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The Friends We Cannot See

In the Magician King, there is a character who finally meets the people she has been conversing with online.  Actually conversing is too small a word.  The people who mentally saved her as she was spiraling down the drain.  Anyway, she encounters them, face-to-face, and has to adjust because they don’t match the image she has had her brain of these faceless people on the other side of the screen.

It’s not just a visual thing because I think we all suspect that people are going to look different from how we imagined them in our brain when we finally see what they actually look like.  But is the person as strong or as kind or as outgoing as we imagined them to be?

This computer screen thing is strange.

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I’ve had a lot of bloggers step out from behind the screen so we can meet face-to-face.  A long time ago, it seemed like more people blogged anonymously, both under an assumed name and without images on their blog.  The person you met up with at a conference or at a coffeehouse almost never looked like the person you had in your brain.

Nowadays, it seems like fewer people blog anonymously.  Even if they don’t use their full name, they at least use their first name and/or provide a picture or two.

Why has this changed?  Are we more comfortable with the medium, unafraid to admit that we’re writing the words?  Or is it a matter of wanting to be known; owning our writing proudly and wanting credit for our words?

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I love meeting people through my blog or their blog.  It’s like any friendship.  A connection isn’t very satisfying when it exists solely on the screen.  It’s a bit better when you can talk in real time.  And it’s (usually) at its best when you can spend time face-to-face.  This isn’t always possible, but when it is, I love getting to sit down across from another person.

When they are a blogger, too, it feels like you’re getting an annotated blog.  Like those Norton Editions that had the notes down the margins giving you interesting facts and elaborations on the text.  Because blogs are nice — blogs are wonderful — but sometimes you want more than what exists on the screen.

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Justine and I got together this past weekend.  We’ve done it before, either near her home or mine, but this time, we decided to point our cars at each other and drive until we met in the middle.  We chose a small town with the 27th best tea house in the state.  How did we know it was #27?  Because there is someone out there ranking these things.

(Except that the list changed!  It was 27th last week, but I just checked and it’s now listed as #25.  Go go little tea house!)

It was cold, so we mostly either sat inside establishments or wandered around small stores, and we finally ended up in a Thai restaurant for dinner.  We were seated next to a couple who were clearly on a date.  The man’s voice carried through the whole restaurant, and I’m not going to mince words: he was entertaining the girl with a running monologue about his love of guns and shooting things, including himself.

“Should we leave?” Justine whispered.

“I don’t know,” I murmured.  “It doesn’t sound like he has a gun with him.”

So we stayed and listened to their horrifying conversation for another 20 minutes until they left their table.  In my head I was thinking, if I had never started a blog, I would have never met Justine, and we wouldn’t have driven at each other today, and we would have missed this man’s date.

But I did start a blog so I did meet Justine so we did drive at each other and we did get to catch a conversation that I immediately recounted for Josh upon returning home and have since told many other people the whole 20 minute monologue.  It’s such a great story, and I would have missed it entirely if I hadn’t put my own story into the universe.

12 comments

1 Valery Valentina { 03.10.15 at 8:38 am }

I feel protected under my assumed name. And I haven’t gone on to host my own blog or found a way to not lose copyright, so I don’t post pictures with people. I don’t think I could write about TTC or my despair under my real name…

2 Justine { 03.10.15 at 11:26 am }

I made my shift from anonymity when Google authorship became a thing, because I thought that in order to get better SEO I’d have to be myself. Turns out that Google authorship didn’t actually matter for long, if it mattered at all. But once I’d exposed myself, I couldn’t go back. Sometimes I wish I’d kept my anonymity, so that I could say more of what I wanted to say without worrying about who would see it. But being who I am in real life also keeps me honest, I guess: if I wouldn’t say something in real life, why should I say it while hiding behind a psuedonym? I understand the power of anonymity when what we have to share is painful, and deeply personal, but I also think that if we can find it in ourselves to be “out,” that can also send a powerful message … that it’s OK to talk about these things in public, to support people experiencing pain publicly.

