The Problem with Online Friendship

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.

Online Friendship
Photo credit: LordKhan (Creative Commons)

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.

120 thoughts on “The Problem with Online Friendship

  1. I agree that the ease with which online relationships are broken has something to do with their superficiality. I’m thinking of the man last September who had over 100,000 Twitter followers but committed suicide. At the risk of seeming insensitive, you could look at the suicide as the ultimate un-follow. It is a shame that out of those 100,0o0 there was not one that he could call to avoid the tragedy.

  2. Some of my best friends are people I met online years ago. We managed to meet l life since then and we’re meeting on a regular basis. For a very long time I used those relationships as a blueprint of how an online friendship should look like. Obviously I was disappointed once or twice by what you describe – friendships breaking under a strain on one person’s personality.

    I’m still optimistic though.

  3. Some of my best friends are people I met online years ago. We managed to meet l life since then and we’re meeting on a regular basis. For a very long time I used those relationships as a blueprint of how an online friendship should look like. Obviously I was disappointed once or twice by what you describe – friendships breaking under a strain on one person’s personality.

    I’m still optimistic though.

  4. Ohmygosh, Jeff, you are right. Online friendships can be challenging in the fact that we can write each other off way too easily. Our imperfections can still show up in a tweet or a blog post, and immediately someone is mad, but too imperfect to acknowledge it. So, we just walk away and sometimes stew w/o ever telling a person.

    Seems a little cowardly – if it’s a friendship that meant something in the first place.

    Great thoughts today!

  5. Ohmygosh, Jeff, you are right. Online friendships can be challenging in the fact that we can write each other off way too easily. Our imperfections can still show up in a tweet or a blog post, and immediately someone is mad, but too imperfect to acknowledge it. So, we just walk away and sometimes stew w/o ever telling a person.

    Seems a little cowardly – if it’s a friendship that meant something in the first place.

    Great thoughts today!

  6. I appreciate you talking about this because I really struggle with the process! I’m left making decisions that feel right for me about online friendship and end up confused because it’s not like real life where you are face-to-face or on the phone. 

    There are so many opportunities to leave unresolved issues and misinterpretations flapping in the breeze unless one or the other wants resolution enough to make an effort. Problem is you’ll never know there’s a problem or if it has been resolved unless you take time to type it through! 

    So I’m at the point where either I keep going and continue trying, or put online friendships in another box labeled, “You’ll Never Really Understand, So Stop Trying So Hard!” Know what I mean?! LOL!

    1. “Problem is you’ll never know there’s a problem or if it has been resolved unless you take time to type it through!”  This is a GREAT point, Betsy!   On the flip side of this, sometimes my insecurity causes me to assume a problem or an offense if I don’t hear back on something, when in fact the other person might just be on vacation. 

  7. I truly love some of the people I’ve met online, but there are also some that I don’t really want to know.  The difficult part for me is seeing the difference between avoiding conflict with someone who could develop into a true friend and cutting ties with someone with whom things just aren’t going to click.  

  8. Hey Jeff,
    I totally get where you are going with this. The funny thing is really how do you define on-line friendship? I suppose the only real comparative for a guy of my generation (Gen X) is to equate it to work relationships but having said that I find it difficult to define without having met someone for real (for lack of a better word).

    The on-line world is a new one to me and I am still getting comfortable here (it’s so vast). I follow a lot of different bloggers and am thankful I discovered this platform. There are a ton of interesting people out there and I am quite sure they feel the same way. I am just not sure when someone is a friend.

    Maybe it’s a gut feel. There are really two other bloggers that I have never met that I now call friends. Why? I suppose that we have corresponded enough to feel that way and I certainly get that message from the nature of the words. I guess that’s how I have to define it for myself.

    I am curious how you define an on-line friend. When does the relationship go from aquaintance or follower (gosh, I really don’t like that moniker – darn twitter language) to a friend?

  9. This post actually resonates online and off. I’ve been in a lot of superficial friendships that I’ve seen people walk away on our very first disagreement.

    It’s even more difficult online where things are filtered, tone is misinterpreted and false intimacy is forged.

    Online will never replace the real thing. But we have to work hard at both if we want it to be real.

      1. Yep, online as well as in person… there are friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for life… the “real world” is maybe just beginning to figure this whole thing out 🙂

    1.  Aye, even a really good online friendship will be missing key components of a real face to face friendship.

      The fact that it’s easy for us to shape our words and how we present ourselves online is a big factor in this.

