Why Do Online Friendships Have a Stigma?

21 Jan

Okay. Before you all start crafting your offense or defense against that question, read my thoughts. Where I’m at is kind of a new revelation (I guess) on an ongoing thought process. At least the revelation is new for me.

So first off, let’s go with history. I’ve always been more about online activities and social media than a lot of my in-town friends and family. But it was around the early end of 2006 that it went from other fairly anonymous people to the beginning of talking to people I would consider friends. My first thought on the reasons for that is the lack of social media at the time. Things like MySpace still had a stigma of being a site for predators and dirty old men pretending to be teenage girls. & honestly, those stories might have been talked about more and I’d never say someone was asking for it but there is a difference between the girl keeping her profile public, putting up half-naked photos and talking to everyone who replies and the kids who acted like normal kids. Internet safety is certainly important but I think society’s response to a few did a lot more to create a stigma on the internet and any relationships formed there.

But over the years, more people became okay with the idea of making friends with people on the internet. It was easier to find friends who loved similar TV shows, music, movies, art, authors, or hobbies. And dating sites definitely helped make society more at ease with the idea of online relationships.

But I was struck by a comment made by a friend to me the other day. (An in-town friend). I know she didn’t intend to be mean about it. She’s just not the type. But we were hanging out & she said “isn’t it nice to get away from the internet and talk to real people?” Before ya’ll freak out, I told her that ya’ll are real people and not unicorns behind a twitter name. (Well some of you are unicorns but in the best ways possible). Her response was: “well yeah but you know what I mean. Like real friendships, the ones that matter.”

At first I was pissed. But I’ve been trying to take a breath before responding so I didn’t immediately yell at her. I did inform her that I have a number of real friendships online that matter a great deal to me. I think she heard my tone that said don’t push it because she switched subjects. But the thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard people make this or similar comments. So that’s the first question I’ll ask any of you who read this. Do your in-town friends or family members judge your online friends as not being “real”?

I know mine do. I know in some aspects, it’s for good reasons. I can find it incredibly easy to hole up for a weekend and marathon a show. A Friday night with 6 episodes of TV, wine & my online friends to talk to sounds like a damn good Friday night to me. If I happen to go out on Friday, I usually enjoy myself but I’m perfectly down with a night in. And if that night extends to the weekend, so much the better. I do think there’s a difference between people who enjoy books, film, & TV and those who don’t. Most people I know online enjoy entertainment media and we congregate towards those who share our tastes. But I get a fair amount of comments hinting at or downright saying that a, shall we say tangible, social life is better than virtual.

I’m not a tangibly unsocial person either. I have my church & bible study plus other events we do. I go to a job & interact with others 5 days a week. I just joined a bowling alley, have weekly coffee or breakfast appointments with several different friends, go to movies with friends, spend dinner with my family about once a week and if I’m asked to go out for happy hour, I will always go. ALWAYS. YOU DO NOT SKIP HAPPY HOUR.

Anyway. So it’s not like I sit at home pining away for Nathan Scott or Matt Donovan.  It’s just that I can have just as much fun debating the merits of those characters for 3 hours with friends online as I can bowling with tangible friends. And as I’ll point out often, online people are no longer just faceless voices. I told people in person about the dangers of SOPA & PIPA but it was my online friends who were a part in stopping it. But my friend’s comment made me think about this stigma. Why do online friendships have to be less real or important or edifying than tangible ones?

And that got me thinking a little further. I can understand the attitude towards friends I’ve never met. After all, I met a lot of twitter friends at Comic Con this last year. Most I loved and proved that we’re all friends online with good reason. A couple proved to not be the type of people I care to associate with and I no longer do. And what I found most interesting was the level of friendship. There are some that I talk to A LOT on twitter or chat and we spent more time together. Others were great people but just as we don’t spend hours chatting on twitter, we didn’t spend hours chatting in person. THAT’S NOT A BAD THING. Thinking about it today I realized its a lot like my tangible friends. Some I meet for weekly or bimonthly coffee dates. We visit, we gossip a little, catch up on each other’s lives but that’s all. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just we aren’t so similar that we feel like something’s missing if we haven’t talked in a day. While other friends come over all the time. We rarely catch up on events but we gossip a lot, we drink, we laugh, we talk about all our new ideas and dreams and yes, we watch a fair amount of TV.

