Online Friendships

Back during the days of MySpace I was only friends with people I knew. Until one day I joined a Ricky Martin fansite and forum.

There was a post to share your MySpace profile. I figured I’d participate since I didn’t have any friends who understood my love for Ricky. I got a few friends requests. But I never thought of meeting them. Most of them were in other parts of the world. It was like having penpals.

One girl though lived in the States and she was the most active with my posts. We had lot in common, were close in age and of course shared a mutual love for Ricky. Fourteen years later, I’m on Facebook now and I’m still friends with this girl. We’ve never met but we’ve remained friends, we even follow each other on Instagram.

When I joined Facebook I was mostly friends with people from the atheist community. People I hadn’t met in person but got on well with because at the time I was a baby New Atheist and these people were the asshole type that think they’re better than everyone else. You know the type, I’m sure. I met another girl through some mutual atheist contacts. Ten years later we’re still friends, although we haven’t met in person. We also follow each other on Instagram.

About nine years ago, I started following a popular blogger and eventually I got up the courage to friend them. They commented on my posts and I felt like I had been touched by a celebrity. Anyway, we became close friends. I ended up leaving the atheist community. (I’m still an atheist but it’s not a huge part of my identity anymore).

I became more involved with feminism. Eventually that turned into adopting misandry as a coping mechanism. I met so many people that way. Meeting these people was the beginning of my journey to self-love, discovery and trusting others.

But just like there was great times, there was also drama that sometimes led to friendships ending. Friendships that were years old and the end hurt like hell.

Four years ago I was homeless. I had been homeless for years. The friends I had helped me feel less alone. Those friends helped me when I got kicked out of one shelter and was going to lose my stuff. Someone I’ve never met in person drove three hours down to the City to help move my stuff out. Otherwise I would have had to leave everything behind.

I set up Paypal while I was homeless and sometimes when welfare was fucked up, a donation from a friend or a friend of a friend meant the difference between feeding my child AND myself or going hungry so TJ could eat. I’ve had friends send me books and clothes. These friends even helped me end my homelessness.

A few years ago, there was a big blow up in my friend group. I won’t get into details but I was mostly at the center of it. There was definitively a racial component, by the way. By that point I finally felt loved and seen. The people I counted as friends were more like family. But then the blow up happened and I lost a huge chunk of my support group. During that time I was dealing with lots of bullshit in meatspace, including surviving sexual assault. My friends online were my refuge and suddenly I lost it all.

It was one of the worst moments of my life. During that time I had started talking to my current partner who I met through mutuals on Facebook. We didn’t know each other well so I was worried they would stop talking to me after hearing all of the awful shit those former friends were saying. But they stuck by me. So did Ania, even though it meant she also lost a lot of friends for defending me.

If I believed in god, I’d say Ania was a godsend. She’s really gone up to bat for me. She’s helped me more than my own family has. I cannot imagine my life without her. I’m forever indebted to her.

In the years since all of that bullshit, I’ve had to reevaluate everything. People saying “trust me” and “I’m here for you” were no longer enough. I couldn’t even trust actions because most of the people largely responsible for helping me get out of the shelter ended up back stabbing me. It really drove home that no matter how many marginalizations we may share, white people will almost always choose other white people.

But I’ve gotten through it for the most part. I have a wonderful partner and I’m engaged! Out of all the bullshit I made new friends who had also been hurt and saw how I was treated. Ania invited me to write for this blog. I adopted a beautiful cat.

This year while visiting my partner, we went on a road trip and met several friends. Friends with whom I’ve shared art with and vice versa. Friends who are disability advocates and I don’t need to explain Spoon Theory because they get it. I also do not think it’s a coincidence that the friends I made after the blow up are people of color.

I’ve had therapists, social workers and so many other people tell me online friendships aren’t “real life”. That’s ridiculous. The people online are real and their actions have real world consequences. I think the idea that online friendships aren’t real makes it easy for people to treat others as disposable.

When I needed someone, I could count on my friends, my chosen family, to be there. When my heart was broken by some of those people, the pain didn’t suddenly stop when I closed my laptop. My engagement is real. When I get to spend time with my partner, that’s real. When a friend needs support we all come together and share their gofundme or PayPal links.

We take care of each other. My point is that just like “real life”, online life is just as valid and real.

And these friends support the hell out of my Ricky Martin fangirling.

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Online Friendships
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