Most of the bloggers I’ve met in real life are no less awesome than I hoped they’d be, but I do agree that the added third dimension, the backstory, helps us to connect more deeply. I read blogs because I want to hear people’s stories, but I read them for different reasons than I read fiction. Blogging has helped me to find people I would have wanted to be friends with, but simply didn’t have in my back yard. Like you. 🙂 Blogging also, in an odd way, helped the person hiring me for my current job to “read between the lines” of my resume, so that I didn’t have to talk about what had happened. Though I wonder sometimes whether my blog is really just self-indulgent (because it’s all about MEMEME!), on the other hand, the written word has always been more comfortable for me than the spoken word, so maybe that’s just how I crack my own vulnerability.

And I wouldn’t have traded overhearing that conversation for anything. But it was even better because I was sharing it with you, and had some sense of how you were reading it. 🙂

3 deathstar { 03.10.15 at 12:37 pm }

The bloggers I’ve met have been awesome – and I realize that what they do write about is only a slice of their inner life. It made me think about how we all connected in so many different ways. What keeps us apart are our perceptions that THAT woman over there is nothing like me, so therefore why bother getting to know her? I realize that she may not share my passion for martinis and I may not share her passion for wacky socks, but it’s still worth it to make the connection.

4 loribeth { 03.10.15 at 7:43 pm }

I’ve met several of my online friends (from the ALI world and elsewhere) & it’s always been a great experience!

Coincidentally, I recently found this in the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/03/05/real-relationships-in-a-digital-world

5 Cristy { 03.10.15 at 11:40 pm }

Online relationships are most certainly different. Grey has even commented about how different I seem when he reads what I’ve written. Writing allows me to express myself in a way I fail to verbally. Hence I wouldn’t be surprised if I was different in person. Still, it is a bit of a shock as you come to “know” someone in the way they present themselves through the digital realm.

On that note, so glad both you and Justine survived that date! Wow. That’s definitely a story.

6 Amel { 03.11.15 at 10:46 am }

I’ve met many people that I got to know through emails (emailpals) as well as through other means (blogging). I found my husband online, after all (one of my emailpals). We were cautious when we first met in real life as I had met some other emailpals before in real life and yes, the real life interaction can be different than the online interaction. We were both glad that we clicked online and in real life as well.

7 Tara { 03.11.15 at 11:06 am }

So many wonderful people and opportunities have come into my life from blogging. I love being a blogger.

8 Chris { 03.11.15 at 4:19 pm }

I love meeting people who I know online. I met my husband online before it became a thing. Back when everyone I told was horrified, and our best friends looked at us like “really?” I also have worked in a virtual environment for over 10 years and have met a number of people from that arena. One funny story- a woman I work with and I were asked to room together for a corporate event and then our boss asked if that would be a problem since we don’t know each other (he assured me she was a non smoker). I had to chuckle to myself as she and I speak to each other nearly daily and truly it was not like “meeting” someone but more like seeing an old friend.

9 Lisa { 03.11.15 at 8:33 pm }

I haven’t met anyone from my blog in-person yet, but I am going to my first conference next month where I will meet at least one person I’ve developed a friendship with through the blog. However, I HAVE had a real-life acquaintance who was also going through infertility find my blog on Pinterest. She read it for a few months before realizing it was me! That was back when I posted very few pictures and only listed my first name. When a mutual friend of ours told me she was going through infertility, I reached out and told her about my blog. Only then did she tell me she’d already been reading! It opened up the doors to a better friendship and gave me the guts to just go public with our name. It has resulted in some loss of privacy, yes, but the opportunities and connections have been well worth it.

10 Claire { 03.12.15 at 1:36 am }

He was talking about shooting himself?? Whut??

11 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.12.15 at 5:40 pm }

Tea and a blogger you adore. Sounds divine 🙂

Justine hit on what I was going to say about lessening anonymity. Only she said G+ and I was thinking Facebook kind of blew out actual identities.

Sigh, to have been there with you two.

12 Kasey { 03.26.15 at 10:56 am }

I’ve never been anonymous and sometimes wish I was because I do censor myself differently. Thinking though about the bloggers I have connected with and actually met – most blog still semi-anonymously or anonymously, but I know their names and we’ve since connected on FB or elsewhere, so when I read I KNOW who they are and kind of forget the anonymity part, does that make sense?
So I wonder if the change isn’t a change so much as a connection in which we now know people and have real relationships.

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