  10. As a ‘follower’ for a few months, I certainly wouldn’t presume friendship.  I have a few followers and I have a few ‘friends’.  Whether it be on line or off, true friends need to be vulnerable.  Relationships have levels of commitment and that takes time, choice, and transparency.   Thanks for challenging my choices! 🙂

  11. Great post. Let’s just say it. There are a lot of hurt and broken souls out there who may actually be looking for genuine friendship online. We may be hurting people inadvertently by simply not taking the time to engage them. I mean, if I haven’t heard from one of my “offline” friends for a while, I pick up the phone, and call them. How many times do we do this to people who regularly post in our comments, but may not have engaged with us one-on-one? It is a complex subject to be sure, and I think you’ve hit on one of the problems with online relationships to be sure.

    I don’t have the answer, but I can offer this as advice, if you are wanting to change it in your own life. The tale of the Good Samaritan, leaves us with this dictum, “Go and do likewise.” Don’t wait for someone to define themselves as your “Neighbor,” go and be a neighbor. Love the unlovely. Proverbs also admonishes us that, “to have a friend, you must show yourself as a friend” If you want to change it in your own life, I would suggest that the responsibility lies with you (This is a universal “you,” I’m not suggesting this to you (Jeff))

    Great post, it definitely gives something to think about.

  12.  I believe online friendships can be confusing to figure out. Since I cannot place voice inflections and/ or body movement in context to the other person’s words I have not been consistent with interpreting whether the person is reaching out in friendship or just has good social manners with writing skills. When in doubt it is easier and often recommended by others to walk away from “negative” people who distract you from what you want to accomplish.

  13. I get it, and agree. A few months back, I closed my personal FB account and started one that was all about writing and books, with just a few family pics and such. That helped me feel protected, so that I could friend just about anyone, and not worry if someone bowed out without an explanation. The thing is – it feels really impersonal now. So I just think about FB like “going to work.” I don’t know if the online friendship thing can ever be real. But respectful … that’s different. I respectfully block the disrespectful. Good words, Jeff. As always.

  14. Online habits are overtaking f-2-f relationships. A few years ago, I interviewed a group of my seniors, and they all happily instructed me on the following skills:

    1)  How to use my cell phone to avoid talking to anyone who might make me feel awkward (including carrying on a fake conversation with nobody.)

    2)  How to end a difficult Instant Message by closing the window and later claiming the router suddenly re-set the system.

    3)  How to carry on multiple text message conversations while also having a meaningful conversation with the person I’m with. (I actually witnessed two girls doing this. At one point, one of the girl said, “Hang on, let me finish this text, I want to REALLY listen to what you were just saying.” And they were both perfectly okay with it.)

    I worry about these kids’ marriages. Will they learn to wrestle through issues the old-fashioned way?  Or will they develop new ways (perhaps driving to separate Starbucks and texting until the issue is resolved?)

  15. Love this rawness of this post Jeff. You’re right on. “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?”

    It’s not too much to ask.. 

  16. What sometimes happens to me with my new ‘friends’ is I’m left wondering if I’ve said something to upset them. When they go silent in an unusual way, or say something that seems terse or unlike them, I find myself examining our recent interaction, looking for how I might have been interpreted as offensive. It mostly turns out they were just having a busy spell, or something else was going on in their ‘real world’ lives. Which leaves me wondering how well I really know them. But I really do want to forge ahead with a great many of them, and find the kind of trust and shared history that will take our friendships to the next level.

    Thought-provoking post, Jeff. Good job.

  17. I believe there are varying levels of friendships, both online and offline. There are some online friendships that I am committed to and count them as friends, not just online friends. But then there are others who I am connected with now that, 5 years from now, might be a different story. It’s not necessarily because of an offense or giving up, but live takes us all in different directions and where we might be in a place in our lives to be connected now, might not be the case in a few years.

    But, yes, ignoring online friends because they post a status that annoys you is just childish and something we shouldn’t do.

  18. “press into the mess of relationship”…I LOVE that.   Thanks for the great reminder that so often the mess is what leads to the intimacy.

  19. I do agree with you, for the most part. But I also know it’s possible to have deeper, longer lasting relationships, too. Some of my best friends right now are ones I met through the Internet. We’ve maintained a Skype chat room going on three years now. It’s amazing what we really know about each other. And we’re all so different. There are conservatives and liberals, Christians and atheists, married and unmarried, employed and unemployed, west coasters and east coasters. And honestly, I’m not sure our group would have lasted this long and become this close if we were only “in real life” friends. We do get to spend time with each other on occasion (like this week at BlissDom) but we stay connected throughout the year far better than a lot of do with friends who live close by.

  20. Relationships are messy. There is no greater force in a relationship than grace. It’s something we will all need in every relationship. And, commitment to bring grace into the relationship.

