When I fell pregnant with my son, I downloaded a pregnancy and birth app called BabyBump. Tegan was in the process of having her first child like me. Bree was parenting her two children and soon announced a third (in addition to her two step kids). Tegan and I connected because we had a lot in common – we shared a lot of opinions and ideals. I looked up to Bree so much. Her experience as a mum and willingness to share saw her give me a lot of comfort and reassurance as I came to grips with motherhood.
Our friendships graduated from BabyBump, moved to Facebook, and continued over the years. Coincidentally, both have stayed with my family and I over the last fortnight. Tegan and her family drove here and stayed with my family on their way to and from a holiday, and Bree flew here alone to spend a day and night with my family and I.
My husband isn’t into social media, and finds it bizarre that I would keep such friendships, let alone invite these friends to stay with us. But these ladies aren’t just “internet friends”. Having them actually come and stay in my home reaffirmed to me that these ladies are most definitely the real deal.
What gave it away?
You would clean your house before an internet friend came to stay. I didn’t clean for my real friends, nor did I apologise for any mess. I’ve previously sent photos of my “floordrobe” to Tegan when she was miserable about seventy loads of unfolded laundry taking over her loungeroom. They already knew I’m not much of a housewife, and they didn’t care.
You would continue cleaning when internet friends are over, in an attempt to convince them you are a decent person who goes to bed at night with no dirty dishes in the sink. I did nearly no chores when my real friends were here, because I wanted to spend as much time as possible enjoying their company.
You try hard to connect with your internet friend’s kids. Connecting with my real friend’s kids was effortless. I already felt like I knew them because I’ve read about their strengths and struggles. I figured Lexie would like our variety of blocks because I’ve heard about her accidentally destroying cities built by her older siblings. I knew Piper isn’t into hugs or affection. I didn’t need to figure out what makes these kids tick, and it made it so much easier for me to enjoy their company.
You might secretly think your internet friend’s husband is a bit of a douchebag, because she always vents to you about their arguments. You know your real friend’s husband is a good guy, because she tells you about all the great things about him, and not just the not-so-great things.
I might feel compelled to apologise to an internet friend because my husband seems a little stand-offish. My real friends probably expected that because I’ve mentioned in the past that he’s quiet. And they didn’t mind that he wasn’t very talkative because they were too busy talking to me!
Real friends rummage through your cupboards to find drinking glasses and they find power points for their phone chargers on their own. They use your wifi. They know you expect them to make themselves comfortable.
You don’t chatter to fill in the silence with a real friend. You bask in a moment’s peace together.
You might breathe a secret sigh of relief when your internet friend goes home, but you are genuinely sad when your real friends have to leave – you wish they could stay longer!
Some people have internet friendships because it’s easy to hide behind a Facebook profile. You can paint your life however you like, whether you seek approval for your perfect family, or sympathy because your life is a mess. Your real friends don’t just take your words at face value – they have an insight into your personality and situation. If I wasn’t being truthful with Tegan or Bree and told them I was fine with something when I wasn’t, I believe they would call me out on it.
Honesty is an important factor in any friendship, but especially online because it’s so easy to hide the truth (especially when if it’s ugly) from people who can’t physically see you. You can’t rely on non-verbal cues (which are said to make up as much as 93% of what we convey in conversation).
If you can find people you genuinely appreciate and enjoy, it’s worthwhile to make the effort to keep in touch, whether it’s through online or physical experiences. It might not be the conventional way to have a friendship, but doesn’t make them any less significant.
May you all find friendships as valuable as mine, online or offline.
How do you tell the difference between internet friends, and true friends that you met online?