Are online friends real friends? Can online friendships be as good for you or as real as physically interactive friendships?

Are Online Friends And Friendships Real?

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Are online friends real friends? Can online friendships be as good for you or as real as physically interactive friendships?

I’m a bit of a misanthrope and I have no “real” friends.  I don’t like people, they wind me up.  Unless they’re exactly in tune with me, in sync with what I’m doing, and essentially wanting to march to my tune, I get incredibly frustrated.  You might just call me a dick, but I call myself a misanthrope.  My top three annoyances are:

Indecision: You’re out with friends and one of you asks “What shall we have for dinner?” “I’m easy” reverberates throughout the group, then you say “I’m up for a pizza.” “Oh, I don’t fancy pizza.” comes the reply.  But you’ve just said you’re bloody easy!  If you want something or don’t want something bloody well say so.  This is just one example.  Where shall we go next?  How shall we split the bill?  What shall I wear?  Are all infuriating alternatives.

Lack of an opinion.  “I don’t know, I’m not bothered” is quite simply the most annoying reply to a question I ask.  Have a bloody opinion.  Think for yourself and say something.  You must have at least the teeniest opinion on it, even if it’s just based on the small sliver of information I’ve just provided.  I’m almost certainly going to disagree with you, but at least I’ll respect you for having one.

Rudeness.  If we’re in public and you’re swearing around children, being ignorant of the people around you, being overly loud or harassing other people, I’ll walk away right there and then.  Civility isn’t uncool or unmanly; being a gentleman is a lost art and I will respect you for upholding it.  Being polite and respectful doesn’t impact on your right to be a feminist, it isn’t playing into some patriarchal stereotype of how women should behave, it’s just how people should be, so don’t start dropping the C bomb loudly just because you can.

Anyway, I’ve digressed horrifically.  As you could imagine, I don’t have many “real life” friends.  Because I’m so particular in who I want to spend my time with, and because I’m rarely around for long enough to nurture the friendship, I simply don’t bother.  But online, I have almost 100 people that I regularly interact with, care how their day’s been, and generally spend more time talking to than my wife.  But is it real?  Are online friends real friends?  I know that they can lead to real friendships once you’ve met up, or got together; but if you never do, does an online relationship constitute a friendship?  I read a great post by Tim at Slouching Towards Thatcham that asks the question, “Who needs real friends when you have online ones?

Are online friends real friends?  Can online friendships be as good for you or as real as physically interactive friendships?
Do you need to be physically present with your friends to get the most out of friendships?

Despite a swathe of psychological studies saying that online friendships are not as good as real life friendships because of the lack of physical interaction, this article by Mary Stringer offers 21 reasons why online friends are actually better than “real” friends.

I’ve got 60 something ‘friends’ on Facebook who I talk to regularly, but that’s it.  I see that some people, who I’m friends with, have over 500 friends.  Really?  500 people that you can genuinely classify as friends?  Or simply acquaintances that you maintain links to in order to spy on their life’s progress?  On Twitter I follow over 2000 people, but only have 60 people in my various lists.  These 60 are people who I chat with, have banter with, and quite often sympathise with and offer mutual support in times of need.  That’s a friend right?

So why so much ridicule over having online friends?  Why are they seen as faux friends?  Maybe because it’s the fickle nature with which some of them can treat you.  I’ve seen friend after friend drop people on a whim.  Despite being “friends” for over two years, I’ve had people unfollow me and never speak to me again over a single tweet.  That’s not friendship, yet they are people who I’ve felt comfortable enough with to share some pretty personal thoughts and feelings.  On Facebook you regularly hear about the ‘friends cull’ and “if you see this message you’ve survived” messages.  How cold and callous does this seem, yet I understand the need for it.  If you’re not interacting, you’re not friends, so why be friends with each other?

I’m a naturally cynical person, I’ll always see the negative in something – under the pretence of playing Devil’s Advocate – but even I’ve started to question the motivations of people that I consider friends on social media.  The speed in which people have turned on me and others; the viciousness and spitefulness which they then spread behind the former friend’s back is simply astonishing.  So how do you tell the difference between a real friend and sham friend?  I guess you can’t, and it tends to force me further into my shell and with a desire to avoid public interaction completely.

Of course the obvious response is to get a thicker skin and realise that there are some really mean – not just grumpy – people out there, unfollow, block, and move on.  But when it seems so personal, and such a sleight, how can you so simply let it go?  The last time this happened I moped and was a nightmare to be around for the whole day, so why do I let it get to me so much.  Maybe this is why I’m a misanthrope, it’s a defence mechanism.  If I don’t make friends then no-one can do it to me.  If I isolate myself then I can be my own great company.  I don’t know.  All I do know, is that I’m deeply envious of those people with ‘boys’ to hang around with (like minded adult male friends, not young children), those people who have a ready supply of friends to call upon for a night out, or a night in.  As much as I love all of you, my followers, I wish we could be more local and available to meet, maybe then the friendships will seem more real.

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27 thoughts on “Are Online Friends And Friendships Real?

  1. I agree. It’s so much easier to tell someone how you feel online without fearing their reaction and even just to chat, it’s much more relaxing. It’s also easy to just get on online, however you are right. There is always people who will turn on you no matter where you go – real life or facebook. Your opinions will never match up fully to somebody else’s, and it’s hard to accept that sometimes and stay friends but you just have to get on with it (unless it’s something completely barbaric or shocking). I’ve made some fantastic friends, you included, through social media who have played a huge part in my online journey, and even with possible disagreements I would hope that I will stay friends with these people for a very long time. The ones who drop you were never friends in my opinion!

