Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Are “Virtual” Friends Worth Grieving?

Do you know your relatives?

I don’t mean the ones you’re in close contact with, like immediate family. I mean all of the people you know you’re related to, even the ones you only see at weddings and funerals: the ones whose opening line is always “you don’t remember me, do you?”

You probably do, even if you haven’t seen them face to face in decades.

Same with friends: some you see or talk to every day, others you only see every 10 years at class reunions.

My point is that you’ve seen them, met them face-to-face. That’s how you became friends in the first place.

But our lives are different now. We have “virtual” friends, people who may live on the other side of the world: people we “know” only because we text and tweet and chat and share and post and Skype.

So, what do you do when one of them dies?

In the past year I’ve met some of the people I’d only known online. Sometimes I was surprised (honestly, I thought he was taller). Sometimes they picked me out of a crowd. But in every case, the personality I grew to know online was the same as their real personality. I haven’t been disappointed, at least not yet.

Some of my online friends have now become “real” friends. What may have begun as a simple business-related connection has evolved into something much more personal. We share travel tips and restaurant recommendations, brag about our kids, offer support in our work and personal lives. As far as I’m concerned, the ability to meet people online you could have never met otherwise is a great gift.

Back to: what do you do when one of them dies?

It hasn’t come up for me, at least not yet. I have online friends who live all over the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Italy, and Australia. Many of them – most, probably – I’ve never met in person. We’re more like old fashioned pen pals.

I’m curious to hear about your online friendships. Have they evolved like some of mine? Do you consider them real friends, or do you relegate them to a lesser category? Would meeting them spoil things? Will you mourn them when they die?

On Friday, we’ll look at some responses, and consider the last question in particular.


Casey said...

In my view, online friends are friends like any others. I had the pleasure of meeting three musician friends from further afield last year, and that hasn't changed the way we communicate, unless you count the fact that they refer to me now by my real name rather than my alias on that site. Having experienced the pleasure of meeting online friends, I've also experienced the death of online friends. The grieving process is ongoing, and has inspired my blog Navigating Cyberloss. It is my hope that the loss of online friends will come to be recognised more, as social media grows, it will become more of an issue.

Thank you for another insightful and encouraging post, Vicki.

Take care,


Nancy's Point said...

Yes, I have some wonderful online friends and in some respects I'm closer to them than some of my "real" friends. I recently lost one very dear to me and yes, grieving for her is entirely appropriate and necessary. I will miss her forever. A friend is a friend no matter how you meet, even if you never meet face to face.

Friend Grief said...

Thanks for you comments, ladies! I had a completely different idea for this post, but I think this is a timely topic. How we connect may be much less important than the connection itself.

kathleen pooler said...

Thanks for bringing up such an important topic. The more involved I get online, the more I realize how important my online friends are. In some cases (as in ours) , I feel very fortunate that we had the opportunity to meet face-to-face and I have to say it felt like we had known each other all along.So meeting in person is the frosting on the cake. Our shared interests ( and miseries!) are our bond. And yes, I would miss my special online friends very much if something happened. It really is a whole new phenomenon in our lives - a new reality that we can bond so readily and so meaningfully with people from all over the world without ever seeing them in person. Wow!