Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Intentional Friendships in the Age of Social Media

I remember the first time I talked to a stranger on the internet. I was staying over at my friend Amie's house in junior high, and she introduced me to the (our local internet provider) chatrooms and messaging on ICQ (did I just age myself or what?). We didn't have internet at our house--it was too far out in the country for internet to even be an option--and my mom was terrified at the thought of chat rooms, so it was like a whole new world for me. It was weird, and kind of exciting, but I never thought for a minute that there would be a day where the majority of my friendships would start online.

Here we are in 2016, though, and that's exactly what has happened. Even just fifteen years ago, I would have scoffed at internet friendships--they aren't "real" friendships, you know, and how do you even know that the person you're talking to is who you think they are?--and thought there is no way that I'll ever meet up with a total stranger I met online. I'll avoid being murdered thankyouverymuch. Yet I have some of the strongest, deepest, and most authentic friendships of my life....with people who started out as total strangers on the internet. All but one of the amazing girls in that photo started out as an Instagram friend.

So why is that? Why it is that the one thing I swore I'd never do has somehow become the norm for me? If I break it down, truly and honestly, I think it's this--the internet, particularly social media, has allowed me to become picky about my friendships. That sounds a little bit snobby, but stick with me. Growing up in the country and going to school in a (very) small town (I graduated high school in a class of 60. Not 600. 6-0.), most of my friendships were friendships of convenience--not all of them, but the majority. These were the people around me, so they were the people I hung out with, regardless of whether we actually had much in common besides geographic location. That's not to say that friendships of convenience can't evolve into something deeper, by the way-- my maid of honor and all three bridesmaids at my wedding all started out as friendships of convenience. I have legitimate friendships with current and former coworkers that I wouldn't trade for anything. There's a lot of luck and time involved and a lot of playing the odds, but very real relationships can come from people you just happen to meet along your journey, and I would never want to discount the depth of my friendships that started that way. They are some of the truest, most incredible friendships I have; I just got lucky enough to bump into the right people.

Social media, for all of it's downfalls, actually has this incredibly brilliant upside--it allows you to connect with people all around the world who have similar worldviews, passions, values, and interests. It allows you to form intentional friendships based on common threadsYou can bypass all the awkward getting-to-know-you small talk, and have real conversations from the get-go, because all the basic stuff is already out there. Sounds like the recipe for some pretty incredible relationships if you ask me. A few years ago, I had a friendship start because I wrote a blog post about feeling like I had screwed up my life with the wrong career; another blogger/internet friend emailed me, said she was going through the same thing, and asked if we could get coffee. We had never even been in the same room before, but were having authentic and honest conversation before our cups were half empty. We intentionally built a friendship because we knew something about each other from the internet, and in a month or so I'm flying halfway across the country to hang out with her for a week.

I'm not saying that intentional friendships take less work than friendships of convenience--quite the opposite, actually. Friendships of convenience just happen by virtue of proximity. Intentional friendships are just that--they take intention, initiative, effort to begin; if you've never asked a stranger to get coffee, as a socially anxious introvert I can tell you that it's not effortless. But the work has meaning. It has depth. 

So this is me apologizing to the internet. I haven't been murdered. I have some darn good friendships, though, and I couldn't be more grateful to have been wrong about you.


  1. Love, love, love! Isn't it amazing to meet a new friend and skip that part that feels like you're listing your interests in a job interview?

    And ICQ, oh my. Let's continue this conversation over a cup of coffee so I can tell you about my Geocities website and my Xanga blog. Ha!


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