Can Someone You’ve Never Met Really Be Your Friend?

I felt embarrassed the first time I left a comment on a blog site and referred to the site owner as a friend. However, in time, I started to believe in the concept of virtual friendship, which is defined as “a friendship that exists mostly through text and social media as opposed to direct human contact.” After all, what else could explain the anticipation I felt when reading posts or comments from specific people? What other reason could there be for feeling both in sync and understood?

Still, I’ve made no secret of my dislike of most social media. I’m scornful of the whole idea of ‘friending’ on Facebook. Friends are essential to a good and happy life. I don’t like it when the term is stretched beyond all reason.

So, if I’m going to proclaim that several people that I’ve never met in real life have become friends, I want to understand what virtual friendship is all about. To do that, we have to start way back with Aristotle and the meaning of friendship.

What is Friendship?

Aristotle wrote that three conditions need to be met in order to refer to someone as a friend.

  1. Both or all parties need to recognize it as a friendship.
  2. The friends spend time together, mostly engaged in the contemplation of timeless truths. (Let’s modernize that one by saying that friends are willing to go deep, talking about a wide range of important topics, some of which may show them in a bad light.)
  3. Friends feel admiration and love for each other based on information about the whole of the other person, not just the positives.

So Does Virtual Friendship Qualify?

Using Aristotle’s definition, two modern-day philosophers argued that virtual friendship does not qualify as genuine friendship. Considering each of the three conditions in turn, their position is that:

  1. Friendships can certainly be recognized virtually. No problem there.
  2. It is possible for virtual friends to talk about important issues online, but not as likely. When we write posts, we are choosing what we wish to discuss. When spending time with a friend in real life, we are more likely to face a wider range of situations so there’s less opportunity to censor what we disclose about ourselves.
  3. The self-censoring issue looms largest for this condition. It is not that we are pretending to be someone we are not. Rather,  the issue is that we can each choose ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘for how long’ we are in touch online, which means that our friends receive limited information about us.

On the other side of the argument, there are several posts, usually by young people, unaware or dismissive of Aristotle’s definition of friendship. They seem to define friendship much as one Supreme Court justice defined pornography – “I’ll know it when I see it.” These authors claim that the distinction between real life and virtual friends is only valid if you’re old enough to erroneously still believe in the digital divide.

For a delightful argument in favour of virtual friendship, please see Cathi’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.

What Do We Know When We Know Our Friend?

Aristotle’s definition feels a bit too philosophical and removed. The claim of “I’ll know it when I see it” feels too vague. So I went looking for more, and I found Dan McAdams, a professor of psychology.

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’

C.S. Lewis

McAdams does research into personality. He argues that getting to know someone requires working through three levels of intimacy. They are:

  1. Broad Descriptive Traits:  These are the kinds of terms we find in personal ads. In blogs that I follow, some of the common traits of the authors include: humorous, intelligent, creative, friendly, and inquisitive.
  2. Personal Concerns: These are the contextual details that are missing from the traits. Personal concerns include: roles (i.e., writer, daughter, mother, wife); goals (i.e., to read more, understand self, improve physical fitness); skills (i.e., writes well, tells good stories, takes great photos), and values (i.e., seeks adventure; loves beauty; appreciates creativity).
  3. Identity: McAdams likens identity to an entire photo album as opposed to a single snapshot. He defines it as “an inner story of the self that integrates the reconstructed past, perceived present, and anticipated future to provide a life with unity, purpose, and meaning.”

For more from McAdams, see either his 33 page article titled “What Do We Know When We Know a Person?” or this graphic of emphases in personality research.

What Are the Takeaways for Virtual Friendship?

We’ll each need to decide for ourselves if virtual friendship qualifies as ‘real’ friendship. If we choose to believe that it does, there are things we can do to deepen and strengthen our online relationships.

First, we need to recognize that getting to know someone isn’t simply a matter of knowing more about the person. Being able to list ten traits instead of five won’t do. Instead, we need access to different kinds of information before we can claim a virtual friendship, or a real-life one.

To Move from Level 1 to 2, Use Questions

Psychologist Arthur Aron developed something he called the “Sharing Game.” It’s a set of 36 questions that both participants answer before moving on to the next question. The questions escalate self-disclosure gradually. For example, question 1 is “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” Question 35 is “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?” (The full set of Aron’s questions is available here.)

I didn’t know anything about this research before now, but the Tribe Stories section of this Profound Journey site is built on the idea of self-disclosure through questions asked and answered. If you’re interested in sharing with the rest of the Profound Journey tribe, or even if you just want some questions for self-reflection, I encourage you to take a look at any or all of :

To Move from Level 2 to 3, Use Themes

Several posts on the same topic can begin to give us the photo album rather than the snapshot. An example from Profound Journey would be five posts written about my Mexican rescue dog, Shylah:

Rereading those posts in order, I realize that I unintentionally told you as much about me as I did about Shylah. I also find it interesting that the last time I wrote about Shylah was seven months ago. This seems to be further evidence of the fact that self-censoring can be a significant problem for a virtual friendship! I’ll correct that oversight soon.

Do you believe that a virtual friendship is a real friendship? 

 

 

Join the tribe:

88 comments

  1. Hi Karen. I do believe in virtual friendship. As you say, it is hard to achieve. The first (and not the last) time this happened for me was with a lady named Patricia. We began as “friends” playing a Zynga game. She was recovering from a stroke and used the game as a way to improve her fine motor skills. Over time we learned more and more about one another. When her husband died, I cried for her (more than once). It was her vulnerability that made me trust her and allowed me to get to know her. I felt safe being open with her as well. It took years.
    For someone with social anxiety, “real life” friendships are just as hard. My insecurities get in the way of transparency. I am going to start with this one:
    Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
    Dead? Mister Rogers Alive? Pope Francis

    Thank you for another engaging and thought-provoking post.