  2. Interesting read. But for me, put it this way: I confide in two online friends just as much – often more – than IRL friends. And I chat to them way more too. I’m convinced we’d retain the closeness I feel if we were closer in literal terms, alas one lives 3 hours away and the other 2 flights away. Without these two, and a couple of others I also consider friends, I can definitely envisage this job making me feel isolated. As it is, I feel very content with my lot.

    Incidentally, I’m a cynic like you (it’s part of my brand!) and I too am very fussy about the people I socialise with.

    1. I find it easier to confide in online friends than in real life. The virtual detachment somehow makes it seem easier, almost like confession. This is why it hurts a little more when the online friends turn out to be sham friends. In real life, my cynicism would have meant a much more ruthless vetting process before divulging matters that are a bit more sensitive.

  3. Well Tony, although we’ve only met a few (is it three?) times I personally think you are great company. Are online friends real friends? Tricky one. I tend to think of them as connections as opposed to friends. Yes, I have online friends but I’m more of a traditionalist. I prefer to meet people in person before calling them a true friend. Biscuit Lady may have irritated you intensely, but she is someone you know personally who stepped in and helped when you needed it most. How many online friends would be in a position to help you out like she did and how many would you be prepared to help out in the same way? That, to me, is true friendship and a true social connection. A very thought provoking post.

    1. Exactly John, I think true friendship requires physical interaction, but not necessarily proximity. If something happened to a friend of mine on the other side of the country I’d move heaven and earth to be there. There are some acquaintances locally that I wouldn’t really try that hard for. Yes, biscuit lady was definitely a friend of the family, not necessarily my friend though. I think a lot of what she did, and what we did in return, was borne out of her friendship with Vikki. Have you read Tim’s post from 2016 about online friends? Very good angle from a more positive perspective.

  4. A great post. I don’t like people much either and all those things annoy me too, especially dithering of any description. I can’t stand it. I think you’d hate me when I’m drunk, I get a little bit sweary. I don’t think of online friends as being as good friends as ‘real’ friends but I don’t have that many of either and I’m happy with that. I’d like to meet you actually, I’d be interested to see whether we really hit it off or really hit each other.

  5. Great post. I think more people think like this than we realise. It takes a long look in the mirtor and an honest heart to admit. I’m terrible at keeping in touch. Mainly because I find it hard to trust. As I said, great post. Right there with you!

  6. Excellent post Tont, totally agree with what you’ve written there. Since I’ve been blogging I have made a number of online friends most of whom are far more interactive than my real friends, though like you, I have very few of those. I think ‘real friends’ can be either online or offline, it’s about interaction, trust and support x

    1. Thought provoking post. I’m not great at face to face interacting at the moment so online friends are my lifeline. My thoughts get muddly when talking but writing is easier to review before I send. Many of my real life friends don’t really get mental illness so it’s great to find those who do.

  7. I’ve written about online friends before and have some great ones that I’ve met irl and carried the friendships over, relieved to find that we click just as well in person. I’ve also been burned by online friendship and am a little more wary then I used to be. Working from home, I tend to see less of people and so I really love chatting online to people I have grown to consider friends, (yourself included), but I’m definitely a bit more cautious these days. I used to take everyone for face value, but I realise now that a lot of people use the internet to reinvent themselves, and actually they are unexpectedly different when you meet them. Or maybe the online persona is real, who knows! Either way, my online friends are very important to me, and make my day brighter. 😀

    1. Aww that’s really nice about making your day brighter. That’s why I’m on here so much is for that very reason. But I’m growing increasingly aware that being online gives people the opportunity to be and act any way they please, even at others’ expense.

  8. Since leaving the UK all my friends and family are online (well except the Mrs and kids)

    I’ve no desire to make real life friends as I always seem to go for the polar opposite of me. Loud, confident, etc and after a while it gets a bit much for me to keep up or say no, when I just want to sit on the sofa tweeting.

    I’m torn between meeting a few bloggers, like yourself, Martyn, Me Julie to name a few. Or keeping it safe to an online friendship.

    I don’t get involved in drama, normally miss it all, and see no point saying something behind someone’s back, and feel fairly secure that the people I interact with most are the same.

    Maybe we should set up a Skype beer night lol

  9. I have maybe 3 real life friends and 1 of them lives 300 miles away. But, i dont do more than text and chat with them. Its pretty much the same as i do when i tweet people. I dont see the difference because of it.
    I believe i have made many online friends, you included, who i talk to most days and within that people i vould confide to if i needed too. I know i have 4 friends who are bloggers who are closer than many people in my life. Do i get the social fulfillment from it? No, but interestingly they are there at every moment, more then RLF. If i am struggling and put it online a gang of you come running. I think that speaks volumes about the value of those friendships. Plus, like you, i have social issues with similar things that youve mentioned.

  10. Pretty much the same here.I don’t really have any ‘friends’ however spend a lot of time talking to my online buddies.I don’t think those friendships are any less valuable,unlikely that I’ll ever get to meet many of them but you never know!

  11. Aw I hope we are twitter friends 🙂 I don’t know where you live but if it’s anywhere near me we should all arrange to meet up with the other people who live near 🙂
    Also if I get offended by anything you say I generally just ignore it, or say something to you then move on and still be friends, I’m not one for unfollowing or blocking unless someone’s really mean lol

    1. I’m in Essex, but I’m disappearing soon for 6 1/2 months. But come September I’m hoping to do loads of meet ups.

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