Virtual Hugs Are Still Hugs

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.

Without the Internet, I would have never found the Ann to my Leslie (aka Heather).

Without the Internet, I would have never found the Ann to my Leslie (aka Heather).

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23 thoughts on “Virtual Hugs Are Still Hugs

  1. What a wonderful (and apropos) post to see from you, as I *just* wrapped up my first visit from a tumblr friend today!! She was also here to visit a family member who is stationed with the USAF nearby, but she stayed with me and we spent several days of her visit together. We originally bonded over our love of Castle (she’s my beta too!), and somewhere along the way we became good enough friends that I happily welcomed her into my home to stay with my son and I. I whole-heartedly second everything you’ve said here…it completely doesn’t matter how we met, and I can honestly say that there are quite a few other “internet friends” that I would do the same for. Long live online friendships!

    • This put the biggest smile on my face, Megan! I love hearing about friends who met through fandom, and I’m so happy you got to spend time with your friend! 😀

  2. We’re pretty adorable if I do say so myself 😉

    I unsurprisingly love everything about this post. I have met so many wonderful people online that I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to meet otherwise. I’ve lost touch with someone of them, but that’s not any different than losing touch after a friend moves away.

    Friendship is about opening yourself up and sharing yourself with others and being accepted in return. That is just as possible over the internet as it is face-to-face. The hierarchy of friendships just seems silly to me. All friends are great and precious, not just the ones you get to see regularly. None of my close friends (besides Sam, obviously) live near me. Some moved away for college or a job and others have always been far away because I met them online. Distance doesn’t have to weaken a friendship so long as both people make the effort not to let it.

    I love my friends that I met online. You guys have helped me grow and heal from friendships that went wrong in the past. I know you guys are only ever a text away if I’m having a bad day or if I want to celebrate something. It’d be great to see you all more regularly but the love is always there and that’s what makes the friendships strong.

    I’m gonna end by saying that I miss you like crazy but it was an amazing three days with you that I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

    • We are pretty gosh-darn cute. 😉 That picture of us makes me smile every time I look at it.

      “I know you guys are only ever a text away if I’m having a bad day or if I want to celebrate something. It’d be great to see you all more regularly but the love is always there and that’s what makes the friendships strong.” – This is exactly how I feel. Of course I’d love to see you all the time, but what matters is that I know we’re there for each other.

      I miss you like crazy, too. But I’m so happy we have all of those great memories to tide us over until we see each other again!

    • “Friendship is about opening yourself up and sharing yourself with others and being accepted in return.”

      This Heather — 100,000 x THIS! I love this, I adore this community I have found with you guys and I will cosign that you all are pretty darn cute!

  3. I have said it before and I will say it again — Castle brought me here, Katie, you are why I remain and I am so grateful to you for it. In you, Heather, Shauna and a handful of others on the internet I have found a community of friends that began through fandom, but I am continuing to discover other life interests to as well.

    Long before the internet I was a theater nerd hanging at stage doors. There I discovered friendships that have stood the test of time. In fact I owe six friendships I hold dear to hanging out at the stage door in 1998 of The Scarlet Pimpernel. One friend I met because I asked her to take a picture of me and my sister with the lead actor because she had forgotten her camera. That mail exchange, became an email pen pal, became a friend who would visit and stay with me in NY. Friendships are so deeply individual. What connects us as people has nothing to do with sitting across from one another. It is what comes from our hearts and what we give of ourselves.

    The internet is no less a viable place to find friendships than anywhere else in the world. Connections are random in life. I so strongly believe that people come for a reason a season and a lifetime. There is a wonder to that which should be cherished.

    For me personally, I know you are a kindred spirit. I also know that as a working mom, it is hard to see friends I love and treasure let alone make new ones. What a joy it has been to discover you all here and share in a fandom, only to discover a shared passion for humanity and what moves us to joy. This post was beautiful not just as a reflection of yours and Heather’s friendship, but as a reflection of the very best this vast void of the internet has to offer. It is a privilege to hang out in your light.

    • This comment brought me so much joy. I love hearing stories of friendship, and I found myself smiling along while reading about your stage door experiences. I’ve only had the pleasure of being a part of that environment once in my life, but it was an experience filled with the really lovely sense of community you wrote about.

