The changing nature of friendship in the Internet age aka are cyber friendships ‘real’?

My four best friends and I have seen each other through divorces, bad relationships, bad decisions, teen pregnancy, affairs , career challenges, moving countries and then states, good relationships, good decisions, career changes, remarriages (for 4 of us) and the joys of additional children and grandchildren. We debate politics, religion, favourite TV shows, economics and social policy rigorously. We share recipes and money saving tips. We fight, are brutally frank with each other, and support each other unconditionally. We are there for each other for middle of the night support when husbands are rushed to hospital, offer advice on childhood illnesses, and are Facebook friends with each others’ children. Our careers are as diverse as a Professor at a University, a photographer, a graphic designer with an online glass and craft making business, a manager in charge of a team of technical writers and a sales operations manager. We have between 1 and 6 children each and we’re all in our 40s.

I hear you saying “that sounds like normal best friends. What makes you so different?” What makes us different is that we have never all met in person. We’ve known each other for over thirteen years and got together because we were all expecting babies in October 1998. We joined what in those days was a parenting bulletin board. At that time, I lived in New Zealand, Annie in Guam, Kirsty in Manchester in the UK and Rhonda and Marcy on different coasts in the USA.

The original board group numbered over 400, but it gradually fragmented down into smaller groups. Our group was a subset of a larger group called the Chub Club – yes, we were all trying to lose weight! One of the husbands (now ex!) christened us the iBODs – internet bitches on diets – and that’s how we continue to refer to ourselves.

We’ve never been able to drop a meal off, or take the kids in an emergency; we haven’t parked ourselves on someone’s porch and enjoyed a glass of wine after the kids have gone to bed; we’ve never been each others’ bridesmaids, given a hug in a time of sorrow or attended graduation ceremonies. But are we ‘real’ friends? Absolutely we are! Some people might say that as we’ve never met, we’re not true friends, or that because we are cyber buddies, we can’t possibly know each or support each other.

Tell that to Marcy who was online at 4am the night her husband had the heart attack and couldn’t get hold of any of her ‘real’ friends but was able to talk to me on instant messenger for an hour until she was calm enough to sleep and face the day. Tell that to Kirsty when her oldest child was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and she was able to be upset and unreasonable and rage against the universe. Tell that to Rhonda when her teenager announced she was pregnant, or to Annie as she told us about the business she was going to start. Tell that to me when the iBODs were the first people I told I was pregnant for the third time, and the first I told when I found out it was twins! In some ways, the distance has made it possible to draw closer together, and enabled us to be more honest with each other than we might be with our ‘real life’ friends.

This month, our children will be 13. Marcy’s daughter is having a bat mitzvah and she’s invited us all to come along. My tickets are booked for my husband, my 13-year old and myself  and I’ll be there for two weeks, some of the time with Rhonda and her family in California, and some of the time with Marcy in Pittsburgh. Annie is coming over from Arizona where she lives now, but we’re not sure whether Kirsty will be able to make it all the way from Scotland. I know there are many sights to see, but what I’m most looking forward to is the chance to sit on the porch with my best friends, glass of wine in hand, watching the sun set.

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6 thoughts on “The changing nature of friendship in the Internet age aka are cyber friendships ‘real’?

  1. Wow, thirteen years of friendship–that’s more than some people have with their physically present friends. It’s really inspiring to read about the connection you’ve forged and maintained with these women. It sounds like you’ve been through A LOT together. Thanks for sharing, great post!

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