    1. Hi Heather. It surprises me to learn that you suffer from social anxiety. If there were anyone that I would say would have no difficulty with friendships, virtual or otherwise, it would be you! When I read your posts, I feel as if you are being both vulnerable and transparent. Just my perception.
      Since friendships are based on both parties answering the questions, revealing a little more about themselves each time, mine are: Dead? Georgia O’Keefe. Alive? Kris Kristofferson

      1. Hi Karen, I have to be careful not to give in to my social anxiety too much or it gets worse. I had foot surgery this past year and didn’t leave my house for over a month. By the end of that time, I felt like a cat being forced into a bathtub at the prospect of going out in public.

        My blogs are pretty transparent. I don’t know that anyone I know in real life reads them, so I just remind myself that people will either like what I have to say, or they don’t. No awkwardness that way.

        I had the pleasure of visiting the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe about 10 years ago. She’s an amazing artist.

        1. Then I’m very glad that my first meeting of you has been online, Heather. I so appreciate your transparency and hope there will be a day when we can add the ‘in real life’ connection as well.

          It’s pretty clear that you’re a writer, Heather. Love the cat being forced into the bathtub – a great visual for a very uncomfortable feeling.

  2. I do feel you get to know people better through talking whether it be telephone (I’m giving my age away) or blogging. I am just being introduced to blogging through your blogs. It is very interesting conversations. I am enjoying reading everyone’s comments. Most of my older friends are only in contact through the telephone or when you want to send a thinking of you card. The trouble I am finding is getting the appropriate time to talk on the telephone, it’s either too early or too late as my time seems to slow down when I think of things to do.

    1. Hi Gerri. You make a really good point about the difference between connecting by telephone and connecting online. Telephone feels more intimate, but perhaps also a bit more intrusive if you’re worrying about whether you’re calling someone at a good time or not. I guess all you can do is call when you can and play telephone tag if necessary.

  3. If you’d asked me this question before I started blogging I would have said virtual friendships didn’t count. I’ve unfriended many casual online acquaintances who sent me friend requests but never engaged – what’s the point? Once I really got into the whole blogging thing it opened up new doors for me and I have several blogging friends who I feel very connected to – more so than some of my IRL friends (hence today’s post!) I learn about them from their blogs, from interviews with them on other blogs, from FB groups and from comments and replies. I think my virtual friendships are actually beginning to replace some of my IRL ones – my husband says it’s because I can sit in our house in my pjs and chat rather than having to go out – I think he may have something there. I’m adding you to my virtual friends btw 🙂 xx

    1. I grinned when I read that last sentence. Thanks Leanne! We’ve met Aristotle’s first condition- mutual consideration of friendship.
      Your husband has a great point. I hadn’t thought about enjoying the comforts of home as a bonus of virtual friendships, but I love being home so it definitely qualifies.

  4. I totally agree that virtual friendships exist and count. What I’ve found is that those who I consider cyber friends (in the true friend sense) are those who I now communicate personally with (mostly email, but sometimes also skype). This has usually developed after blog commenting for a while.

    There seem to be stages. You start off with general comments, then get to know each other a little and start throwing in some direct comments, then more personal ones, until you are able to share jokes or a higher level of understanding in the comment. Then the occasional off-loop email becomes regular and before you know it you’re mates. The time it takes for this to happen varies depending on those involved, of course.

    1. That’s a great description of the stages, AJ. I haven’t been blogging long enough to have seen that process all the way through yet, but it sounds wonderful and I hope I have the opportunity to experience it.

  5. Love the topic!

    I totally feel that some of the folks I’ve ‘met’ through blogging are my friends.. after all, we are FB friends, what other criteria do you really need?!?!?!

    1. Ah, so you’re a Facebook fan, Beth. I’ve had requests to ‘friend’ people I’ve never met and have no point of connection with – i.e., haven’t read anything they’ve ever written. I always turn them down because I can’t see where the basis is for any kind of friendship. Do you meet people through their blogs first and then have them as friends on Facebook, or is it the other way around?

  6. What a great question, Karen! The answer for me is YES, I believe virtual friends not only can exist but count just as much as IRL friends. There is the thought that as opposed to only revealing as much about yourself as you want (which I find I do in real life until I know someone better, anyway) there is the ability to be bold and say it like it is. The old keyboard courage adage comes to mind right now- “I might as well be honest I will likely never meet them in person anyway.” I have quite a few virtual friends that I have never met. When it comes right down to it here on Profound Journey I have many people that I would refer to as friends even though I have never met them in person. Commenting back and forth consistently through the comment sections you get to know a person and look forward to seeing their response. Why would you care if you didn’t care about them as a friend?
    Another great post-Karen, thanks. I am bookmarking the next set of questions…one day (in the oodles of spare time I have 😉 ) I may just do another tribe story update. 🙂
    Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
    Dead? My Dad Alive? Steven King (of course!)

    1. I love that phrase ‘keyboard courage,’ Susan.
      And I agree that commenting really helps to develop a virtual friendship. I’ve certainly been loving the involvement I’ve been seeing ever since the A-Z challenge. If you had the opportunity to meet virtual friends in real life, is that something you would want to do or do you prefer the freedom to say what you like without fear that things could get awkward if you met?