      “I so strongly believe that people come for a reason a season and a lifetime. There is a wonder to that which should be cherished.” – This is such a beautiful thought.

      I feel so honored that NGN has played whatever small role it has in the friendships that have developed around it. When all is said and done, that’s what I’m most proud of. Any praise I get for the quality of my writing is appreciated, but to know that I’ve made friends and helped friendships blossom through what we all share here is better than anything. Finding a kindred spirit is a very rare thing, and I’m so thankful I’ve found that in you.

  4. Oh my gosh Katie I love this post so much. I seriously owe the internet everything. I have been making internet friends since I was 12. It all started in a Yahoo! chat room where I met my first online friend. I liked sketching, he liked digital painting. So I would send him scans of my sketches of sailor scouts and he would color them in and send them back. We stayed friends through high school, we were pen pals when he joined the military, and we finally met in person when I was in college.

    Then there was my X-Files message board family that I spent my high school years with. And my high school boyfriend who, after 6 months of writing me notes and trying unsuccessfully to talk to me in the hallways (I was terrified and would run away), finally wised up and learned the only way to get through to me was to chat with me via AIM.

    In college there was Daviscodes, a website my friend started at UC Davis that was Facebook before Facebook existed. I met a ton of friends on there, including my current partner, who I lost contact with after college but reconnected with thanks to the internet (he found me on yahoo personals). Heck, I even met my cat over the internet (Craigslist!)!

    And then of course, the internet has brought me here to you and the rest of your commenters. Twitter was just not as fun before I met you and the rest of our crew. The truth is, I spend a ton of time on the internet, it would only make sense that I make my friends on the internet too. Some people think its weird to make friends on the internet. Well, I think its weird to meet friends at a club, or on a sports team, because you rarely find me doing those things.

    There is nothing more frustrating than fangirling alone. I did this all through ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ and I felt like nobody truly understood me as a person because they were not sharing this thing I loved so much with me. I am just so thankful that I no longer have to fangirl alone, because I know you will be there. Whether its watching a Nerd HQ panel together even though we are across the country or freaking out about the Thursday OUAT sneak peak. I dont consider you “my internet friend” Katie. You are my friend Katie, who I just happened to meet on the internet. 🙂

    • First of all, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who needed AIM to facilitate high school relationships because I would get too scared in person. 😉

      Your stories are a testament to the power of the Internet for good, and they made me so happy. You know I love things that make me feel optimistic, and that’s how this comment made me feel about people being able to make friends (or find pets!) through whatever environment suits them the best.

      “There is nothing more frustrating than fangirling alone.” – Amen, sister. It used to get so bad for me that I would just talk about the things I was fangirling over with people who had no idea what I was talking about. It made me feel so alone, but now those memories make me appreciate having people like you to share the joy and excitement of fandom with.

      “I dont consider you “my internet friend” Katie. You are my friend Katie, who I just happened to meet on the internet.” – This just put the biggest smile on my face, and I hope you know that I feel exactly the same way. 😀

  5. Oh K, this this ALL OF THIS!!! Seriously, I’m so glad you understand what its like to have friends online. So often I would get weird looks from people when I talked about internet friends, and when I went to see them. But, as Rowling said (I think, I took a sleeping pill so forgive a potential mis-quote.) there are some things you can’t go through and not be friends.

    Things like my worries after college, my grandpa passing away, my issues with Little Brother, and so many other things that they supported me through. Grandpa passed away at 3:30 AM, I couldn’t text you then. But they were waiting with me on Skype to help me through the first night. Distance doesn’t matter to people looking out for each other.

    I feel like the stigma of internet friendships has been declining the past few years. I’m sure its due in no small part to friends such as the sisterhood of reader friends you have here. All just normal women, sharing their passion and writing talents together. So glad you had a super special awesome time with Heather. 🙂

    • First of all, I can’t wait to see you and share stories from Heather’s visit. I love being able to talk to you about all of my other friends, especially the ones I’ve met online, because I know you understand the importance of those friendships. Like you said, sometimes (like when my dad went to the hospital with kidney stones at 2 a.m.) it’s so comforting to know that no matter when it is, you have friends who are up ready to be there for you. I hate time differences more often that not, but there are times when they’re helpful.