  21. Jeff, if you pressed into the mess then you would be doing the right thing. How the other responds is out of your control.

  22. Making friends — on or offline — is hard. I have made some very good friends in both camps and while these friendships require different skills and different sustenance, both are worthwhile. I don’ think there’s any need to create a dichotomy here. There’s lost about sustaining an offline relationship that’s difficult. It’s just that it’s a DIFFERENT difficult than sustaining an online one. I just think we all need to be sensitive to the differences. 

  23. Very interesting Jeff.  I’ve seen close face to face friendships fall apart because of arguing online rather than speaking to each other.  You can’t be sure the person reading your words is using the same inflection you intended and that’s where it starts.

  24. You know, I never thought of it like that. I don’t think it really matters that much to me now because friendships online didn’t exist in my formative years . But I wonder how this will impact how I raise my children.

  25. There’s a lot of truth in this post, Jeff – half of the people on my friends list I know in real life, but never see them. Some I haven’t seen for years and years, and wouldn’t hang out with them in real life. So why are they there? 

    Then on the other hand, I have friends I’ve never met in real life that I would love to. I’m closer to some of them than I am to those I’ve known for years, and though we may have disagreements, we work through it. Some of these online friendships have flourished in the decade that I’ve known them – in fact, I’ve watched one friend go through her engagement, and now her upcoming wedding. 
    I’d say I’m committed to them. I’d equally say that the people I know in real life and hang out with on a semi-regular basis I would remove from my friends list. It’s odd, but people can act far different behind the anonymity of the internet than they ever would in reality.

    1. Clint, there are a lot of layers here. I agree. This would be the upper end of the study.  There is a book to be had here.

      Thank you Jeff for opening my world up to so many interesting people.

        1. LOL, I’ll sign Clint. I’ll even do some research. As to this article, Jeff is looking at the particulars  of on line relationships. But again, looking at this with a whole systems approach, (something I picked up from Chesterton) we start at the beginning…We weren’t created to live in little boxes apart from the living world, to~ we’ve created an artificial life in cities, to ~we have created a virtual life on line. But the common thread that runs through all this is that Good Relationships and Good Communication works in any environment that we choose.

          Peace+ Clint

  26. Well Said Jeff! I am a relative newbie to blogging – celebrated my 1st anniversary in January. Over the course of the first year I developed an online friendship with someone. After meeting them in person I was faced with a difficult decision. Do I speak truth to them about something that happened (as I would with any other friend) or do I skirt the issue and hope it goes away.  I chose to speak truth and in doing so the other person withdrew (blocked me from all social media) and disappeared from my life. 
    I agree with you – I think if we are going to engage with others online we need to do so with effort and intentionality, daring to be honest and building lasting relationships that count as more than a number on a blog sidebar or facebook page. 
    Speaking the truth involves risk. Hearing & receiving truth involves being vulnerable. Friendship involves trust.  Thanks for putting this out there for all. 

  27. I like this topic. I’m passionate about community and I love my online friends. In some ways, I think it’s almost similar to how it was a long time ago. People use the written word to get to know each other. I think back to letter writing days, before the phone was common place. (Who uses a phone to talk anymore?). 

    I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of online friends in person, mostly at writing conferences. Each one of them was what I thought they were. 
    But conflict. Yes. That can be problematic. I’ve also read research that says we tend to befriend people who hold similar views to us more frequently in social media than we do in real life. Of course, I don’t know the validity or reliability of this survey. Still, it’s interesting to think about.

    I’ll stop babbling now. It’s dangerous to give me more than 140 characters.
    Leanne Shirtliffe

  28. Excellent Jeff. 

    *Our social skill set works or fails us in ANY environment we choose.  We need to be constantly growing, and improving our communication skills.

    *Good relations determines the quality of our life. 

    *Nobody does anything alone.  Hum, I’ve heard that before. 😉

    Again, good insights Jeff!

  29. The sense of anonymity that comes with online relationships usually fades away, the more both your readers and you connect. That can only come from honesty, just like in “real life” interactions and relationships.

    The more you put in, the more you get out of it.

    Online or face to face, some people will always walk away or disconnect when disagreements occur. However, people seem to be more brazen when they can hide behind a computer rather than face to face confrontation.

    Similar to people that criticize other drivers on the road. Studies show that people are less likely to engage other drivers in open Jeeps or convertibles, as opposed to a “closed” vehicle. There’s a false sense of safety when you can “hide” behind something, real or perceived.