      1. I try my hardest to be honest both online and in real life. It may be easier to be honest online through a keyboard but I would like the opportunity to meet virtual friends and hope that I could still say what I like since by that time they would know me well enough to accept me for being me. I see this on YouTube as well, a great many virtual friends there…from all over the world. I am all for testing the waters by meeting in real life.

  7. This is an insightful and timely post, Karen. I think there are different levels of friendship. Yes, I believe in virtual friendship, but being friends in person adds an extra dimension – the conversations are more spontaneous (and engaging); we can’t edit what we say. Plus, the added laughing, back and forth interaction, and intenseness makes these encounters special for me.

    That being said, I have made friends online (and I call you one of them), and I’ve explained this concept to my husband who isn’t on social media or doesn’t blog. Because of the comment section on our blogs, the questions and answers, the interactions, the revelations in the posts, I have grown connections with fellow bloggers. I call them friends, when I like what they say and do, when their personality shines through and jives with me, when they care, when they are respectful, intelligent, and seem to have similar values as me. These are the bloggers I’d like to meet in person to build on the foundation we have together. These are the people I’d like to discuss so many things with.

    The way blogs differ from other social media, like Facebook, is that connecting through blogs, in my opinion, is on a much deeper level than sharing photos and one liners on Facebook. Facebook keeps me abreast of what’s going on with friends and acquaintances (if I care to spend time on it, browsing), while blogs tell me more about a person every time I read one.

    1. Hi Liesbet. I definitely agree that it would be the best of all possible worlds to meet in person with a virtual friend. I certainly hope and anticipate that one day we will have the chance to do that.
      You make a good point about the difference in the kind of sharing that tends to happen on Facebook as opposed to on a blog.

  8. Very interesting topic and I like the line “the distinction between real life and virtual friends is only valid if you’re old enough to erroneously still believe in the digital divide”.

    I admit to being a bit of a Pollyanna and there have been numerous occasions in the past where I assumed a friendship existed but in fact there was none. It’s happened in both the ‘real’ world and the virtual one. In all cases, I was profoundly disappointed. The end result is that I guard my heart a little more closely. I’m now more likely to assume a relationship is several notches lower than ‘friend’ than I might have otherwise done in the past.

    The problem with virtual encounters is that is myopic. It’s true that we filter our message and select what we say and how we say it, but it’s greater than that. It’s all the cues that come from face-to-face and even voice-to-voice encounters. It’s body language, facial expression, tone of voice. All of that is missing in the virtual relationship.

    I went through a bit of personal crisis a few years ago when I really needed a friend to talk to – a very good friend whose discretion I could trust. This particular “real life” friend has been a follower of my blog from day one. In fact she was my first blog follower.
    However, she never gave me the opening I needed to have that soul-baring conversation. She actually said to me one day that she follows my blog and therefore knows what’s going on in my life. She didn’t feel the need to question beyond that surface level in spite of all the cues.
    Somewhere along the line, she lost the concept of what it meant to be a friend. She had drifted into that one-dimensional virtual friendship, losing the perspective that all bloggers have – our virtual life is only a fraction of the story.

    1. What a thoughtful comment, Joanne. And a sad one. It hurts to think that your friend was oblivious to your need, and that people, online and off, haven’t always seen a friendship where you saw one.

      I personally think that being a Pollyanna is a wonderful way to be. Yes, it means getting hurt more often but without those lows you might never experience or recognize the incredible highs of a strong and meaningful friendship. When it comes down to it, a Pollyanna is someone who is willing to be vulnerable. In my view, there can’t be personal growth or meaningful connection without that vulnerability.

      So please, at least from me to you, assume that our relationship is one of friends – trusting, caring friends. All we need to do is add in the body language and facial expressions. Easy peasey.

      1. As usual, you make some excellent points! Being vulnerable does heighten the intense of an emotion / experience. One of my go-to mottos has been ‘be afraid, but do it anyway’. Your comment ties in beautifully to that.
        I much prefer life seeing beauty and magic, rather than expecting monsters. It’s just a much happier way to live.

        … and yes, I feel very confident calling you friend 🙂 Meeting you in person will just be icing on the cake … and I do love icing 🙂

        1. If you were to imagine a brick wall between two people who aren’t friends, and then maybe just a few bricks strewn on the ground between two people who are friends, those strewn around bricks just got carted away with your comment about icing.

          Icing is my favourite part of any cake or square or sticky bun. I took a cake decorating course a few years ago and mostly remember the pleasure of eating lots and lots of icing every week. 🙂

          1. OMG! Me too!! If it doesn’t have icing, it’s not a ‘real’ dessert. I took 3 cake decorating courses -including using fondant and creating flowers with gum paste.

            Here is where I have to admit I have a tub of homemade cream cheese icing in the fridge right now. No cake. Just icing.
            Oddly, I should feel shame by that comment, but somehow I suspect you can relate to it 🙂

            1. Can I come over? I so need an icing fix!

              I thought of taking those other cake decorating courses but the gum paste flowers and the fondant don’t taste like icing so I figured why bother??

            2. I’m relieved to hear that you like cream cheese icing, Deb. I’d forgotten to mention that it is a Profound Journey tribe member requirement 🙂

            3. I agree about fondant. It looks pretty, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s inedible.

              … cream cheese icing makes EVERYTHING better 😉 …. well, except perhaps my waistline.

            4. Yup, and we know that because we’ve both made a valiant effort to eat that fondant because it LOOKS like it should be a really great tasting icing. Or is that just me???

