Friends: Online vs. IRL

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I’m a member of a loosely-organized coalition of like-minded folks. In my mind, I think of us as Superheroes. ‘Cause truth be told, we’re all pretty bad-ass, in our own unique ways.

We communicate solely via a thread of lengthy emails on Gmail. I’ve been a part of the crew for many years. And we talk about everything from the news of the day to our inner-most thoughts and dreams.

gmail-inbox1

Yup. You read right. In my InBox for the SecretSociety account, there are 13,437 emails. All exchanges between a tight-knit group of people over a period of years and years.

We argue. We fight. We curse each other out.

We support. We bond. We network. We cheer.

The first thing I did when CNN called the election for Obama was hug T.G. And then I snapped a picture of us and posted it in a message to the SuperheroSociety. Although we were all scattered across the world, I feel like I shared that moment with them.

At the moment, there are about ten of us actively posting and emailing. (We all come and go occasionally. I disappeared for over a year after getting bogged down in Life. Then I reappeared and was welcomed back with no questions, just open arms).

I was in the Society before I was a wife. Before I was a stepmother. Before I was a mother. So you can imagine how deep the connection is.

Checking in with the Society is something I do at least five times a day. I scroll the days topics and click on whatever interests me. And I jump in, hitting Reply All with my take on politics, male-female relationships or the economy.

I love my peoples in the Society.

And when I say love, I mean love. I mean it in the real way. Not in the online-love ya!-sort of way.

When one of our members abruptly stopped posting for a while, we were worried. When one of our brethren finally caught up to him, we found out that his mother had passed away. My heart sank and I grieved for him. When another member lost her beloved aunt to a senseless and brutal crime, I cried for her. Though I have never seen this woman in my life. I have never even heard her voice and I have no idea what she looks like.

But she’s my friend. They all are.

It’s an online place where I am my real, true self. If I beef out with TheHusband, I’m not gonna talk about it here. But I will plead my case to the SuperheroSociety. And they will give me an unbiased opinion on the situation.

Every so often, members of the Society meet in person. There have been lunches in midtown Manhattan. There have been meet-ups at movie premieres and SuperBowl parties.

I’ve never attended a single one.

I can’t.

I don’t want to meet my Online friends. Not ever.

(Strangely enough, I belong to another private blog, a small group of writers who motivate and encourage each other. And I desperately want to see them all IRL. I fantasize about having enough money to whisk them all away for a writer’s retreat at a spa in Sedona. Maybe because it’s an all-woman group and there are only five of us? Or maybe because we’re all writers and we never have conflict on our blog? Just girl-power and exchanging recipes and networking about writing assignments.)

But on TheSecretSociety, we’re known to go hard and deep if you deserve it. I’ve logged off in disgust when someone has chewed me out for something, even when I knew they were right. We’ve had heated debates that go on for days and days with no one backing down. It’s an intense relationship. And one that is very valuable to me.

So why don’t I want to meet them?! Here’s why:

There’s one member of the SuperheroSociety in particular that I’m close to. We’ll call him…Bobby.

[Oh shoot! Very important sidebar. I just realized that I’m not sure if I know Bobby’s real name! We call him “Bobby” on the site. But a few of us have screen names that are not our real names. My name, for example, is “Wiz.” It’s a shortened form of my email address. And I don’t know who gave me the name. But somewhere along the line, that became my moniker. I don’t know if “Bobby” is his real name or just a screen name. That’s crazy.]

Anyway. I don’t know what Bobby looks like. I may or may not know even know his freaking name. I’ve never heard his voice. I don’t know where he lives or where he works. I know he’s married. I believe he has a son. And I know that in another life, he often found himself on the wrong side of the law.

But when the group debates an issue, I often find myself siding with Bobby’s point of view. And even when I disagree with him, he manages to break me down in a way that makes me still respect him. And many times, I end up agreeing with him.

Bobby has an annual Holiday party and invites both his IRL friends and his secret society friends. I’ve never been.

This year, I vowed I was going to go. I marked it in my planner. Called and booked a sitter.

But then there was TheHusband.

The invitation was extended to him, of course. But should I really bring him? I felt like it would be like bringing him to a spa party with all my best girlfriends: he’d feel awkward and out of place, not knowing a soul. But knowing that they all knew him.

That’s an issue with online friends. I don’t share them with TheHusband. I often talk to him about what’s discussed with the SecretSociety. And he completely supports that I have this crew of folks that I can share with and vent to. But when it comes to hanging out in person, I felt like it would be a little weird.