      I love that when we talk about the friends we’ve made online, I feel like the stigma surrounding these friendships doesn’t exist at all. It’s so nice to know someone that I see in person all the time who gets it. So thanks for being totally awesome, M. 🙂

  6. “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
    I have always loved this quote, whether it referred to a real life friendship or internet friendship, because that’s how a friendship is born.
    I love my “everyday” friends but when it comes to fandoms or fangirling, my internet friends own a special place in my heart. they are the people whom i laugh with, and talk and gossip and fangirl with, they are the people who won’t never judge me for being a 32 years old fangirl. But they are also the people i turn to for advices and comfort when my real life friends seem to don’t understand what’s going on in my mind. I have made friends all over the world over the years and I love them, very much, and I hope I get the chance to meet them all one day.

    • I love that quote so much, too!

      Thank you so much for sharing such lovely and true thoughts about the friendships we form online. There’s a lack of judgment for being enthusiastic that’s so prevalent among fandom friends and so rare in the “real world.” I think that lack of judgment, along with the openness that comes from sharing the things we’re passionate about, allows those fandom friends to be genuine sources of advice and support for all matters in our lives.

  7. This has got to be one of the best articles I’ve read about meeting friends online because up to now almost everyone I know in real life even people I’m close to have a hard time understanding how finding friends online can be just as wonderful at meeting them in real life. On tumblr and other social media platforms I’ve met some wonderful people through shared passions over love of different TV shows though currently the one I’m most active in is Once Upon a Time and I am a die hard Captain Swan shipper but I’ve watch the show since it premiered and it will always be one of my favorites. You hit the nail on the head when you spoke about sharing your passions and that’s exactly what I do every day and meet wonderful online friends at the same time so its nice to see someone understands exactly what its all about (and is far more articulate about it than I ever could be haha) so thank you sweetie.

  8. This is a great piece, Katie!
    Were people this judgmental back in the days of penpals when we made friends with strangers overseas with people by writing letters back and forth and sending the occasional photo? I had many penpals over the years, some of whom were keen to meet in real life if we had the chance. I didn’t even start writing to them because of common interests – I was often paired with them randomly and found that we often had nothing in common! As such, they weren’t as close as my “real life” friends, but that was also a function of the time lag that snail mail imposed on us, waiting weeks between question and answer. But I don’t know that anyone ever sneered about someone “just” being a penpal if I referred to them as a friend.
    I know my internet friends so much better than I ever knew my penpals. I love the internet. I think of how different my life would have been if I’d had internet at certain key junctures in my life (I didn’t have regular access until I was a 30 year old married lady!)
    Why is it more valid to be friends with someone who happens to work in the same office or live on the same street as you (who you may have very little in common with), but less valid to be friends with someone who loves all the same things you love and makes you laugh or smile when you read their tags or blog posts? I think maybe that will change as the digital natives take over.

    • Thanks, Jo!

      Your thoughts on pen pals versus Internet friendships are so accurate. And you’re right; I have so many things in common with the friends I’ve met online—oftentimes much more than I have with people I meet in person. I do think the stigma surrounding these friendships is starting to lessen as more and more people are exposed to the way technology can bring us closer together with people from farther away. It’s my hope that someday people will stop the ridiculous narrative that technology isolates us, because my experience tells me that technology is a beautiful driving force in bringing people together.

      • Exactly!! Even those stories about kids standing around at Disneyland (or wherever) with their noses buried in their phones, disconnected from their present moment experience and their families are kind of crap. It might be true (but people have always been distracted and disconnected – even before phones were invented) but it also might be that those kids are sharing their present moment excitement with a friend back home, or with other people who are posting about being at Disneyland, or they might be sending a virtual hug to someone they met online who just messaged them with a problem. What’s so terrible about that? It IS a ridiculous narrative. For every person who is isolated by technology there is another person who comes out of their shell as a result of it.

  9. Holy heart-warming post, Batman!
    Here I am, catching up with your blog because the last 2 months and a 1/2 have been absolute madness, and I’m already smiling. And a little teary, but I’ll deny that to my last breath. 😉
    I’ve nothing to add, as always it was perfectly put, so I’ll just say that in my experience friends –real friends– are not defined by origin, or proximity, or actually anything other than feelings.
    And now I’m going to pretend I’m not sniffling and keep on reading NGN.

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