            5. hahaha!! Nope, it’s not just you. Tried it, was supremely disappointed 😕

              I did however one day try making my own fondant. Gilles liked it (he thought the purchased fondant was nasty), but I still wasn’t impressed. Then again, I don’t care for marshmallows … unless they are in Rice Krispie Squares 🙂

  9. I agree with Liesbet on different levels/types of friendship. I saw this once and it really resonated: ‘friends for a season, friends for a reason, friends for life’. For me friends for a season are the seasons of life. Friends of convenience because you work together or your kids go to the same school or you live in same neighborhood. Change the convenient proximity and the friendship slips away. Was it real if it was temporary? Yes. Do they know the depth of you – can they answer any of the 33 questions about you? Not at all! My last life stage (life at work) was full of friends for a season. That was a challenge when work stopped.

    Friends for a reason are the folks who are in your life because they share similar interests. I’ve also seen this called the “social friend”. For me, this is the bulk of my friends now – my “women who walk”, my foodie friends, my blogging buddies. These folks do know me, because we do talk, whether it’s over wine, over steps, or over the internet (posts and comments). These folks actually know me better than any friend for a season ever did. They are the ones who (recently) sent me cards and notes when things got tough in my life. They the ones who keep me accountable, the ones who support me, the ones who talk about things like friendship, habit change, archetypes, personal growth. Even here, there are some folks who know me better than others… some who could answer many of the questions, and many who could not. And in fact, my blogging buddies are probably ones who could, as I share a lot of myself in my blog and on my comments!

    Friends for life? I think this is the Aristotle description. I also heard once that this is maybe 2-5 people – the “you can count them on one hand”. The person you call at 2AM because you need someone. The friend that lasts through the seasons (life stages) and through the reasons( changing hobbies, changing interests, changing locations). I have 2-4 people on this list. 2 for sure I would call no matter what and 2 I do feel I could call, but probably wouldn’t. I’m not sure how folks get into this category except through time… this one requires time (for life).

    I’ve shifted some friends for a season to friends for a reason. I’m thinking some friends for a reason could shift to friends for life…as life continues.

    So are people I’ve never met friends? Absolutely. I even read blogs every day for a month to support them! And looked back to see what they commented back to me (even when the system didn’t recognize me everyday). My blogging buddies are friends to me in many, many ways….and I hope some of them call me friend as well.

    And I have no idea who I would ask to dinner….maybe a bunch of my never-met blogging buddies!

    1. Your categories of friendship are so helpful, Pat. Trust you to come up with a great framework for talking about the different kinds of friendship 🙂

      I’m pretty terrible at friends for a season. I never bothered to maintain work-related friendships because I knew that they wouldn’t be around after I finished working at a particular place. On second thought, maybe they weren’t around because I didn’t bother. I’ve always agreed with the title of the Thomas Wolfe book, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Once I left a workplace where I’d poured in my heart and soul, I never wanted to return to that particular spot.

      Friends for a reason make great sense to me. And as one of your friends, I thank you so much for hanging in there with the daily posting of the A-Z challenge AND for revisiting my blog to read my responses to your comments even when my system didn’t recognize you! I’ll be writing to you about that actually, Pat. Shiraz needs help finding a comment system that will work.

      Friends for life are indeed rare. I think you’re right that time is needed for friendships to solidify to that extent. Some days I imagine some blogging friends becoming friends for life. It’s a comforting thought.

      1. Hey, stopped back over from MLSTL… you get such insightful comments on your blog topics. No, that is not the comparative monster… it’s a compliment!

        Thanks for noting about the “framework”…it made me realize that is one of my “strengths” and something I enjoy. I used it all the time at work – finding the framework, creating what was known as “Pat charts”, sharing the “visual model” of a concept/idea to help folks get it. It’s something I miss and realized I’m not sure how to translate into my next life stage.

        Another aside… thought about you as I dug into some wavy BBQ chips the other day… not Ruffles, but a local chip maker. They were yummy and mood boosting. The first made me eat too many, the second was needed. And thoughts of you helped the second part as well. 🙂

        1. Creating frameworks is absolutely one of your strengths, Pat, and a really important one at that. I believe that you are in the process of creating frameworks for this part of your life. SOAR is one of them. And you are helping the rest of us by sharing your frameworks, just as you helped your colleagues when you were at work. We’re grateful!

          I had BBQ chips tonight. Yummy and mood boosting for me too. And I did think of you while eating them and thought that someday we should have a phone chat. I’m sure it would do a much better job of boosting our moods than the BBQ chips and we’d save all of those calories.

            1. Yahoo! Thanks for letting us know, Pat. I’m sure that Shiraz will be as thrilled as I am that some aspect of the comments is finally working well!

  10. Wow! Great post AND great comments, Karen! You hit it out of the ballpark again, my friend! (See what I did there…hehehe!)
    I believe in IRL friends and virtual (blogger) friends – for me, each takes time to develop. I am not a person who makes friends easily…or that’s probably because my definition of a “friend” is someone who you resonate with, and who shares the same values, and someone who will be there in a crisis. Fair weather friends can be amusing to have I suppose, but as an introvert I don’t want to put my precious energy into someone like that.
    So, I don’t have scads of people I call “friends” and I like to tell people that if I do consider you a friend, be warned because it’s a “life sentence”. And by that I mean, I will be there for you until you die, or you do something so egregious to me that you are now figuratively dead (to me). Thankfully those things haven’t happened to me, much.
    I’m not embarrassed to call someone I’ve never met a friend but I do wonder sometimes if I’ve overstepped the bounds of the relationship and am imagining something that is not reciprocated. But I don’t let that stop me. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? If the other party is uncomfortable with this, I hope they will tell me. The sooner the better.
    Who would I ask to dinner that is dead? My husband. He has a lot of explaining to do and more importantly, he needs to hear how I feel. And boy, do I need to tell him!
    Who would I ask to dinner that is still alive? I agree with Pat – a dinner with blogging buddies would be fabulous!

