Many of us have made friends with people we’ve never met in person, thanks to the magic that is the internet. Sometimes, we hold them as close (or closer than) the friends that we see in person on a daily basis. But when you finally meet someone you’ve known for a decade on your computer screen, the feeling is a paradoxical one of being both surreal, and completely natural.
I first met Lucy online when I was 16, on a role-playing forum. As someone who has always been an avid writer, I frequented these forums to escape the harshness of reality, as an outlet for my ever churning creativity, and because creating a story with someone else is SO much fun. We didn’t talk much at first, beyond our back and forth contributions to the story we were mutually forming, but we were so attached to one another’s writing that our camaraderie was obvious by the frequency of and dedication to the narrative we were weaving. I can recall pretending to do research on the computers at school, when secretly I was working on a reply to send to Lucy as soon as it was done.
Sadly, the stress and demand of university, and the flare up of my anxiety led me to disappear from the forum, as people on the internet so frequently do. I didn’t have the time or the will to write anymore, but I never forgot about our epic roleplay. It crossed my mind all the time, but not without despondency and remorse for abandoning it. I was convinced Lucy must have forgotten about me, and the epic tale we were crafting, and it wasn’t until I was 23, and recovering from having my wisdom teeth surgically removed, that I had a (somewhat humourous, drug-induced) discussion with my brother about internet communities and how strong they could be. I reminisced about the forum, and about Lucy, and out of an urge to reconnect with the past that I’d abandoned, I sought out the website.
It was still there! And, I happened to notice, so was Lucy, as I’d never forget her infamous username. So I rejoined and introduced myself to the forum, but had no expectations that my longtime friend and writing partner would remember (or want to talk to) me. Imagine my surprise when she not only recognized me, but was the first person to welcome me back!
It felt like old times, and I remembered why I had taken to roleplaying in the first place. Lucy and I dove right back into writing our old characters, and over time, started many, MANY new stories with brand new characters. Writing with her was so easy and so fulfilling, because we just worked. Our writing styles complemented one another’s, we would mutually squeal and cry over what we were putting our characters through. I’d stay up late, just to be online for when she would read my latest post, because I was so excited for her reaction, and reading her replies became the #1 thing I’d look forward to each day. We were as close a any two friends could be, and sent each other letters, Christmas gifts and birthday gifts. For Christmas one year, she had actually formatted a novella I had written into a professional-looking, hands-on, novel format! I’d always wanted to hold a piece of my writing in book form, and it goes without saying that to this day, it is the most thoughtful present I had ever received.
Obviously, there was no way I could top that, but I wanted to give her something just as thoughtful for her birthday. So I did an oil painting of the character she had developed when we wrote together for the very first time. It was nerve-wracking; I hadn’t painted in a few years, and I was worried she wouldn’t like it. Thankfully, she did!
Of course, we talked about visiting one another one day, even when work general adult-life meant we posted much less frequently, and didn’t see one another online as often. It was something I’d always hoped for, but never expected would actually happen–until she told me she had bought the plane ticket, and was coming to see me in October.
I was BEYOND ecstatic. It was basically my Jr. High dream come true, to meet someone with whom I shared so much in common, and the night my partner and I went to pick her up at the airport, I felt like a hyperactive child on Christmas Eve.
Immediately, I felt like I’d known her forever, just as well and even better than some of my other friends.
While I had tried to plan a lot of fun things to do, since she was only visiting for a few days, she was extremely easygoing, and I didn’t feel awkward or pressured to entertain during moments (or hours) when we weren’t doing anything but sitting around. It says a lot when you can sit in comfortable silence with someone, and I automatically felt it was safe to do with her.
Of course, I wanted to make her visit count, nonetheless; she is the first and only person to ever travel from a different country to see me! So I gave her the lowdown of Nova Scotia, bought her an authentic Halifax donair, and we attended some art exhibits and demonstrations that were happening over the weekend. She wanted to see a beach, so I took her to Peggy’s Cove, and later that evening, we attended (and solved!) an Escape Room, which is my new favourite thing to do with a group of friends.
Lucy is super artistic and creative, so we spent some time painting ceramics at a local café on her last day in Halifax, before she had to fly home the next morning. I wanted to make something to commemorate her visit, and now I have a new favourite coffee mug (since hers had to be fired and wouldn’t be ready in time for her to leave, I mailed it to her when it was done).
Her visit was short, just a few days over the weekend, and I wish we could’ve have more time to hang out. As an introvert, I am MUCH more comfortable meeting and talking to people online (heck, I even met my partner online), and it’s not often you get to hang out with people to whom you really connect, in spite of distance and time zones. Lucy is exactly how I thought she would be, and our friendship and connection really is as true as it felt. Obviously, this isn’t always going to be the case, and I’d advise anyone hoping to meet a longtime internet friend to Skype them first (people aren’t always who they claim to be). Fake identities aside, however, this just goes to show how close we really are to one another, and the legitimacy of global community.
I can therefore say without any shame or embarrassment that some of my closest friends are people who I have never met in person, but who know me well, and for whom I care for very deeply. One of my biggest fears is that something might happen to them (or me) one day, and the other person would have no way of knowing what had occurred or whether or not they would ever hear from their friend again (the anxiety is legit, man). It’s people like Lucy, people who some closed-minded others might not consider to be “real friends”, who have helped me through some of the most difficult moments of my life, and as such, I’d like to think that the definition and meaning of friendship had evolved in this age of technology, where distance matters considerably less.