I can remember when virtual friendship was only something that happened in Sci-fi cartoons. It was while I was a young teen that it started to be a ‘real thing’, and I’m not ashamed to say that connecting with strangers online and forming friendships at every level of emotional intimacy has been a blessing to me.
As an introvert finding in-person friendships that go as deep as my soul desires and don’t settle on the surface of only ‘doing’ and ‘having fun’ is hard. Really hard. It always has been and I think it always will be, but one of the beauties of online communication is you can’t rely on the ‘doing’ you HAVE to talk. There are also only so many things to talk about before you run out of fun stuff and have to dip your tie into deep waters of thought, or, say goodbye and part ways. It really is the same pattern as in-person friendships follow, but you get to skip some of the very beginning stages, knowing that if you are in the same online space you definitely have a few things in common, and this can speed up the proses of connection.
In fact, online interactions can be a whirlwind of deep conversations. To a heart that is longing for friendship, it can be a different kind of addictive than the general scrolling through posts on social media. As a backlash broken friendships can happen in the blink of an eye and come with a deep and painful grief.
“In fact, online interactions can be a whirlwind of deep conversations.”
This can be surprising to many people who have not experienced online friendship yet or have chosen not to give it a chance. (The latter being a completely understandable choice.) But believe me when I say that online friendship can be just as real as in person, just as fulfilling, and just as painful. But it can also be dangerous.
Misunderstandings happen in abundance without the added context of voice inflections and body language which are a key part of human communication. Outright deception is also much easier to pull off. But these dangers are present in in-person relationships as well. It’s all about learning. Just like toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners, all learn the basics of in-person connections, when we start to enter online communication platforms there is a time of learning that happens. What is safe? What isn’t safe? What one individual might be comfortable with, another might not be. The need to show respect and remember that the text on the screen means there is a soul somewhere in the world taking in the words you say or say through video uploads that come in short clips and rarely show all sides of a conversation. Discernment is needed when interacting online, but at the same time, the lack of those communication cues makes it harder to use discernment. Emotions are heightened and judgment is sometimes absent.
“Discernment is needed when interacting online, but at the same time, the lack of those communication cues makes it harder to use discernment.”
Still, I think if we are willing to learn how to participate in healthy online interactions, virtual friendships can be a blessing. I know mine have been. In fact, I met my husband online as a teen.
Virtual friendships have the ability to drive the seed of connection deep and can grow into something that is truly beautiful. But I believe no friendship kept purely online ever reaches its full potential. Just like my relationship with my husband could only go so far while we date online, and needed to be brought to in-person interactions at one point, for some purely platonic friendship to grow to achieve full growth, then need to add in-person interactions as well. Not every virtual friendship is meant for this, and indeed for some that are strong online an in-person element will be too much and cause it to crumble. But the blending online and in person can forge unbreakable bonds. Again, discernment is needed to know what ones, as well as the willingness to maturity to let go when things don’t work like we hoped.
Lossing virtual friendships is scary, and leaves a hole just as painful as losing in-person friendships. If you have experienced this loss don’t discount the grief you might go through. These breaks often require time to heal and sort out just like losing a childhood friend. Give yourself grace during that time.
“Lossing virtual friendships is scary, and leaves a hole just a painful as losing in-person friendships.”
If you are one of those people that steer away from virtual friendship, I also want to say that is completely okay. It is also much more acceptable to cut virtual friendships from your life if it is becoming detrimental to your health in any way. Humans were made to first connect in person. No matter how many good online friendships you may have, it is very hard to be a whole and healthy mind without an in-person connection. Your family, your in-person friends, and your community should always come first until an online friendship turns into an in-person friendship and joins the circle of family, friends and community.
If you are someone who walks the virtual community roadway you may at times experience someone cutting you off in favour of family and in-person friendship. No matter how deep the connection you might have online with someone goes, being able to let go of that person, is extremely important. It’s okay to grieve if they need to leave you behind, but it’s also healthiest for you to not hold on to someone who needs that space.
Friendships and human relationships are complex at any level. This short opinion piece is by no means a guide to friendship and I am no expert. I’m just a woman who has been walking the path of virtual connection for twenty-two years and feel compelled to give some advice. My intent is to start a conversation and to help us all think deeply about the decisions we make in our human friendships. The world is going through fast changes right now. Wisdom, and hearts that are open to learning are required to keep us all healthy and happy while navigating new ways to form friendships. I’m praying for discernment for all of us.
Thank you for stopping in to read my heart,
Mary Grace van der Kroef
Copyright ©2023 Mary Grace van der Kroef
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