    Deb

    1. Hi Deb.
      I feel better already. You are the person I wrote to and called “my friend” then wondered if I had overstepped. Thank you for your third sentence, and thank you for your comment about nothing ventured, nothing gained.

      Thanks also for helping me to think about why I felt a bit embarrassed. It’s because, like you, I have few friendships and the ones I do have are very important to me. I don’t toss the term around lightly, so felt a bit funny about using it online – not because I didn’t mean it but because I don’t ever want to be seen as one of those people who thinks absolutely everything is ‘excellent’ and everyone is a ‘friend.’

      Okay. Awesome response on the ask to dinner question. I’m thinking either a psychic or a friend who will help with role play might just do the trick 🙂

      1. Hi Karen,

        I wondered if you were referring to me but didn’t want to presume anything. Anyways, that didn’t colour my response in any way. I’m very happy Joanne led me to your site and happier still to have made contact with you.I also read Joanne’s response, and having also met her IRL, I sensed her holding back with me and wondered why. Now I know she has been burned in the past and totally get her more “guarded nature”. It’s all cool with me.

        I used to be very guarded myself. But as I get older and wiser and realize time is fleeting, and that I have gained more confidence in my ability to weather any storms, I am much more open and take things much less personally.

        If someone doesn’t like me, I realize now it’s just as much about them (if not more) than about me, so it’s easier to shrug it off and move on. I finally truly believe in my own worth as a human being and a good friend after all these years, and that is just great!

        I think the psychic idea is a good one; I just don’t know any. I wrote him a letter and that helped. I do much less yelling and cursing around Chez Badass these days. 😉

        Deb

        1. I so admire you, Deb, for getting to the place you describe in your second and third paragraphs. Now I just need to figure out if I can get there too without having my heart ripped out and stomped on a couple of times as you have endured. I have an awful suspicion that hard times might be a prerequisite for the kind of wisdom you’ve already attained at your young (relatively speaking :)) age.

          1. Yup. You got that right. I have been through hell multiple times and always came out the other side so nothing much phases me anymore. This is how you birth a badass – I’ve discussed this on Ye Olde Blogge several times – I wish there was an easier way. Don’t want anyone to have to go through this, let alone a friend. 🙂

  11. Karen — friendship has been in the forefront of my mind for the last few weeks so I truly appreciated your post. It reminds me of:
    – a definition of friendship offered by a teacher in high school (One for whom you would accept full responsibility for their actions). This has stuck with me and colored all definitions since. — Thinking this might be a good future blog post.
    – an article that a former student wrote (in the early 2000s) about the value of virtual friendship for ‘digital natives’ — offering connection, affirmation, etc.
    – a reflection I wrote about how social media is the new ‘front porch’ – perhaps another blog.
    Ultimately, I believe that there are lots of ways to ‘do life’ – which would include defining friendship. I believe you can relate to and connect with folks you’ve never met in person just as easily as you can feel alone and isolated in a crowd.

    1. Hi Janet. It looks like there are some really interesting and thought-provoking posts coming up on your blog. I’ll be watching for them.
      I appreciate the comparison to the loneliness of a crowd. I hadn’t thought in those terms, but it’s another good argument for the existence of virtual friendships.

  12. I do think that, yes. In blogging, we (or I) gravitate towards people on the same wavelength. For me, the proof is the five bloggers I have met in person and how well we all got on.

  13. Friends for me is a term I use with only some select and special people. The other people that I know are called acquaintances or colleagues. When you talk about friends for me, I value loyalty, discretion, trustworthiness, kindness, and frankness. So for me, my collection of friends in real life is quite small. i do do FB and the people I have there are a mixture of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. For any deep conversations over the internet with my friends I turn to messenger or email. I do not post anything about my inner self on FB. Blogging is different again. I have learned a lot about the thoughts and feelings about the people who write the blogs I follow. Are they my friends? I would say some are friends mostly because I knew them before I started reading their blog. That is not to say I don’t admire the others deeply. I do. There just seems to be a need for me to know the person in the flesh!

    1. Interesting, Fran. I do understand what you mean. I remember taking two different online courses when I was doing my M.Ed. One course began with a group phone call and then was strictly online. I dropped out of it within a couple of weeks. The other course began with a day of face-to-face meeting and then was strictly online. I stayed with it for the duration. While no one in either course became a friend, the possibility existed with the second course format in a way that it hadn’t with the first course.

  14. Hi Karen, I definitely feel that virtual friendships are just as valid as IRL. I have made some solid friendships with other bloggers, some of whom live on the other side of the world. We connect not just through leaving comments on each other’s posts but also by chatting online. There have been times when some have confided in me for advice and vice versa. So, yes I would suggest that virtual friendships are just as real. Whilst I am mindful of not writing too much information about family or friends, I believe that many people who read my blog would begin to understand who I am and what my life is like. I am giving a talk tomorrow at a High Tea event on the topic of Having an Ageless Attitude. One of my five points is to have quality friendships in with a variety of age groups. Like IRL friendships we become friends with people who we have some things in common with. The same goes for virtual friendships, my blogging friends have common interests with me through blogging and we can discuss issues we are having or wins – to me friendship is all about connection and being supportive and caring. This can be done IRL or online. Thanks for a great post and I will be checking out your suggested posts. I have only just come to know you recently but know that we have the start of a very good friendship. Have a great weekend xx

    1. I’d love to be in the audience at your talk, Sue. But what’s neat is that I already have a good idea of what you will say, and even of how you might say it, because I read your blog and feel as if I am getting to know you – voice and mostly sight unseen.

