My Imaginary Friend

Yesterday I met a good and dear friend and her daughter.  We’ve been chatting to each other, giving advice and asking for help, laughing and sharing our lives for over 3 years, now.  Yesterday was the first time we’d ever met.

Of course, we knew each other electronically: we’d met through an online mothers and mothers-to-be forum.  The impetus to meet in the flesh was to exchange craft items we’d bought (online) from each other.  For 2 people who spend significant periods of their day online, we were both very nervous before our meeting, agreeing that it felt like online dating.  How strange to meet a person whose photo you’ve seen hundreds of times and whose words you’ve read so often that you ‘get’ their jokes and little nuances: to see that photo actually move, to hear the well-known voice actually speak aloud in their real voice.

My friend S has recently made a life-changing decision that most people would question the wisdom of.  However, in her circumstances and given her talents I believe she’s made the right move.  For her.  I told S: “You never take decisions lightly and although you do make a lot of bold steps, you reason them out fully beforehand”.  She was absolutely rocked at how I could know her so well without having met her.  Yet in writing down what we think, day in and day out, over the course of weeks, years even, you do get to know someone very well.

I recently typed to another lady whom I’ve known just as long (T) “I love you!” in jest.  Yet as the thread continued, I realised it wasn’t completely a joke.  She was the first person whose advice I sought when L was seriously ill, and she advised and supported me from afar, via text.  When I was hospitalised with hyperemesis, she texted me daily just to keep my spirits up.  She knew just how much sympathy to lend me without making me cross, and she knows what makes me laugh.  We’ve shared some pretty intimate moments of our lives together, yet given that we live at opposite ends of the country, we are unlikely to ever meet (even though we chat most days, pore over and comment on each others’ Facebook photo albums).

So are electronic friends as dear and as close as real friends?  Arguably more so – you don’t have to respond in real-time as you would if your friend phoned or you met them on the street.  You can choose when to reply to your friend at a time that suits you, so it’s easier to present the nicer, more caring, and witty sides of your personality.

We’re all aware that it’s very easy to take this further and pretend to be someone you are not, over the internet.  I’ve often joked on the baby forums that in real life I am a 54 year old lorry driver from Hull called Derek.  (Perhaps a little bit of S worried that that was who she was going to meet yesterday!)  And it’s all too easy for really vile people to use the internet to allow them to pretend to be normal or decent.  Och, that’s me mithering about those internet searches bringing up this blog, again.  I’m sure I’ll get over it.

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