So isn’t it the same thing with online friends? Some I share common likes & dislikes with, we keep up on each other’s goings-on but we aren’t going to braid each other’s hair. Okay scratch that. That’s just weird after like 8 years old. But you get the idea. My online friends may have different depths with me, but other than the fact that I can’t get together in person with them, the friendships are no less strong.

I’m realizing that I’m basically working through my own thoughts with this post but then I guess technically that’s a blog’s basic use. We tend to try to have beautiful prose nowadays but it’s still just a journal that we choose to make public. So here’s one of my public thought processes. I think something in me has listened to the attitude of others for years. Somehow I’ve, deep down, had this lingering feeling that I’m not supposed to invest as much in online friendships, that I’m not supposed to value them as much.

Screw that. No seriously, SCREW THAT. Friends are friends, regardless of where they live. If I said I spent 3 hours talking to a friend who had moved away, no one would think anything of it. So I’m going to try to get my tangible friends & family to learn to redefine the term. Online friends are long-distance friends. Does that mean some of us will ultimately drift apart? Well yeah. That happens with anyone. I tend to go through groups of friends and I pick up a couple in each phase of life that stick around. I’ve often been surprised by who those are. But from here on out, I’m done letting people make me feel like there’s something wrong with me for valuing my online friendships. I KNOW there’s nothing wrong, I just need to tell that obnoxious voice that tends to sound like Emily Gilmore to shut up.

Hmm. No idea if this made sense. It probably didn’t. Or maybe it did and ya’ll are like, you’re crazy. Or it did, and several of ya’ll understand. Either way, I think I have some trips to plan. Chicago, ATX, SDCC, Portland, and Dallas here I come.


Posted by on January 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


5 responses to “Why Do Online Friendships Have a Stigma?

  1. It Ain't Piano Lessons Honey

    January 21, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I totally agree with you, Mel! I’m always defending my online friends to my family. Once I’ve said that I’ve met people in person, and they aren’t psycho killers, my family relaxes a little. They still have this notion that my online friends are pervs waiting for Brian Williams to break in their door on the next “To Catch a Predator.”

    It’s so bizarre, but I guess I can relate. How they fell about my Twitter friends is how I think of online dating sites. Then again, at 33, I may be on one of those soon. LOL!

    • onlymystory

      January 21, 2012 at 8:21 pm

      Okay ironically, my mother is more okay with dating sites. She keeps asking if I’ve tried signing up to meet guys. I’m with you on dating sites but maybe I’ll end up changing my mind soon too. (My mother can only hope).

      The meeting people in person does help a little, I’ll agree. And being able to say people’s names instead of screen names goes a long way in making it sound more normal.

  2. Wine Stained Life

    January 21, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    This is a brilliant post Mel. I think a lot of us who spend the majority of our time online these days can relate to this. My tangible friends get better about it the more I try to treat it like a normal thing but I was guilty for ages for also thinking it was weird. The more I meet them in person, the less weird it gets for me and everyone else. But I’m not going to lie, I still get “the look” every now and again from those who don’t quite get it. Maybe if my tangible friends would obsess about Tim Riggins and Naley as much as my online friends, I wouldn’t have the need to go online and find other people.

  3. MarcellineCazz

    January 23, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    No, you don’t sound crazy. This makes perfect sense.I also find that some of the ppl that criticize online friendships have very BUSY lives, but don’t spend a lot of time talking with friends even in person. Relationships are important to me, not just having a list of things I DO. I find it so nice to find ppl online with similar interests as I.


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