      And that bit about asking for advice – I’ll be sending you an email very soon doing just that 🙂

      1. Hi Karen, thanks so much for linking this post up with us at Midlife Share the Love Party. I feel we have become friends in such a short time because we share the same philosophy on life. It will certainly resonate with many and I’m looking forward to being your guest! Have a great week! #MLSTL

  15. Hi, Karen – I love the way that you presented this very provocative post. Prior to blogging, I believed that virtual friendships were not equal to friendships from “real life.” In fact, (groan here) I told this to students all of the time. Now, I definitely owe them an apology!
    Virtual friends can be just as valid, meaningful and soul-enhancing as friendships from real life. This was made crystal clear to me with the five bloggers with whom I have had the pleasure to have later met in person. In every single case, I was not surprised nor disappointed by the ‘real life versions’ that I met — actually quite the opposite.
    Another point that validates my virtual friendships is how often I have been emailed or messaged privately by one of them (and vice versa) to ask a question, solve a dilemma, share sorrow as well as good news or give a kind word. To me, that’s the stuff of which “real friendship” is made.

    1. Hi Donna. I’m not surprised to hear you provide a ringing endorsement of virtual friendships. You’ve had, or I should say intentionally made, such amazing opportunities to turn those virtual friendships into real life ones. I love reading the posts of your meet-ups. I can feel the pleasure you take in getting to know your virtual friends on a whole different level.

  16. excellent discussion karen and the comments have given me as much to chew over as your post. I think perhaps I started with one view and by the time I got to have my turn at commenting I had arrived somewhere else. I do have friends deeply held much loved – hardly any of them do I see regularly – yes country living has quite a lot to do with that but more then that – it is a spiritual connection .having been involved with sacred ceremony for many years has enabled me to hold friendships value friendships in quite a different way. I do not need to spend x amount of time with a friend to feel the friendship – it is enough that when we do meet it is deep and poignant and supportive and loving – nourishing both of us. enter blogging in my life and it wasnt until I did an a to z some years ago that I developed what I thought of as friends.
    I hardly know you and haven’t met the dog yet but feel a kinship with you and would probably dare to say we are becoming friends. based on what – again, I think it is a spiritual bond – that needs no physical connection though of course that is a wonderful part of friendships too but rather thru the ethers and why not the internet we connect and become a part of each others lives.
    to answer your question ‘is a virtual friendship a real friendship ? – yes And yet a physical body friend has no equal.
    it is a paradox my friend

    1. It is indeed, Sandra. What’s the line? A paradox wrapped in an enigma? I actually like that friendship is, as you put it, in the ether. You have such an incredible ability to see and communicate the magic in the world, Sandra. I am so grateful to have come to know you even a little bit and yes, to agree that we are becoming friends.

  17. Hi Karen, Yes! I had international pen friends and we became friends long before we met IRL. I’m meeting with one of them later this month in Tallinn. Blogging friends are like pen friends to me, just changing from paper and pen to digital thanks to technology.

    1. I’m curious, Natalie. Did you find it easier to get deeper faster with your pen friend than with blogging friends? I’m thinking that communication between pen friends can maybe be more personal because it’s not available for public viewing.

      1. My experience is that it’s more about whether the two people click and continue to stay in touch to become friends. With pen friends, we were dealing with snail mail so it actually took a long while to get the letters back and forth but the penfriends I have until now have been in it with me since we were in high school. With blogging friends, the interactions seem so much faster. I have only been blogging for about 18 months and feel that with a few bloggers, if we meet IRL, we’ll have a lot to talk about and can become good friends. I haven’t met any blogger IRL yet so I could be totally wrong 🙂

  18. Absolutely! As a child, I had “pen-pals” that I got to know simply from what they told me in their letters. Others that I knew (my grandparents, for instance) but developed more of a relationship with through correspondence. These days, many of my friends are people I used to go to school with, or live close to, but now rarely see. We keep in touch mainly through social media and Email. Those things all opened the door to long-distance friendships with people I met through my blog, and have never met in person. But those friendships are real! I look forward to their missives, and to being able to add my thoughts. I miss them if they stop writing. I care about them! It may be a day or two before I get to your second segment, but I’m looking forward to it, Karen!

    1. Ah, no rush at all, Cindy. The second post is a list of questions, and heavy duty ones at that. Friends recognize that sometimes each other’s lives get really busy 🙂

  19. Hi, Karen! This is my third try at a comment. Some kind of tech gremlins are at work, and the other two resulted in error messages. I enjoyed reading this post and all the comments. I’m with the majority who believe that non-IRL friendships can be very fulfilling. It comes down to connection and mutual respect. So much of social media can feel disingenuous, which makes the real friendships shine even brighter!

    1. Hi Jenny. Thanks for persisting at writing a comment. Molly wrote to me as well to say that she was getting a spam response when she tried to comment this morning. I can’t find anything wrong on my end and others have had no trouble posting, so I’m going to assume the tech gremlins you’ve mentioned and hope that they move on to someone else’s site (no one I know of course!) by tomorrow.
      You’re so right that social media can feel really flat and blah and that it makes the contrast even stronger. It’s funny – not social media, but in a related issue – I just today got an email from a guy who wanted to write guest posts for me in exchange for me linking back to his site. I said that if he was female, wanted to join Profound Journey, wanted to take the time to read and comment on posts, wanted to become part of the community, then I’d be happy to consider guest post ideas. Otherwise, nope. Because you’re right -real friendships are what matter and I want to do everything I can to protect a community where real friendships are developing.