  30. I just kind of laugh when people say things I don’t agree with.  Who cares?  Do people really believe that they are going to be in total agreement with others all of the time?  There are tons of people that disagree vehemently with in this world of social media.  But they challenge the way I look at ideas and how I think.  I may still disagree vehemently, but that’s ok.  They probably do the same with me.  Let’s move on.

  31. As I was reading this I couldn’t help thinking about Bruce Tuckman’s phases of group development – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. So our friendships form and then there’s bound to be storms! However, like you said, it’s easier to give up on online relationships at this stage. Harder in ‘real’ relationships.
    At the risk of making this a long comment, I’d like to share with you what happened in one such relationship. I met this woman online and we really hit it off. We could literally finish each other’s sentences. We met in person too and got on well. I stayed over at her home. She even came for my wedding. But when she came to visit my home – for a week – she behaved in a very peculiar way and was a very bad house guest. After that experience, I began to look at all her past behavior in a different light.  Somehow her words didn’t match her actions. She attempted to reconnect, but I just couldn’t continue the friendship. Frankly, I have no regrets about it. However, it makes me a little guarded about getting too close to my online friends.
    Your post makes me want to re-look at my online friendships. Thank you, Jeff. 

  32. Hi Jeff,

    It is a guarantee that we are going to annoy or irritate each other. Happens in real life all the time so there is no reason to think that it wouldn’t happen here.

    But I am not convinced that people walk away that quickly, not if there is some sort of friendship or connection between them.

    I think sometimes people might even be more tolerant of some things because they have more insight into what is going on. If they are regular readers they may know that we are going through a rough spot and give us more of a break and or support.

    1.  Gosh, I hope so. I certainly don’t want to do that myself. Sticking with it when there’s misunderstanding is a discipline for me, but maybe others are as kind as you.

      1. I wouldn’t characterize myself as being overly kind. I just figure that print lends itself to misunderstandings so I try to stick around and figure out if their intent matches their words.

  33. Honestly, some of the online friendships I have have been so much more significant that some of my offline friendships. Sure, it can be easy to tune people out and I think that your point is important, but most of my current writing friends I have found online and they have been more supportive and comforting and encouraging than people I have seen every day for years. It’s always great to meet them in person, but that doesn’t make their friendship “less than.” 

    1. Just an opinion here, but I personally see a lot of fluffy, supportive messages posted from one person to another online, and I wonder just how supportive these same people would be when actually having to deal with real-life social situations rather than sitting in front of a computer screen. Don’t get me wrong – I believe there are some diamonds in the rough and maybe you’ve lucked out that way. But what we see online can seem much nicer than what we see in reality.

  34. A very keen observation, Jeff. I’ve been guilty of using the mask of the internet to cop out of friendships before for whatever reason. Thank you for calling this out.

  35. Been there so many times where it was just easier to ignore someone “for a while,” but then “a while” turns into weeks and months. And it’s easy to transfer that negative habit into real-life relationships too, just hitting the ignore button rather than deal with messy situations in hopes of salvaging/strengthening the friendship.

    Love the internet and all its relational possibilities, but there’s definitely a dark side to relationship-building there.

  36. I am going to take the devil’s advocates stance here and also assume that everyone reading your blog has real financial and business goals in mind. 
    So, my devil’s stance is,”I am here to work and build working  relationships, not friends!” 

    This is not the play grounds!  This is real life. Peoples are staking their lives, the well being of their families and their future on these goals.  

    It does not get any more real than this.  It’s either sink or swim!

    So as far as I am concerned, I’ll show them the respect they deserve and say what I mean, not sugar coat criticisms or comments.  This is the  only option with real benefits, in the long run. 

    Any less is dishonest and false. Any less is just a waste of the two most valuable commodities we have, breath and time. 

    I am sorry, I know this is coming across as harsh. But sometimes harsh is exactly what we need to get us to move forward.  A good ass whipping can be strong motivation. 

    Don’t you think so?

    1.  Hi Craig. I understand where you’re coming from, but I think your assumption is wrong. I think a lot of bloggers and people online don’t have direct financial goals for their relationships.

  37. Very insightful post. I believe these things happens both online and offline. The thing about online friendship is that you can easily avoid the person you dislike or you can easily forgive ‘coz you don’t see that person in real life. 

  38. You make some valid points. Years ago I never would have bought into the idea that we can form strong, intimate & yes, REAL friendships with people without actual physical contact.  I was wrong and I feel quite attached to many of my on-line friends. I would not want to lose them, but you are so right about how easy it is to just walk away-turn off the connection.

    I read a comment from someone who wrote that our online relationships will always be missing the key components of real time friendships largely  because we are able to shape our words and restrict or mold the way we present ourselves. I agree, but the opposite is also true. Because we are not facing each other we often let our inhibitions down and develop friendships more quickly than face to face.

