How Genuine Are Online Friendships?

As writers we often hear the need to build connections, particularly online. Those relationships can help form the foundation of our marketing Team or Tribe—a group of friends who support and encourage our writing endeavors.

But how genuine are those online connections? I mean, really, how well can you get to know someone through 140-character tweets or sporadic blog comments? Are such relationships authentic? Or are they merely a phantom of real life friendships?

I posed the question over on my facebook page last week. I asked, “Do you consider the friendships you've made ONLINE to be as genuine as REAL LIFE friendships? Why or why not?”

The responses ranged from emphatic YES to absolute NO. Here’s just a sampling (feel free to read the rest of the comments here.):

Elizabeth Flora Ross: Absolutely! In fact, I have dropped the "online" label and simply refer to the people I have connected with online as friends. They are as supportive to me as my "real life" friends, and mean as much. And, in many cases, they know even more about me.

Author Jessica Bell: Some of mine are actually BETTER. I think because none of my real life friend understand my writing obsession.

Jenny Lee Sulpizio: This is a tough one. I think developing online relationships is harder than in person. Connections are made but if not kept up, or worked upon, are easily lost.

Erma Brown: No, the people you meet on face book you really don't know, they could be telling you lies and how would you know. With your true friends you know them warts and all.

In reading all the comments, I came to several conclusions:

1. We can find an enormous amount of support online from others in the same situation.

Whether cancer survivors, new moms, writers, or whatever our situation—when we link up with others who are going through a similar experience, we’re likely to find mutual support and encouragement.

As much as I love my real life friends, most of them aren’t writers and don’t understand what’s involved in my writing career. In fact, when I’m together with real life friends, we talk about ordinary things like our kids, school, and house projects. Many of them don’t grasp the significance of what I’m doing or accomplishing (even now that I’m published) and that’s okay. I don’t expect them to “get it.”

However, I need people in my life who don’t mind if I talk about my writing, who understand how hard the journey is, and who can relate to the highs and the lows. Thanks to the internet, I’ve been able to connect with those kinds of writers. And over time, many of those friends have come to understand and support me better than real life friends.

So yes, the internet provides connections that aren’t always possible in real life. But . . .

2. We may need to use extra discernment for online friendships.

While the possibilities for forming online friendships can be very beneficial, I believe we need to use caution too. It’s easy to hide behind our screens and only give people glimpses into our lives—sometimes even a false picture of who we really are. We can hide our warts (as Erma said above).

Of course, we can put on facades for our real life friends too. But when we’re online we have more control. We can choose what to reveal, to whom, and how much—which isn’t always possible in real life.

I’m not saying we should dump our personal garbage in cyberland for all the world to see. But I do think we should attempt to be as real as possible. If you were to meet an online friend for the first time, would your online persona match who you are in real life? Would your friends feel like they’re meeting a total stranger or would they feel like they already know you?

3. Whether online or real life, friendships take work.

It’s just not possible to form close relationships with everyone we meet online, especially as we’re broadening our web presence. We’ll spread ourselves too thin and stress ourselves out trying to keep up. We can (and should) remain friendly to everyone, encourage others, reach out, and be a blessing to those we come across.

But, we all need a smaller cluster of friends that we can relate to on a more intimate basis. For many writers, that group usually ends up being their critique partners.

Like any friendship, there has to be a mutual give and take to grow closer. Essentially, we have to be the kind of friend we want in return.

What about you? Do you consider your online friendships to be as genuine as real life? Why or why not? I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this issue!

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