I’ve always been a ‘face-to-face’ kind of person. The sort of girl who enjoys catching up with a friend over coffee and being able to watch their reaction as I tell them some juicy gossip or be able to comfort them when they’re going through a difficult time. I like the rawness of it, the authenticity, the physicality. But with the current state of my life constantly pulling me between different cities, stretching me as far as I can go, I don’t get that luxury anymore. Studying at a university three hours from home and trying to make a life there and failing, to moving back in with my boyfriend and forever travelling back to the small town where my family is, I am always away from someone who I love. I am always constantly missing someone and checking my phone to see if they’ve texted.
I am never quite present, no-matter where I am, no matter who I am with; I will always feel as if a part of me is missing. And I think that’s why friendships I have formed online are so special to me, and to other people.
Being able to connect with someone from half a world away who shares the same passion as you feels liberating and empowering. It feels as if the miles forced between you mean nothing.
I can turn my laptop on as soon as I wake up and be catapulted into this world which feels like home and talk to people who know me better than some of my closest IRL friends.
And the best part is, I don’t miss them the way I miss people I met at home or university; I don’t have to torture myself with memories of how they smell or sound, or the way their face lights up when they see me. I don’t need to rearrange my life to fit them into my schedule, to sit on packed out trains for hours just for one day with them.
Online friends feel safe almost from the get-go, especially if met in an environment which is important to you both. On some level you understand each other and for whatever reason, you feel less scared of opening up the parts of you which you keep hidden. You don’t have to be afraid of being judged for your looks, for assumptions to be made about your personality or that they will talk about you behind your back with your friends.
You don’t have to make any apologies for who you are, you don’t need to hide parts of yourself, or create this illusion of someone you feel you should be.
Because in a virtual reality, there will always be someone like you. Someone who is just as afraid of the unknown, the judging minds and harsh thoughts of others. Someone who has been searching for someone just like you for their entire life.
We are taught to not be too much or too little, to not shout about our weird passions to the world and to fit ourselves to this mould society has created. We are forever looking behind us to see who is whispering and mocking; we are forever terrified that our friends are not really our friends and that who we are will be ridiculed. The real world can be a hostile place to live.
But I am not saying we should choose one over the other, I’m simply saying that this stigma which exists around online friendships and relationships is ridiculous. I’m saying that both hold so much meaning, both can change our lives. Both can change us into better people, both can break us free from the cages of our own minds, both can give us the courage to just be ourselves, to speak freely about the things which scare us and move us and inspire us.
Online friendships give us just that little bit more love in a world which is full of so much hate. They give us permission to love ourselves, to see ourselves in others and to demand a friendship which is honest. Online friendships allow us to reach out to people who we have been inspired by for years and to develop something we never could have anticipated.
And sometimes, just sometimes, we can decide that we want to see them, feel them, know that look on their face when they find something hilarious or beautiful or exhilarating.
Online worlds allow us to choose our world and the people we want in it, the people that matter.