    Either way, I think it is important to respect our friends enough to always try to get past misunderstandings. Friendship require both parties to be willing to look past some things and to forgive when the other makes a mistake and is sincerely apologetic.

    Good post. I hope you continue to remind your loyal readers how important it is to treat on-line relationships with the same respect you would any other

  39. Hi, Jeff! ~

    Interesting post.  I have been struggling to understand the nature of friendship and community, online and off, which is why a friend of mine suggested I check you out here.

    For myself, I don’t agree with your premise that: “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.”

    I’ve tried those “I love you through thick and thin in spite of all your warts relationships” and they stink.  I realized this when I finally, accidentally, landed in a pretty fun and generally painless relationship with my BF of 3 years.  I look back on how I used to struggle to understand people and accept them as they are, even when they’re jerks.

    Now I have kind of a ‘3 strikes & you’re out rule’ for online/offline relationships.  I don’t feel the need to work so hard at getting along with one particular neurotic person when I have a whole world full of wonderful people waiting to have a healthy, fun and painless relationship with me 😉

    I appreciate your POV on this and I would like to link to this post with my upcoming post on the subject.  Thanks!  

  40. Thank you, Jeff. I am going through this now with a close online friend now too.  Problem is that he will not push through problems with me, but becomes unavailable to me.  All the while, he asks me to be available to chat, talk, email, and talk, I can never know what I did to upset him. Sigh !  this happens over and over.

    Online friends are not as long lasting as flesh and blood ones, because the commitment of seeing a person socially in my community in person cannot be ignored, blocked, or excused in slick talk or writing.   I must deal with my own faults and my friends.  Friends in person must be dealt with indeed.   I wish we could all be more mature in online freindships. 

  41. Obviously, if you’re online friend is doing this, you two aren’t as close as you think. I’ve got two amazing online friends and when we’ve made each other uncomfortable, we say so. If we’ve offended each other, we say so. We talk through it and move past it. This isn’t middle school where you play the ignoring game.

    1. I think he’s suggesting that the pattern is typically not like what you’re experiencing. And it’s much easier to diplomatically disagree online than it is in real life. You can be exposed to a person who’s irritating you online much more easily than you can in real life.

  42. the thing is, people can be just as superficial irl as online. You can spend a lot of time with someone and then when you share something with them that they aren’t 100% cool with the friendship can get all wonked up.

  43. In late April I was dumped by an online friend I had been emailing with for two and a half years. He simply stopped replying. I thought that odd because my replies to him were always prompt, a day or two after his mail. We had been doing weekly email but the last few months his replies to my emails were getting further and further apart and I got the impression he had cooled towards me. He just wasn’t his usual warm and friendly self and his replies to me were now 3-4 weeks. When this started I mentioned to him that if he had lost interest in wanting to chat with me to let me know if he wanted to end the friendship. I said that I would understand because people move on to other interests. I added that he shouldn’t feel obligated to email me. He said he didn’t feel obligated. That was the last email from him. Two weeks ago I sent him a last note thanking him for the good chats we had, wished him luck and said goodbye. No reply. To conclude, his treatment of me proves that he did not value our friendship as much as I did and he did not feel I deserved his respect. There is irony in what happened because last year when I was a few days late in replying to his email he pointed that out.

    1. The same thing happened to me. I had been in contact with a friend and he was all lovey dovey at first and he wanted me to be his secret lover. And we met three times. When I had an argument with him he would not try to sort things out , he just ignores me, and that gave me so much pain. About a month ago we had been chatting for a whole week when all of a sudden he did not reply to me or contact me, I contacted him by email, by mobile and on another site that we were on and no reply, as if he vanished or died. But when I saw his posts online a few days later I realised that he was still alive and well. he just ignored me altogether, And he knows I am dealing with cancer and instead of standing by me and stay friends he ignored me for good, now I am trying to deal with my pain as I did respect him a lot. He was not worth all the time that I wasted thinking of him and dreaming of him. Time heals all wounds and I am very careful now not to give my heart to anyone online as It’s different from meeting in person. I wish that no one goes to so much pain as I did. all he wanted was to boost his ego, by using me.