So, I’d go alone? Sure, why not! I could pick up one of the few women in the society, (there are only three of us active at the moment), and since she doesn’t drive, I could give her a ride.

I told my husband about the party. He told me to go and be on my merry way.

But….

But…

I didn’t go.

Why?

Well, what if I hated them in person! It’s altogether possible that you could love someone online and hate them in person.

(I know this is true because I know it works in the opposite way. I love TheHusband in real life. But I hate his online self. He always gives me one-word responses to my emails. If he responds at all. And in general his emails are always dry and somber. I can’t stand TG’s online self either.  I send her long emails telling her she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and she sends me an email back that says: thx. ur so kool 2.)

All I could think about was walking into Bobby’s house and instantly not liking him. Maybe he’d make me take my shoes off and be all picky about wearing the slippers he provided. Or maybe his wife would give me a weird look and not make eye contact. Maybe his kid would kick me in the shins or something. And what about the other members of the crew? I actually know a few of them IRL but haven’t seen them in years. What if they were rude or obnoxious? What if they talked too loud? Or too soft? What if their voices were nasally? What if they were close-talkers with bad breath. Or touchy-feely types that gave me the creeps?

But really…what I was most afraid of:

What if we didn’t have anything to say?

When I’m emailing back and forth with my fellow superheros, I can think before posting. I can review before I hit Reply All. I can delete a whole message if I feel I’m going too hard and might hurt someone’s feelings. I can do a quick Google search before posting to make sure I can back up my argument. I can’t do any of these things in person.

During the day, things come up that I want to share with the Society. So I talk about them. And they may reply right away. Or days later. Or not at all.There’s no pressure to respond.

Some of the longest threads are about sports. I never open those emails. And if I do, I just scroll through but never reply.

There’s no such thing as scrolling through silently in person. What happens if there is a lull?

And then there’s the whole issue of how familiar we all are with each other–online.

I know what Bobby likes for dinner. I know who his celebrity crushes are. I know his fears about his career. I know how much he loves his wife and the exact reasons why. I know his weaknesses and strengths as a husband and a father. I know his political affiliations, his thoughts on abortion and which sports team he roots for.

And I know that about each and every single person in the society. And they know all that and more about me.

And I fear that’s just too much information to meet up face to face. I think I’d explode.

So I didn’t go to the party. And though I hate to admit it, I probably won’t see my SecretSociety folks IRL anytime in the near future. Who needs that kind of pressure? I don’t see what good could come of it. I can’t love them any more than I already do.  And I don’t want what we all have to be tainted by awkward silences and nose picking.

So, I’ll never see them. Sad but true.

I’ll be in a nursing home at 85. Tapping away on the keyboard that’s been medically implanted in the palm of my hand, posting pictures of my great-grandkids and arguing with Bobby and the crew on which gender has it harder in the world.

Dear readers: Do you have friends who are solely online? People you never (or rarely) meet with IRL because of distance, time or just because you want it that way?

I’d love to hear from you…

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14 Responses to “Friends: Online vs. IRL”

  1. pochp Says:

    Well, I spend more time with my netizen friends because my real friends are busy or far from me or both.

  2. K Woods Says:

    Hey Aliya! Um…. *raising my hand o so slowly* Yes, I too, am afraid to meet my online buds IRL. At most, we’ve exchanged phone numbers and speak on the phone ever so often, but as far as meeting… HA! I just can’t seem to muster up the courage. It just would seem so awkward and what if our exceptions of each other, no matter how much we’ve conversed online, just don’t match up? And regardless of what, EVERYONE has expectations – one way or another. So yup, I continue to keep bonding with the buds at a distance, all for the same reasons you mentioned! Funny that a picture speaks a thousand words… The picture used for this post says it all for me! Sidebar: I thought MY EMAIL was bad… I feel so much better… :-)

  3. Alexandra Marshall Says:

    what’s up WIZ? i’m reading this and missing the kids terribly. (for anyone else reading the comments, i’m one of the originals of that group who has left but who really needs to get her ass back.)

    two words:

    Get
    Drunk

    i had about 10 of the kids over. i’d say i’d met about half of them before in real time, including “Bobby.” the dynamic was totally different in real life but it was totally sweet. and i felt like there was mucho love in the room even if i rarely saw those cats offline. yeah, it was different for a few minutes but then it was a gas.

  4. Aliya S. King Says:

    @pochp: i feel you. but would you feel weird about seeing your netizens in person?
    @KWoods: I can’t even imagine calling my online friends! What the heck do you talk about? Isn’t that awkward?

