendship with someone who is nothing like they seem, but can’t the same be said for friends we make in the “real world,” too?
I have a wonderful group of people I’ve met online whom I consider to be great friends. Some I’ve seen in person many times now, some only once, and some I still have yet to meet face-to-face. But what I’ve come to learn from my years in fandom is that friendship shouldn’t be measured by physical proximity or the number of times you’ve hung out in person. It should be measured by the experiences and pieces of yourself that you share with each other. It should be measured by the amount that you sincerely care for each other. And those things aren’t exclusive to friends who meet at school or at work.
If you take away anything from my writing, I hope it’s this: When we share our passions, we share parts of ourselves. And that’s what makes friendships that develop through fandom so special. I know that I share so much more about who I am when talking about the books, movies, TV shows, and characters that I love than I do when I’m just talking about myself. There’s a total vulnerability I allow myself when talking about fandom-related topics that I don’t always show under other circumstances. And I know I’m not alone in that.
Slowly, that sense of openness that comes with sharing fandoms with someone becomes a sense of real understanding. And aren’t openness and understanding the two pillars upon which all friendships should be built? The development from being two people with common interests to being real friends happens online the same way it does in person, so I don’t know why people feel the need to classify them as different levels of friendship.
All I know is that I feel like I can text Heather about anything—whether it’s my hopes for the next season of Once Upon a Time or my anxieties after a bad day at work. All I know is that my “Internet friends” are the most genuinely supportive group of people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. And all I know is that they’ve helped me grow as a person in a way that’s no different from the best friends I see in person all the time.
The Internet can be a scary and negative place, but it can also be beautiful. It can allow us to get to know people we’d never even know existed without it. Friendships can form between people who live thousands of miles apart. These friendships allow us to step outside of the little physical world we inhabit, making us feel less alone and more accepted for who we really are—even if it’s by people we’ve never met and might never meet in person.
The way you meet someone ultimately matters so much less than the way you come to care for them. I love the friends that I get to see every weekend, but I also love the friends that I only get to see through Twitter pictures. I love the friends I get to talk to over dinner whenever I feel like it, but I also love the friends I can only talk to through emails or novella-length texts. And I love the friends I get to hug all the time, but I also love the friends who can only send me a virtual hug from across the country.
It’s time the world at large stopped pretending that there’s something weird about people who build friendships online. All friendships should be celebrated for the gifts they are. And I wouldn’t trade the friends I’ve made online for anything on Earth.