  44. I deactivated my facebook account because of these exact problems (and many others). I rarely befriend people online, since these types of friendships lack most things that real, face-to-face friendships possess.
    During a time when I suffered with depression, I befriended someone online. I guess I’d been isolating myself, so figured it would be easier to keep in contact with someone that I didn’t actually know.
    Anyway, things started out well. She was extremely excited to have “met” such a great person! She started contacting me through email and always wanted to chat online. At first, it seemed fine. She even seemed supportive at the beginning.
    Then she started getting into weird stuff. She kept telling me she’s an incarnate angel, and that she has an angel twin brother who watches over her. She’s an avid follower of Doreen Virtue and Wicca, and despite my wish to not hear about that stuff, she still pushed it on me regularly.
    Every time we chatted, she would carry on about herself, her problems, and her big ego. Occasionally she’d ask about me, but then quickly moved on. Usually our chats were focused on bolstering her. She had obsessions with actors, and asked me if there was a chance of her getting together with them, based on their birth charts matching. I was always honest. I didn’t support celebrity worship but was kind and very honest about it all. She trusted “facebook friends” who claimed to be online lightworkers, despite how poisonous or abusive they ended up being.
    I looked for every excuse to back her up. She has a medical condition so I figured these conversations weren’t meant to come across as selfish. Her family is messed up so I felt bad for her. She’s likely not “all there” so all the grandiose beliefs might be due to isolation and loneliness.
    Anyway, I learned my lesson when this person started looking for passive-aggressive ways to suggest that I was no longer worth her time. This was coming from a person who relies solely on the internet for friendships. I guess I was no longer convenient (not on facebook much) and she had found new clonies who were willing to boost her ego. I was too honest, and told her truths that she wasn’t willing to hear. I actually was trying to be kind all alng – I supported her endeavors to get better, and always acknowledged her, despite having different beliefs.
    So although this person may be an extreme case, she is a good example of why NOT to get into online friendships. They may in a few cases become something genuine, but never fully believe that until you actually meet them – body language, real conversations and how it feels to be around certain people are huge contributing factors to interpersonal relationships that you can’t get from online friends! Don’t let these people manipulate you into wasting your precious time just to feed their needs. They aren’t worth it!

    1. And yeah, it was my own fault for being a sucker! No more toxic friendships for this girl – lesson learned. There are many of these types out there though, so I guess it was my way of saying “proceed with caution”.

  45. Jeff, I think balanced and open-minded people understand that online communication is different than face-to-face communication. It would take a lot to rub me the wrong way, so much that I “split” in an online “friendship.” Sure, once in awhile, I feel a bit put off or offended by things online “friends” might say. But it’s online. It’s a different kind of communication and I know misunderstandings can take place. The key is to successful online communication is to recognize that we are all human. We all communicate differently. When it feels like someone has said something to upset you, they are human. It’s usually their issues coming out.

  46. I’m into the real-time relationships…taking the time to know the person (and everyone has issues). As followers of Christ, in particular, we are called to love, and love does not look like FB alone…ha!

  47. Oh…and definitely agree how easy someone can write you off. I had a good friend for 20 years (person-to-person friendship). Then, along came FB….I SIMPLY posted a quote from a Rebublican, and she signed off on me. Sad. Love her. Pray she comes to her senses (this is a Christian)…yikes!

  48. I have an online friendship and there giving me the cold shoulder. I want to end it because I hate feeling so upset because they never respond. How would I end the online friendship without questions arising?

    1. I’m in the same situation. Don’t end it and don’t email to ask why they’re not responding. Don’t let the friend know their behavior hurts you. They already know how they’re treating you. If they contact you, reply, if not, ignore right back. You can make other friends.

      1. The entire point of this article is about NOT doing this 🙂 It’s how easy it is to ignore people or break it off that makes it not real in the first place.

        And don’t “do things back”, that’s so 4yo.

    2. Hello Sabrina,
      This happened to me. I would send messages and he ignored me for one whole year. I thought we were friends. But real friends don’t ignore you whether they are busy or not, no excuses. So in the end, I walked away because it was upsetting me too much. I warned him that I intend to come off being online, gave him few weeks notice, but he said nothing to me at all. What a jerk. We were old school friends and he was keen to talk to me to start with, he would message me lots but then he ignored me, because I asked to meet him for coffee. Obviously I scared him off, he wasn’t man enough to be honest with me and talk to me about it, so he ignored me! Its hurtful. Just say, your intending to come offline but would like to keep in touch by text, if he doesn’t answer you, leave it and walk away. He’s had his chance. You deserve so much better, good luck, hope things are better for you now.

      1. This just happened to me, and it sucks. It’s wierd how people can act like they never want to lose you, and in the next second, they’re acting like you are a problem for them.

        Those people are not worth it, and you deserve better.

