The problem with online friendship is that when things go wrong, we split. When I say something that makes you uncomfortable, or when you offend me, we’ll go our separate ways more often than not. And this flies in the face of how people actually become friends.
True friendship only happens when people honestly share their lives with one another. Inevitably, one person will upset the other. This is what happens when you put flawed humans in a room together: they start breaking things. Usually each other.
But something beautiful happens when we push through that initial discomfort and offense and learn to forgive each other. Intimacy is formed. Trust is established. And this, incidentally, is why the Internet makes for a pretty lousy matchmaker between friends.
A decade or so ago, we started doing something we’ve never done before.
We started making friends with people we had never met. Sure, we used to do pen pals and long-distance relationships, but we’ve never had a 24/7 shared connection as is now available to us, thanks to the web.
Something odd happens with this heightened level of intimacy without commitment. People get sensitive. Some turn into jerks.
Because I know what you ate for breakfast or what TV show you watched last night, I feel like I know you. We are connected to each other — and sometimes not always superficially. We may share legitimate, real-life interactions.
As a result, we feel like we really understand each other. And maybe we do, in some way.
But the problem comes when one of us says something to get on the other’s nerves.
And trust me: it’s going to happen. Then, we are in a pickle. Because it’s easy to ignore people online, to play passive-aggressive and give the cold shoulder. And the worst part is they have no idea.
It’s easier to write off online relationships than offline ones. And this scares me. Because I have a few of these web-based friendships. And I want them to count. I want this connection to matter — as much as it can.
What if we didn’t walk away when things got hard?
What if we pressed into the mess of relationship and got to know each other, warts and all? Is that too much to ask?
I’m not talking about another ridiculous network or campaign. I’m just talking about buy-in. What if we were really committed? What if I cared enough to stick it out, even after that dumb tweet or stupid status update you wrote?
Well, then we might actually be friends.