Millions of people were stunned last week to discover the amazing singing group, Forte, had only met a few days before their TV audition on America’s Got Talent. Up until then, they’d only met online.
It may seem odd to most people that you could form friendships or partnerships with people you’ve never met, but I understand first hand how this odd phenomenon can provide some of the best friends you’ll ever know.
You see, I’m a writer. I’ve belonged to online critique groups, cyberspace chapters of major writer’s organizations, read blogs, and interacted with people I have actually never met. Two people I don’t actually “know” have dedicated their books to me. Another five have listed me in their acknowledgements. Many more have either read my manuscript or given me the honor of editing their work.
In the process of trading pages, a measure of trust evolves that only writers can understand. We learn about each other’s lives, and with the mesmerizing quality of a diary cam in a reality TV show, somehow we end up confessing things to each other we’d never tell our other, face-to-face friends.
I’ve talked one virtual friend out of quitting writing and watched her go on to publish nine books. Another I’ve consoled and been consoled by, including during the death of my parents and through her own family problems. Before I ever met her in person, we started speaking on the phone and I coached her daughter through the first years of college, been called Auntie Diana by her other children, and sent presents to each other, including garden specimens, through the mail. Another woman’s blog so impressed me, we started corresponding and she wrote a guest post for my blog. The fact she lives in another country is a mere trifle.
If you looked at these virtuous virtuals, you’d think I was conversing with the United Nations. One friend is from a rather closed religious group and we’ve come to understand and embrace our differences with a great deal of love. Among these women, we have thousands of miles of geography separating us, economic and educational situations that are distinct and would normally have kept us apart had we lived in the same towns. Yet, two of these women will watch the weather and tell me if a tornado is heading my way, they’ve all read my scribblings, helped me figure out the intricacies of blogging, been angrier than any blood relation when I received rejections, and called me to celebrate my Golden Heart win moments after it was announced.
Over more than a ten-year period, these women have become sisters, who keep me upright and help me persevere. While the rest of the world is fooled by a smile, they know something is wrong, the moment I write, “Hi,” in an instant messenger box. While my great aunt tells me that the online world is evil and the rest of the planet worries about reaching out, I feel the grace of God has lead me to people so vastly diverse and let such love into my life.
So, Forte, good luck to you and your online partnership. I hope yours are as wonderfully fruitful as mine.
How to form an online friendship:
*Friendships formed over common interests develop in a more honest way than in general chat rooms.
*Do not reveal personal information such as addresses or phone numbers for a long time. In my case it took years before I shared that information. Real friends are for the long haul, so there is no hurry.
*When meeting for the first time, do so in a public place, not your home.
*Expect there to be little squabbles and upsets with your cyber-friends just as there are with your friends in face-to-face life.
*Give of yourself, not of your wallet. Share knowledge, expertise, and companionship. There should never be a request for financial help.
*Remember to balance these friendships just as you would any others. If you make commitments to work on projects together, they are just as important as any other commitment. On the converse side, do not sacrifice your other friendships for the ones you make online.
*Respect differences – religion, finances, education do not matter as long as you can share your lives respectfully. Remember, this is friendship, not marriage.
*Friendships may wan over time. This doesn’t make them less real. Try not to burn bridges, you might have a change of heart a year or two later and want to catch up with the person that was once such a big part of your life.