  49. That feeling of getting that cold shoulder and been written off online is definitely a horrible one. I went through this around six months ago when an online friendship circle

    1. Opps sorry! Let do this again: That feeling of getting that cold shoulder and been written off online is definitely a horrible one. I went through this around six months ago when an online friendship circle that I was with a couple of members from a fanfiction website. I was given the cold shoulder when one of my so called online friends told me that I was one of the the reasons I ruined the group (it began with me joining another RP group that was on with two other members *I’m still friends with those two members* from the circle of online friends, but it was under a different circumstance because I wasn’t sure if the original RP group that the five of us were in was still alive). I told that friend that I felt like I was a third wheel to her and her other online friend (who was her best friend). We tried to work it and I messaged her after the fight even though I wasn’t allowed to join her new RP group. We talked for a couple of days, but she didn’t respond back at all. I knew that our friendship wasn’t going to be the same. I knew that I had to end it from there. I received a message from that friend, but I didn’t say much since I ended the online friendship on terms that I didn’t want to do but I had to.

  50. I have had the worst luck ever with online friends. i talked to two for three years and thought i meant a lot to them and they stopped. then i talked to this guy awhile and he was such a self absorbed ass that when you called him on anything he would insult the hell out of you so i had to drop him, then just this week this woman i had been friends with for two years tells me she has had enough. Truth is I could have told her this two years ago because we were not compatible at all and she insisted on talking to me anyway. so now thanks to her stubborness this was a waste of my time.

    i have noticed one thing-MOST of the people i was friends with were all neurotic-one was bipolar, one had aspergers, one years ago was a total psychopath and almost stalked me. one was so afraid of caring about me they put me through intense hell and then walked away anyway. it is real and people who say online friendships dont count are stupid. we are souls, not keyboards.

  51. When I think about it, the internet and specifically, email has brought more crap into my life the past 10+ years that I care to think about, which is why now I even use email with extreme caution. I can also say with total honesty that I don’t believe a single of my numerous online friendships has lasted or worked out–and eventually, they just weren’t fulfilling. The feeling of “knowing” someone without really knowing them has left me feeling uneasy and alienated more than once, and eventually it just wasn’t worth it to me. It’s too easy to project expectations onto others and misinterpret words online, and I believe that the only way you can really know or gauge someone is by interacting with them in person and in different contexts/situations. The only exception I can think of, is if you met someone online initially and then saw them frequently in person, otherwise, it’s just too dodgy.

  52. Sometimes I find myself talking about a “friend” whom I’ve never met: Someone who’s been posting on my website for years, a person with whom I’ve had back-and-forth either on the site or via personal e-mail.

    I do feel that a community has developed there, and I’ve even met some of these people personally when I travel. I haven’t met MOST of them, however — and yet I still think of them as friends. Odd.

    And yes, a couple of them have taken offense at something I’ve written and threatened to flounce off. My response is (I hope) well-reasoned: “This was a humor piece/a personal opinion/an observation on the political process about which we may have to agree to disagree. Ultimately, it’s a personal website and I will post what’s personally important to me. I hope you can respect that.”

    The choice to storm off (virtually speaking) is theirs. obviously. My only choice is how I react to their doing so.

    P.S. When I get a chance to meet readers I’m pretty excited. My most recent opportunity was during a visit to my dad in New Jersey: Three people took part of a Saturday to drive almost an hour so we could hang out in a McDonald’s, talking and laughing. What fun.
    P.S.S. During the recent FinCon15 I was delighted to have a chance to say hello to YOU in person, Jeff. Thanks again for that.

  53. This post resonated with me, Jeff. You made some great points.

    The online friendships that have stuck – in my case – are those that crossed over into telephone conversation territory. It is unlikely that I will ever meet any online friend personally (unless they live or vacation in Jamaica), so the voice factor makes it ‘real’. I hope that makes sense.

    I handle disagreements the same way I do offline, but my commitment will not extend to those who are – more often than not – abusive and crude. In regular life, I would escort them to the door, so that is exactly what I do online as well. It is my humble opinion that adults should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. This world does not need any more ‘second-hand smoke’.

  54. A brilliant article. I’m just a teenager in England but, simply by chance, I stumbled across a social media account and the owner is now my best friend of exactly 11 months. She lives in California USA 2525 miles away and we are due to meet and she will stay here during her family holiday touring Europe. I truly believe our friendship is the result of paths crossing for a moment but instead of moving on our paths began to run parallel and, if things work out, we want to eventually close the distance for a longer period of time and live together or close together since we both want to get away when we can. Friendship is made when two lives connect and instead of disconnecting within seconds in a lot of cases, ours are now bonded and we live our lives together. My tip- get through that weird awkward stage when you’re worried to hurt or offend them. Our first call was hilarious looking back on it and now we

  55. In my more than 25 years of coaching and counseling people within a ministry environment, I have found one common denominator for relationships that last through the good and hard times: commitment. Not love, not commonality, not chemistry, not closeness. Commitment.

