The Friends I Never Met

For a brief period in high school I was a highly active member of a wondrous little website called Wotmania.com, a fan site for The Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan. That site was my LIFE for about two years and it was so much more than just a place to geek out.

Shit, when I finally accepted that I was gay the first thing I did after calling my sister almost in tears and coming out to her was write up a post for the Wotmania community message board. I had been flirting up so many boys ‘round those parts no one was surprised, but everyone was amazingly supportive. It felt great to have so much encouragement, even if it only came in the form of text and emoticons.

I had a Wotmania account long before I jumped on the Facebook bandwagon and I have to say, I’m glad I did. It felt amazing to be completely open and honest with people who really cared; or at least made a good show of pretending to care. Sure there were embarrassing moments, like getting caught having cybersex in the chartroom (I never did live that one down, and don’t you judge me, I was like 16 and a 16 year-old erection isn’t too picky), or explaining to my parents IRL that this site and these people were perfectly safe and would not attempt to abduct me and sell me into the international sex trade while they watched over my shoulder as I surfed the message board.

I called these people my “friends” in everyday parlance because I couldn’t think of what else to say. What do you call someone whom you’ve never met but with whom you share intimate details of your life? I never could figure out an adequate way to explain my relationship with my fellow “Wotmaniacs” (what we frequenters called ourselves), or how to convince those around me that I could actually trust people they saw as total strangers. These Wotmaniacs didn’t feel like strangers to me; they truly felt like the closest of friends. Sure there was some anonymity, but I think its almost easier to be totally honest with someone whose face you’ve never seen because it feels less dangerous. They might judge you harshly, but who cares? It’s not like you’re going to see them around any time soon, you live in Minnesota and they live in England, or wherever Melbourne is.

Even though Wotmania went offline a few years ago I still think about my time there, and how those people touched my life. In the last year I’ve grown pretty uptight about online communication, ratcheting up my Facebook privacy settings and changing passwords that until now had been the same for years, and I sometimes wonder if I could again open myself up to strangers the way I did in my Wotmania days.

I suppose the technical answer to that would be “yes”; but only because I’ve created and deleted two profiles on a gay dating website that may or may not have included nekkid photos. None of that business really means anything; those profiles were created out of sheer horniness and were meant for nothing more than fulfilling that desire. There was no “real” communication beyond the most basic necessary civilities and there was no need of such a thing.

I honestly doubt that I could ever build the types of relationships I did at Wotmania again because I’m older and a lot more cynical/paranoid. Many former Wotmaniacs relocated to a new site together (run by some former Wotmania admins) and while that site’s homepage in still in my Safari Top Sites I rarely visit it. Too much has changed, there are too many screen names I don’t recognize and though both sites share an almost identical design, the new one isn’t where I used to log in to bitch about my ninth grade girlfriend who wouldn’t sit by me at lunch and where I wrote shitty, cryptic poetry in my public journal (I’m a little sad I didn’t decide to preserve my old Wotmania journal, it was a beautiful view of my mid-teen “I’m super deep and complicated” years).

These days, the time that I would have spent at Wotmania is given up to Facebook (where I do remain in contact with a number of my dearest Wotmaniac friends, though I have yet to meet any of them in person) where I share things with my friends whom live outside of the Internet. I do miss Wotmania occasionally, but I don’t think I’ll be looking for another place like it any time soon. My friends from the Internet will always live on in a little corner of my heart and I owe them a lot of thanks for helping me navigate my teenage years but I’m now aboard the good ship of my 20s and I’ve got to get real. No more hiding behind screen names or anything fun like that. Sigh. TC mark

image – Carbon NYC

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  • neens

    I loved this. I definitely identified with a lot of things you mentioned there.. not the nekked pictures on dating websites, but the part about growing up and spilling your deep, complicated teenage soul on a message board. Good times… 

  • M909

    I can relate. I used to hangout on the MySpace forums when I was 15. We were so close knit that our admin of the topic made it “sticky” so it was always at the top. We genuinely all got along, with few exceptions.

