On spiritual kindred, or kindred spirits.

I’ve been having a tough time emotionally lately, and for various reasons I haven’t really wanted to talk about it much to my Real Life colleagues and family members. In the spirit of not using my blog just to whine about Feckless and his Mongolian Floozy, I am not going to talk about it here, either. What I really wanted to write about was about the nature of online friendships, and how interestingly intimacy and anonymity interact.

I’ve developed some really interesting online frienships with people I know from a particular forum; I liked what they had to say, and maybe we also hung out in chat together, or exchanged messages or emails. These friendships are based originally on a meeting of the minds; they are with people who are so separated from me in age, or geography (or both) that there is no way we would have met, let alone become friends in a real life situation, but that impossibility is part of what makes me treasure these intimacies. I pick these people to be friends with because we share some essential similarities – they make me laugh; they make me think about stuff; we don’t need a history together, all we need are common interests and philosophies.

In real life, we meet people, and we share experiences, and we have some stuff in common, but often, I find, with real life friends, you make allowances for opinions and personality traits that piss you off. My best friend at university was a vet student who was great fun, but gradually became less and less of a kindred spirit as time passed and the things I dismissed as her annoying quirks became more and more central to her personality. Sometimes we hang on to these kinds of friends – I only really dropped the Vet because I moved to a different country. If we still lived in the same city, we would probably still hang out occasionally.

Work friends you like because of proximity, and for me, because I like to exchange ideas at work, and I spend part of my day hanging out. Apparently, this makes me “a good colleague,” according to my Chair. I like the a lot of my colleagues, but I also know that if I quit my job tomorrow, I would never bother to talk to the majority of them again, and I wouldn’t feel that as a huge loss.

Online friends for me are a matter of pure choice. There’s no social obligation attached, really, and people come and go much more freely than they do in real life (big showy exits are more frequent in online communities, but so are quiet, creeping returns). Silence is much more common, and sometimes its hard to know how to interpret it – if your real life friends hang up or stop calling, it is a big deal, but online friends might just have had computer trouble or borken internets.

People who don’t have an online social life say stuff like “but how do you know if what they tell you about themselves is true?” which is a fair point in evaluating friendships according to real life criteria. However, I’m quite happy to have a friendship with an online persona, and not trouble myself too much about how true it is to the “real” person. If your persona is much more fun and interesting and intelligent than your real self, I think maybe that says something about the quality of “real” life, rather than something about honesty.

We all create online selves; we reveal what we want to reveal, but if what you show me of yourself is something I like, why should I be too worried about whether you are a married mother of 4 who claims to be a younger woman or a single 30-something who pretends to be an old guy?

Likewise, maybe the quality of the support network offered by online friendships is not the same as “real” friends who bring you icecream or help you move house, or babysit your spawn when you are desperate, but on the other hand, I have felt hesitant about talking to my “real” friends who have known me forever, and always seen me as part of a “perfect” couple about Feckless’ shenanigans. Online friends, with that relative degree of anonymity, can be excellent listeners.

I never really believed in that old saw about how it is much easier to talk to strangers than to people you know, but I think it is easier to talk to people who don’t have to know all the extraneous details of my life, who don’t know Feckless, and who can perhaps also bring a degree of objectivity (or a degree of “rah, rah!” if that is what is needed) to the situation.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying – e-pals, I really appreciate your support. SJ, Surely, Lorelei, witch, reggiko, Annan, and yes, even Pescado: I appreciate your friendship. Readers, I appreciate your potential friendship; feel free to say hi.

8 thoughts on “On spiritual kindred, or kindred spirits.

  1. witch

    I think if people appear a certain way consistently online, then that IS their true persona. The person who could keep an act up over time would be fairly unusual e.g. Pescado of course. Most people reveal themselves over time, whether they will or no.

    We have all suffered shame and disappointment; glad my support is helpful for you. Once again the woman is left at home holding the baby and doing so with dignity and honour. I salute you.


  2. eleanor bloom

    Hi, pleased to meet you.

    Your post explains my recent thoughts like you read my mind.

    It really seems to be a new type of relationship. I like how we experience certain aspects and qualities of a person that we might not discover in any other kind of social relationship. And yes, the best example is that online many of us are able to reveal things that we don’t even tell those closest to us.

    I’m still getting my head around it actually. There is a kind of freedom to it, especially with anonymity; when you don’t have to be concerned with others’ judgments on you (the “real” you) it gives you the freedom to be more of who you are (you know they’re not going to go running and tell your mother for eg.). So even though someone uses an alias, you are likely seeing a more authentic ‘them’.

    Anyway, thanks for putting my thoughts down for me!

    And, I wish you well in your ‘real’ life. I know too many people who are going through similar right now. Take care.