    This is, I believe, what you are alluding to Jeff. And you’re spot on. Virtual or visual, Skype or Starbucks, relationships that last are the ones where both are fully committed to making it work. BOTH. One all in and one sorta in makes for a difficult ride, like a twin engined plane with only one engine pulling. It may work for a while, but it’ll never be all that it can be, nor will it be able to go the distance.

  56. If you think you’re going to meet nice people on the internet, you might, you never know.

    However, if you think you’re only going to encounter idiots online, then that belief will influence your interactions with people.

  57. I think that friendship is overrated honestly. Whether it’s online or in real life, you can be besties one day and soon enough make comments like “What was that dude’s name already ?” . No harm done, just life passing by.

  58. I just wanna say, don’t get too attached with them!
    keep your emotional distance. It hurts when you get too attached and I know it because I have expirienced it. They are not real friends and you don’t know much like how they will react (I mean the expressions and body language)
    Plus it is very easy to ignore on the internet. And you don’t know what they actually thinking and all..because we can’t see them.
    They be all nice and sweet at first but.. then they start ignoring you. And you just wait for their replay like you mean nothing to them, and it sucks y’know.. I’m done with this. I’m gonna keep my cool and try not to overthink about it.
    Imma keep some emotional distance betweeen my virtual friends.
    That would be good for both the sides

    1. I am experiencing the same thing right now. I had met a guy from Maryland, we started as a chat friends then I became too attached. He made me feel so comfortable with for a week. Thereafter, he started making up excuses in order not to talk to me. Then, he suddenly stop texting me. It is difficult right now because I’m deeply hurt by the fact that it was just so easy for him to ignore people.

  59. I agree, I have been chatting with this guy who is in the UK. It’s starting to get a little out of control and uncomfortable. How do you put an end to it without hard feelings is the problem.

  60. so i have an internet friend and we both live in the same country but we live nearby and we talk but we only talk about some other stuff that catches out interest and i dont think we have built some kind of friendly relationship bc we dont talk about our personal lives much , if i dont want her to hate me or think im desperate to talk to her so much should i go closer into detail by talking about myself to her ? bc shes a really nice person and i thought we could meet in person but i dont think its possible and i also dont want to lose her as well but i really do not know what to do to bring this friendly relationship towards her

  61. I just went through a very horrible breakup with an online friend- a friendship I got very invested in. And your article makes total sense. I traveled to meet this friend in person 2-3 times but that brief in person meeting does not give you a true sense of the person’s nature. That can only come when you engage in shared activities over a period of time in person. I felt like we both created a perception of each other based on what we revealed to each other online, the meeting kinda reinforced those perceptions but as soon as circumstances changed and problems arose the friendship fell apart very quickly . So while I think internet may be fine to discuss common interests with ppl – it is not wise to get invested in those friendships. It takes a lot of commitment and communication for any friendship and online is more like a fling than a long term commitment. As they say you never really know someone unless you live with them, something very similar holds true for friendships. I now pass time on the internet but have no desire or expectations of friendships via this medium

  62. I emailed someone for about a year. I could tell she was rude abd unapreciative of things I did for her, but I overlooked it and thought maybe where she is from they have no manners. Then when I met her in person, she was so mean. Always on the phone when we were together, purposely trying to avoid me. If I spoke to her she gave short, angry answers like I was bothering her. She seemed like such a mad and misserable person, and it hurt my feelings. I guess people can hide who they are online, and that is the only way some people like that can make freinds. In real life people obviously would stay away from her. I will try not to make friends online or otherwise. I’m exhautsed and broke.

  63. Although online friendships can be tricky, some are more worthwhile than others. I have a strong connection with one. We live many miles apart and haven’t met in real life yet. However, we video call each other and always chat. While for others that this article may be true, don’t forget. There’s people out there who are worth the shot.

  64. In my experience (and I have met possibly over 100 strangers online), it is quite possible to create meaningful relationships online and gain a sense of who they are in person. My internet best friend and I actually connected because I messaged her to help her (a post she made showed she was struggling). Thus, one of the most supportive, funniest, beneficial, amazing friendships I have ever had blossomed. We’ve shared negative details such as characteristics we dislike about ourselves and bad habits (we both had a generally low self-esteem but have improved together), but it didn’t repel us from one another. We don’t create illusions of our personality, and we understand one another as we truly are. In short, we’re “real” with each other, and through that, I believe online friendships truly can be magical. I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

Comments are closed.