  20. HI Karen! So sorry for the delay responding to this awesome post. I’ve had a crazy week. Anyway! To sum it up, I feel there’s some kind of spiritual connection with a virtual friend or friend in the flesh that happens in an unexpected moment. When it does, it feels genuine. Even if virtual friends omit info about themselves, I think we can still get a general sense of who they are. In other ways, maybe it’s better that we don’t know certain things about a virtual friend that might create barriers. Virtual friends, in a way, are just like spirits communicating with each other. I appreciated all the great info in your post, and I thank you for mentioning mine. That always means so much to me. Cathi

    1. Hey Cathi. No need to apologize ever! I’ve had a similarly crazy week, or is it month – I don’t even know anymore. I love the way you’ve described virtual friends as spirits communicating. That perfectly fits how I’ve been feeling about my online friendships, especially lately.
      Have a great weekend. I hope it’s a calm and happy one.

  21. This was an intriguing post. Why? Because my social media friendships began back in the mid 1990’s with AOL and the community rooms. Suffering from Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis, I found them invaluable at that time in my life. It was wonderful to know I wasn’t the only one dealing with these issues.

    Of course, then the whole Internet thing grew and I left AOL and it’s proprietary browser for IE. I Soon was writing web content for several sites (The Mining CO/About.com, BellaOnline.com, Suite101.com) and realized there was no hiding on the Internet (one reason I don’t go ga-ga over privacy issues, my name and face have been online since 1996).

    In 2001 when my late husband was diagnosed with head/neck cancer, there wasn’t a lot of information out there but there was ACOR.org, communities of people supporting each other in a specific cancer type/area. Again, invaluable to me as a caregiver for the next three years.

    I also joined Delphi Forums where I made friends with other women of a certain age who were learning to ride a motorcycle. We realized we learned very differently than men, at least most of us, and we supported each other. I also joined several other motorcycle forums and made friends in those as well. When I toured the country on my motorcycle in 2005 as a 58 year old widow, I got to meet many of the folks I’d been conversing with online.

    I joined MySpace because my grandkids were there (hated it – too much glitz, glitter, glam). Then came the Facebook – again, because the grandkids were there as well as siblings, cousins, kids and friends from the past umpteen years.

    Why is this relevant? Because I am still good friends with a group of women who also wrote web content back in 1996. In fact I started an email group then where we could communicate and years later, started a group on FB for us. Many of us are still friends, 22 years later, and some of us have met in person but not all.

    I also am still in touch, via Facebook, with a large majority of those women motorcycle riders, many of the male riders (& current spouses), school chums, previous co-workers, fellow RVers (met and unmet) and, of course, fans of my books and blog (LOL).

    Without the resources to meet online, I wouldn’t have many of my friends. Yes, I’ve met a certain percentage in real life but many I have not. But we have shared many real life happenings from childbirth, to divorce, to death, to illness, to graduations and so much more.

    These are my friends…

    1. What an amazing story, Donna. You definitely qualify, for me at least, as one of the earliest users of the Internet for the purpose of finding and making friends based on shared interests. I love that there’s a special interest group, or groups, for women wanting to learn to ride a motorcycle. That had never occurred to me but it makes so much sense. Did you write about your experiences travelling the country on motorcycle, or do you intend to? It makes me think of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, only without the dog. What an interesting life you have led; a life rich in experiences and in friends, met and unmet.

      1. Thanks Karen. Unfortunately, that was my recovery year. I couldn’t write anything and I avoided talking to anyone as much as possible. I have a few special memories but no written record (and as it was thirteen years ago, my memory is fading) of it. I should write down some of the memories…one special one was spending three weeks volunteering on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. Very special, my chance to do something not for me in a year that was all about me (as a new widow).

        1. A whole year like that, Donna. I know that feeling of not being able to write and of not wanting to see anyone, although my reason was burnout rather than grief. It’s such a bottomless pit. I’m glad you’ve recovered. Many of the most important memories will come back if you ever decide to reopen that door.

  22. Hi Karen! I believe very much in the power of Virtual Friends and their friendship. Perhaps because I’ve been self-employed as a writer for many many years I’ve had to reach out and find my friends any way I can. And because I have very few IRL writer friends, I am naturally drawn to those I have found on the internet. Most are bloggers but some of them I met through SM. I think for me what matters is that I find what they have to say interesting and honest. Those are two biggies for me. And while I appreciate what a number of bloggers put out, most of them don’t “grab” me enough to take the friendship any deeper. I also agree that meeting VF online and then meeting them in person is wonderful. I attended a blogger conference a couple of years ago and one of the best things was putting faces to names. And just like IRL, even though I had a few common interests with some of them, some of us just didn’t hit it off in person. Others have become what I consider good friends that I hope to stay connected with in the years to come. Plus, last year I was able to connect with 4 other bloggers who came to visit my hometown and it was as though we had known each other for years. I think a lot of the friendship thing depends upon what is important to a person. I will continue to stay connected to those writers that I feel write (and thereby think) about things I feel are important and I trust that those who consider me a friend will do the same. Where that will lead? Who knows? But I do feel that if I ever visited your hometown (or you came where I live to visit) I would love to meet you in person. I think we could spend hours talking about things that matter to us both, and isn’t that a good description of a friend? ~Kathy

    1. It’s a great description of a friend, Kathy. I am absolutely sure we’d have plenty to talk about, and equally confident that we’d hit it off quickly.
      You make a good point about writer friends. I don’t have any writer friends that I’ve met in real life. I hadn’t realized how lonely that felt until I started meeting other writers, like you, online. That has been such a pleasure.