  3. SJ

    This is a nice post. It really sums up well what I’ve been feeling about the difference between online and IRL. People like you add a totally new component to my life that I never knew I was missing. A big part of it is certainly that objectivity. Isn’t it bizarre that we wear “masks” online, and yet you can have a different, but still meaningful relationship with people, because you can drop the mask you wear in front of real-life friends.

    I am about to meet online friend in Chicago this summer that I’ve had for seven years and never met, due to living on different continents and such! And I think about my newer friendship with you…I wouldn’t give any of this up. I was so depressed when I was, ahem, court-ordered to stop blogging.

    Hang in there. I’m thinking of you. If I disappear for a couple of days that’s still true.

  4. Lorelei

    I *heart* you, too.

    Actually, some of my best friendships are those which were originally made online. After years of chatting back and forth, we have a true meeting of the minds and hearts. I’ve been to their weddings and cheered on baby birthin’.

    Conversely, when a group of online friends became OBSESSED with boybands and would NOT shut up about them (or posting fantasies about these children, ugh) I got fed up and said some unkind and pointed things, and this was enough for them and I to mutually sever ties. All because I begged them to take the icky topic to private chat or to flag their posts so I could blip over them, after dealing with the obsession for four or five months of daily, multiple, LONG posts. If we were face-to-face, they would have sensed my displeasure and found others to talk to about it.

    The real pisser is that I started the mail alias in the first place, and had been careful not to lord that fact over anyone’s head. I started it, named it, and invited others, and in the end I left it behind. After ten years.

    Also, I’m hoping that these 30- and 40-something women have finally gotten over the whole topic, as they went to concerts and were openly mocked because they weren’t there with kids in tow, though the one that got an N’SYNC tattoo on her heinie may still be holding on to her interest, at least until she can afford laser surgery.

    The bonus with online friends is that if they are available, you know they are truly available, and you haven’t dropped in or called them in the middle of another activity. When I chat with someone, they want to chat with me. Otherwise, they aren’t online, or take time to return e-mail. No hurt feelings ensue. This is particularly nice for me, because I keep odd hours and typically hate phones. The phone hate was originally the cost of long distance, but now the phone only rings when I am busy doing something else, and when I have time to chat on the phone, no one else is available. Screw the phone, then. 🙂

    Also? I have to back up witch. I may not tell everyone everything online, but what I do reveal is 100% true, because it’s too much of a hassle to adopt an Internet persona that is too different from my real self. Been online long enough to sniff out inconsistencies and fakery from most people I run into, and polite enough to let it pass unremarked unless there’s an attempt to actively deceive someone else.

  5. Surely

    Thanks for the shoutout – am glad I could be there for you in whatever shape or form! Now I’m getting all misty-eyed, LOL. A virtual mist of the eyes that is.

    I don’t know anyone IRL who has an online social network or spends time talking to people online like I do. But they are quite resistant to the idea. Again, the issue of self-representation pops up – “you don’t know WHO you are talking to” as well as the judgemental comments like “aren’t people who have social lives online losers and loners in real life?” My roommate’s like that – I laugh and say, “well, are you trying to tell me something!?”

    I do agree that it seems we can talk about things we don’t normally talk about to those who know us. I haven’t talked a lot about myself in the usual forums and chatrooms but I do feel like I can, if I want to. Also we are quite lucky to have found a group of like-minded people, entirely by chance. I mean, think about how we all got together!

    I’m all about an online social life. I met my first boyfriend online (though we pursued our relationship offline for the most part) and wouldn’t have looked at him twice if I saw him on the street! I think online social lives – providing all parties are honest with who they are – can help us get to know each other better than what most would expect.

    Hope that made sense!

    And I hope you get through this tough period.

    *hugs you*

  6. reggikko

    I’m glad to have been even a little bit of an encouragement during your tough time. Thanks for the shout out! I am in my life pretty much just as I am online. As Lorelei said, it’s just too much trouble for me to try to fake anything. I can only be myself, wherever I am. I love the fact that we can meet kindred souls online, persons we would never have had the chance to meet otherwise. Of course, I’d be obligated to axe-murder you all if I ever met you in person. I’ve a reputation to uphold, after all.


  7. whatladder Post author

    See, I knew there was a reason I said all you people were awesome! You are awesome!

    It’s interesting how this issue keeps coming up since I wrote about it, too.

  8. annann126

    Whoa, I was so not prepared to see my name in that post. I feel deeply honoured that you consider me a friend – not to try and sound creepy or anything, but you make it clear your standards are high. I feel good about meeting them.

    I agree with Surely on the how we got together part – and I think that’s the beauty of it. I was fully prepared to just talk about the game when I joined the forum, but instead I found some Very Awesome People. Everyone on your list included. 🙂

    And also, mind if I add you to my blogroll? My wordpress blog is at http://fudged.wordpress.com

    Awh, stupid Ro, you made me feel all fuzzy. Silly me.


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