Some of my strongest and most memorable relationships have been formed online; many of my life’s hardest trials were made easier by reaching out to friends who I had yet to even meet in person. These aren’t nebulous caricatures on the other side of a data-stream, these are real people whom I have chosen to invest a part of myself into.
I’ve known my online friend group for more than two years, when I was a senior in high school dealing with an existential crisis I didn’t know how to process. I met this group of people in a chatroom dedicated to discussing independent music. I vividly remember laughing and making jokes with near-strangers as we livestreamed Coachella 2017.
I slowly got to know a few of these people as I talked about my troubles and taste in music while Bon Iver played us “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” from California.
Self-disclosure is a tricky, slow business, especially online. I grew up without any rules regarding the internet, so I was used to getting into flame wars and talking to groups of people of all different backgrounds and walks of life. I have fond memories of heated arguments on my now-ancient YouTube channel about the apparent crappiness of my Kirby plush videos.
When I was my most depressed, it was easier to talk to my online friends than to talk to my closest friends. It might sound like a crutch, but if I hadn’t had those online friends there with me, I would have retreated into myself even further. These are people who offered an outside perspective on my troubles, people who really wanted to see me do my best. And because of them, I started the first steps towards going to counseling and getting proper medication. These people weren’t crutches, they were crucial friendships formed when I was my most vulnerable.
Part of many people’s skepticism regarding online friendships is that self-disclosure can look like whatever you want it to. People can lie about anything they want, and there’s little way to check the validity of what they’re saying. But in my experience, sincerity isn’t rare. But this doesn’t change the fact relationships take time, and it has taken me years to get to know these people as well as I do. We video chat, call each other, play games together, talk about new music together, and share the goings-on of our lives.
This past semester, I got to meet two of these people in person; those meetups are some of the most memorable days of my life. I’m not saying don’t be cautious, but common sense, appropriate trust, and basic rules of safety get you far.
I’ve referred to the friends I speak to every day online as “online friends,” but I don’t think the adjective is necessary. These people are my friends. And the skepticism of parents and those unfamiliar with online relationships can never change that fact.