Online Friends – Weird or Wonderful?

Is it possible to have a real friendship with someone that you’ve never met face-to-face? Something lasting and meaningful, rewarding to both parties? I believe it is. With the advent of Facebook, people are connecting with people from their pasts more often than ever before. But what about the friendships made online prior to Facebook? Are those relationships just as important?
For me, the answer is yes. YES, YES, YES. And here’s why . . .

In July 2000, my husband Mike left for a one-year tour with the Air Force is Korea. I stayed behind in North Dakota with our two kids, age 4 and 6 at the time. One week after he left, I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, a hyperthyroid disorder. A major symptom of GD was insomnia. I spent many a night online while the kids slept. I found my way to a message board on a website for the now-defunct clothing line FuMan Skeeto. As is the case with most message boards, it was a mindless distraction. Fun to chat with total strangers, but also a little like watching a train wreck. But it gave me something to do.

Over time I ended up chatting with the same people over and over. One woman, Lisa, was someone I could relate to on many levels. We were both moms of two kids and military wives, so she understood what I was going through being on my own for a year. We shared a love of reading and writing. Mostly, we shared a seriously snarky outlook on life in general.

There were others that I connected with on that site as well. Tammy, who lived in Montana but had lived in my hometown in California for a while, Jen, Emily . . . women much younger than me, whose lives made me extremely happy to be at the place in life that I was, i.e., happily married and beyond the dating scene! But at the same time I loved hearing about their lives and offering up my experiences to share as well.

When the FuMan Skeeto site went away, I lost touch with some of the people I met there. But thanks to instant messaging, Jen found me. Jen was one of those women who continuously made me laugh with her escapades! Even when life didn’t seem to be going well for her, she never lost her sense of humor.

In case I haven’t made it utterly obvious by now, I like people who have a strong aptitude for sarcasm.

Jen and I connecting again led me to LiveJournal. It couldn’t have happened at a better time. These women helped me get through the year Mike was in Korea; I didn’t think I could possibly need them more than I did that year.

Little did I know.

Mike got home from Korea in July 2001. We immediately moved from North Dakota to North Carolina. He reported to work in his new squadron in August. We all know what happened soon after that.

9/11

Almost immediately Mike was deployed. For six months. He’d only been home for two months! I didn’t know anyone at the new base yet. The kids were both in school for seven hours a day. I became a complete news whore, having CNN on 24/7 and checking every news site I could find online for updates on what was going on where Mike was.

So yeah . . . Jen finding me online and helping me to hook up with all “my girls” again was a blessing. Additionally, writing a blog became the best form of therapy for me. I’ve always loved writing, having kept journals throughout my childhood. The power of a well-written letter is still my favorite weapon! Having a blog where I could write down my most private thoughts, yet have a few close friends to give me their perspective, was such a balm to my stressed-out soul.

It also helped me to read about their lives. It’s very easy to get caught up in our own drama and forget that other people have problems too. Thinking outside of my own life and being there for my friends was good for me. Besides being there for them through difficult parts of their lives, I also had the benefit of sharing in their joyful times. Through their personal blogs, I met more fabulous people over the years as well.

Siobhan – my “Grasshoppa.” I’m going to find that girl a man yet, I swear it! Amy, Kathy, Natalie (both of them), Inga, Kathy, Shirley, Anne, Danielle, Lisa (the other Lisaaaaa) . . . so many friends. Once again, my girls got me through a difficult time. And once again, I thought there was nothing worse than what I was going through.

If there is one thing I have learned in life, it is to never think things can’t get any worse! Because it can, and it did.

In April 2006, my ten-year-old son, Keeghan, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Within 24 hours of his diagnosis, he and I were air-evac’d out of San Antonio, 
Texas (where we were stationed at the time) to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. My only access to the Internet was a shared computer in the ICU waiting room, which was always full. One of the first things I did when I managed to get on the computer was write a post in LiveJournal to let all my friends know what was going on.

“I don’t know what religion everyone here is, but I need prayers, candles lit, whatever it is that you do. My son Keeghan was diagnosed with a brain tumor on Thursday.”

Harder words have never been written. But I knew that, of all the people in my life, these women were the ones that I needed to share the news with, because I knew they would be there for me. And they were.

Over the next two years, they absolutely were there. For the times when I need to rage at the world for doing this to my baby, as well as for the times when there was happiness – clear scans, last chemo, Make-A-Wish trips. They were there. Always.

But one of the most important times, one that will stay with me forever, was the day in August 2008 when the doctors told us there was nothing more they could do for Keeghan. He was only 12! How could this be happening? Right after we were told this, literally just an hour later, Keeghan had to go in for another MRI. Mike always went in with him, so I was left standing in a hallway, holding all of his things and thinking, “he’s leaving me.” I needed to talk to someone, but I wasn’t ready to tell family yet. I didn’t want to tell people that were going to need consoling. I couldn’t deal with that yet. I needed someone who would be there for me, someone strong, who knew me well.

So I called Lisa. I don’t remember everything about that conversation, but I remember she and her husband both asking if we needed them to come up from Florida. These were two people who have never met Mike or I, but they were willing to do that. Like I said, I don’t remember all of the conversation, but I do know that it gave me the strength to keep from collapsing on the floor of that hospital and screaming myself insane.

Keeghan died just 18 days later, and I know that there were plenty of women who never met him, but who probably knew him better than some of his own relatives, who cried that day. They cried with me. For me. For him. It’s been almost two years now, and I probably haven’t been the best friend in that time. I’ve spent so much time angry and caught up in my own personal Hell. But they haven’t left me. I’ve had real-life friends who have ditched me for less, but not these women. They remain my most dear friends.

That’s something that just isn’t found everywhere. Sure, maybe it is easier to put up with a person when they’re not in your face all the time, when you have the freedom to deal with them in your own time and convenience. But considering what the past four years of my life have been like, no one could have blamed them if they’d quietly just disappeared from my life.

I’m so glad they didn’t though, because I would have missed out on their lives. I’ve watched them go through so much as well. There’s been the bad – breakups, layoffs, family illnesses, personal illnesses, the death of a beloved grandmother as well as the death of a precious new nephew. But always there has been good as well – retirement, job promotions, new houses, kids growing up, and the birth of a beautiful baby boy (who I’m sure will someday share his mother’s knack for snark).

So is it possible to have a real friendship with someone that you’ve never met face-to-face? Yes. In fact, without the realness of the friendships I’ve had with “my girls” I doubt that I’d be who I am right now, and I like who I am. I could have lived without some of the life experiences that brought me to this place, but since I did have to live through those experiences, I’m glad I had all of my friends there to help me through. I only hope that I’ve been there for them as much as they have been there for me.