  23. I’m going to have to reserve my opinion about whether a virtual friendship is a “real” friendship for when I’ve been blogging a bit longer and have some virtual friends! An interesting post nonetheless that I will bear in mind 🙂 Hannah from http://www.womanontheway.com

    1. That’s fair, Hannah. I wonder if we’ll end up having similar experiences. I started out very skeptical, but now often think of some of my virtual friends, wanting their take on different things that are happening in my life and wondering how they’re doing.

  24. I absolutely believe in virtual friendship, Karen. When I first started blogging, four or so years back, like you I was careful with comments on posts, a bit removed. Within weeks, I knew who my virtual friends were. I connected with folks from faraway lands and different cultures and I loved, and love today, reading their stories. Always find their comments on my posts. Only after this back and forth was established did we connect on social media and found we had certain things in common. One blogger lived in CA, where I live, and was familiar with certain areas I frequent, so we shared stories. As for non-virtual friendship, the best are when I don’t see or hear from someone for a while, yet we can start talking like it was yesterday. Blogging carries the same effect, to a point. We can go without commenting or sharing anything for days, weeks, yet pick right up and enjoy each other the same or even more. I absolutely agree that real friendship takes some time to develop, same is true with blogging, I think, and much more substantive a way to connect than the quickness and sometimes superficiality of social media.

    1. Hi Silvia.
      I love that feeling of being able to talk effortlessly with friends even if I haven’t seen them for a while. Maybe we need to replace Aristotle’s definition with that one. I imagine/I hope that all of us can identify with that kind of friendship.

  25. I love all the supporting data you provided here.
    I’m very reticent to use the word friend even in real life situations. So many of my people are acquaintances or colleagues, and yet there are a few with whom I share my heart. It’s tricky with on-line relationships, and yet through blogging comments and email interactions I do feel quite close to some of my readers, and I am also one of their readers, so it’s very mutual, and I think it meets the definition. Last summer I actually met one of my blogging friends in real life. This won’t happen much for me because I live in Maine, USA, and we’re not on the way to anywhere!

    1. Hi Michele. Molly of Shallow Reflections is in Maine too. I think Maine is a beautiful state and a perfectly great destination in its own right. If we continue to connect online, maybe I can meet two blogging friends when I make a trip to Maine in a few years.

  26. This is a great post Karen and you raise and discuss some interesting points of view. Yes, I would consider a virtual friend as a real friend. I have met some blogging friends and it’s amazing how much we know about each other but the other things like voice, mannerisms, smiles – all seem to be surprise packets. I love the interaction and friendship I get from blogging. Thanks for your thought provoking post and I also enjoyed all the various comments too. #mlstl

  27. I am always quoting my “blogging friends”. I was telling my daughter something the other day that one of my blogging friends had written then I stopped myself and told her well I look at them as friends I don’t know how they see me. There are three or four blogs I read and I consider the writers my “friends”.

  28. I tend to be introverted, so the idea of virtual friends is important. I can choose who I wish to interact with and when I talk with them. If I am socially exhausted, I can step back. It is very selfish, but I can step back when I need alone time, and it is easier to do that virtually than if a friend shows up at your door. For many years, my best friends were my colleagues at work. When I quit my job and moved I suddenly found myself very alone. At first I was ok with it, but eventually I missed people. When I started meeting people through blogging it definitely helped to fill a gap in my life.

    1. I knew that we were similar in lots of ways Michele, but I hadn’t realized that we have the same take on virtual friendships until you expressed it so beautifully in your comment. Thanks for nailing my experience as well as your own.

  29. I believe virtual friendships are real. I also believe there are varying levels of friendship in person and online. I have associates that I work with. We speak in the office daily and sometimes take afternoon walks or go to lunch together. We know much of what is happening with each others’ families and personal lives, but they don’t know the more private parts of my life, and I suspect I don’t know theirs. That doesn’t mean we aren’t friends. Thanks for getting me thinking along these lines and appreciating the many friends I have. I’m going to look at the questions you shared as well. Have a lovely weekend!

    1. Thanks so much for visiting Profound Journey and for leaving a comment, Christie.

      I think that McAdams would agree with you about varying levels of friendship. He’d probably say that your friends from work are sharing at the level of personal concerns, but perhaps haven’t moved on to identity. As you say, that doesn’t mean they aren’t friends, just a different level of friends.

      I hope you enjoy the questions. I’d love for you to be involved with Profound Journey (I think our sites deal with very similar topics) so if you are interested in contributing a Tribe Story, it would be most welcome.

  30. I believe that is is possible to meet someone via blogs or elsewhere on the Internet and for the relationship to deepen into friendship. I also think that existing friendships can be maintained and enhanced through electronic communications. But for the most part, I think that we stretch the meaning of the word “friend” when we apply it loosely to people we hardly know. Blog followers come and go, whereas true friends are people whose lives are intertwined with yours with mutual benefits for both of you. A friend is someone who is committed for the long haul, through the ups and downs. For me the following saying captures it: “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” – Walter Winchell quotes from BrainyQuote.com.

    Would a blogging friend still be in your life if you stopped blogging? If so, they are probably truly a friend.

    Jude

    1. That last question is a brilliant litmus test of a blogging friendship, Jude. In the not too distant past, I would have answered with “Not a chance.” In the past few months, that has changed to “Yes, a few definitely would.”
      Thanks for your thoughtful and, I think, spot-on comment.

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