    @Alexandra: you’re right about the alcohol. But I don’t drink! Ugh. Oh. And how do you know who “Bobby” is? =)

  5. Timothy Says:

    now that is hilarious…because its so true…online and offline are two different worlds…if you combine them, you dont know what you will get…like Pinhead from Hellraiser said…it can be extreme pleasure and extreme pain…is it worth the risk…for me …no…i dont even really want to meet the people i knew back when who ive reconnected with on Facebook or something…its good to see them again…but …lets just keep it in perspective though

  6. pochp Says:

    I don’t think so Aliya. As you have ‘felt’ me, I feel them too.

  7. K Woods Says:

    HA! Yeah, totally lame convos that run a little like this…
    Bud: Did you see what XYZ said on (fill in name of blog, email, message board, etc.)?
    Me: Yeah.
    Bud: Wasn’t that (insert applicable emotion)?
    Me: Yeah.
    Bud: So, what you doing?
    Me: **Insert random chore(s) to progress the conversation forward***

    Yeah, quite awkward! Funny, when I think back to when I first joined Myspace… my dumb butt was giving out my cell # left and right! I had met so many cool people that I felt compelled to do at least that to just kinda connect even more… I’ve since changed my number though, so it’s back to reppin through the internets… LOL!

  8. Aliya S. King Says:

    @K.Woods. cellphone and myspace. holy hell. I can only imagine.

  9. la negrita Says:

    I have met one online friend IRL. It was only uncomfortable because I am…reserved IRL (I was going to say “shy” but I’m really not shy. I just observe my surroundings before deciding if it’s ok for me to dive in). Other than that, things were peachy! It was really short and sweet. I was like…20 or so at the time? She was at least 6 years my senior. I still have the pic.

    I was recently in NYC and was trying to set up a meeting with another online friend who helped me plan my trip to Trinidad. We weren’t able to sync our schedules, but I did have that moment where I wondered if she’d be apprehensive about meeting up for some of the reasons you described. I’ve felt the same way too, but I like the excitement of it all. New friends–yay!!! For all my reservedness, I can be pretty fearless when it comes to this kinda stuff.

    Ut oh…now I’m conflicted!!! Do I continue to comment on Aliya’s blog? Because if I keep posting and being active on the blog community, I’ll never meet her!!!! LOL! It’s ok. I’ll show up at one of your book signings so it’ll be less awkward. :-p

  10. Aliya S. King Says:

    @la negrita: that’s hilarious. I’m thinking maybe I should meet all my faithful commenters NOW. Before it gets weird. Lol. But actually, now that I’ve written this post, I’m already feeling like, going forward at least, I can conquer this silly phobia…

  11. yes Says:

    I have 2 internet friends I’ve known since I was like 14. 1 of them I talk to a little more frequently. I was shocked the other day when she asked me if I was talking about a particular guy that I wrote about in my blog. I was so shocked that she remembered the guy’s name I dated in middle school, even though he wasn’t actually who I was talking about. When she did a brief stint in the military we became pen pals. We probably know each other better than some of our real life friends. My real friends have boyfriends and babies and conflicting schedules to deal with so it’s much easier to talk to people online. Plus my friends aren’t as internet savvy as I. They don’t know about message boards and blogs and stuff. All they know is myspace and youtube.

    Anyway, meeting in person would be weird. Would you call them by their screen name or real name? It would be hard to remember who is who I would think if you had never seen photos before. You probably have a visual in your head of how they would look and then they look nothing like how you pictured them.

  12. pochp Says:

    I’m not scared of meeting them in person. In fact, I wish it would happen. It would seem like a small miracle.

  13. JW Says:

    Nice write-up, Aliya. I understand your fear of meeting in person. The value of the “Society” is that we’re *collectively* a great bunch. If we met in person, we’d all be forced to deal with one another as individuals.

    I like your analogy to the Superfriends. I always hated those dumbass Wonder Twins, but you had to respect their contribution to thwarting the caper-of-the-week, right? The question is: Did Superman and Wonder Woman have beers with The Wonder Twins after “work”? I bet not.

  14. Aliya S. King Says:

    @yes: that made me chuckle, thinking about calling someone by their screen name…and I totally have a visual of how each person looks in my head. down to height, weight and complexion.
    @pochp: so make it happen!!
    @JW: you’re so right. the Superheroes only connect for business. There was no pow-wowing. At least, I don’t think so…

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