    At the time, I didn’t think it was weird to be friends with a 30-year-old mother and budding artist. Eventually we all left, because too many new people jumped into our topic and took over with inane dribble.

    As I got more involved with high school, and actually made friends, I left my MySpace forum days behind. I tried searching for the people I actually remembered, and all had erased their profiles. I guess the era has passed. A few people stick around the forum…I did visit it yesterday…and they really talk about a whole lot of nothing. Was I like that? It seemed to special to me at the time. Oh, to be 21-years-old and reflecting on years gone by.

  • Kathy

    all i can say is that i love wheel of time

  • Rachel Butters Scotch

    Sometimes I get caught up in the nostalgia and try and hunt down some old internet friends, but to no avail. That’s the downfall of internet friends: you’re not sure if they ever really existed. 

    • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

      Been there as well. Suddenly, there’s no trace.
      I avoid letting myself fall into the nostalgics of that, but it happens anyway.

  • Adolf Hipster

    Wheel of Time was terrible. They could have clipped 7 or 8 books out of that series and it would have been decent. Why the hell did Jordan feel the need to take 3 full books to describe Rand walking?

  • Heatherchen108

    I have that too with Buzznet and Sarmy.  I met a lot of great people there, especially with Sarmy.  And then unfortunately, Buzznet got too Twilighty for me and Sarmy got overrun by crazy people [As in too many postings in one hour, a lot of poorly written comments that made me question their sanity].  So I quit both in not wanting to put in the effort to maintain that sameness.  

  • ec

    i miss gamefaqs

  • http://www.facebook.com/earthtonichole EarthToNichole

    I spent my middle school years posting on the AOL Daria forum and can totally relate to this.

  • Guest

    How meta is this? I’m a person that you know in real life posting a comment expressing my appreciation to the mystical internet aspect of your life that both of us share, but neither of us knew about until now. WEIRD. The short of it: I totally did this in a Harry Potter message board in my formidable years, and I totally understand what you’re talking about. That moment of connection ends at some point and you aren’t even gifted the notion that it’s never going to be the same. This was such a nice nostalgia-fest, and I appreciated every minute of it. Can’t wait to see more.

    • guesst

      it’s ‘formative years’. but samesies omg

  • Ella

    I lived, virtually, on the message boards for Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series for several years in middle school, and damn, was it a good outlet for a lonely bookworm’s middle school angst. When I found out my family would be moving across the country, I wasn’t allowed to tell my IRL friends, so I confessed to my friends on those forums about how nervous I was. The first birthday I spent in the new town was my 13th (angst upgrade from preteen to teen) and it was so early in the school year that I barely knew anyone. Those dear people, some of them teenagers themselves and some of them decades out of that harrowing time, made me a colorful little website with personal birthday wishes from each one of them. Still one of the nicest things any friend has ever done for me.

    I later wrote a college essay about the experience and I am 99% positive it was titled “The Friends I Never Met.” =] Aww, internet bonding!

    • Anonymous

      And we miss you over there.  :)  (New address: http://www.youngwizards.com/forums , if you weren’t there when we changed from the eve system to vBulletin.) 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1198922828 Marianna Elvira

    gpoy.

  • Miranda

     I made so many friends on the internet as I hopped from Gaia to Livejournal, from fandom to fandom, from chat to chat. My second-longest-lasting friendship is with a girl I met online, and we still talk almost every day. As an incredible shy and insecure kid in middle school and high school, the most meaningful relationships I had were with the people I spent hours a day chatting with on AIM – RPing, writing fic, playing virtual Monopoly, and most of all talking about our lives. Now that I’m in college and a much more outgoing person, I have stopped feeling the need to make new internet friends, but there are still a few that I keep in constant touch with.

  • CNRedDragon

    When I saw the preview snippet of your article I thought to myself, “It’d be pretty funny if he was talking about wotmania.” And then you were totally talking about wotmania, and that’s pretty cool. Former Wotmaniacs represent!

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