29 Jan Friends: Online vs. IRL
I’m a member of a loosely-organized coalition of like-minded folks. In my mind, I think of us as Superheroes. ‘Cause truth be told, we’re all pretty bad-ass, in our own unique ways.
We communicate solely via a thread of lengthy emails on Gmail. I’ve been a part of the crew for many years. And we talk about everything from the news of the day to our inner-most thoughts and dreams.
Yup. You read right. In my InBox for the SecretSociety account, there are 13,437 emails. All exchanges between a tight-knit group of people over a period of years and years.
We argue. We fight. We curse each other out.
We support. We bond. We network. We cheer.
The first thing I did when CNN called the election for Obama was hug T.G. And then I snapped a picture of us and posted it in a message to the SuperheroSociety. Although we were all scattered across the world, I feel like I shared that moment with them.
At the moment, there are about ten of us actively posting and emailing. (We all come and go occasionally. I disappeared for over a year after getting bogged down in Life. Then I reappeared and was welcomed back with no questions, just open arms).
I was in the Society before I was a wife. Before I was a stepmother. Before I was a mother. So you can imagine how deep the connection is.
Checking in with the Society is something I do at least five times a day. I scroll the days topics and click on whatever interests me. And I jump in, hitting Reply All with my take on politics, male-female relationships or the economy.
I love my peoples in the Society.
And when I say love, I mean love. I mean it in the real way. Not in the online-love ya!-sort of way.
When one of our members abruptly stopped posting for a while, we were worried. When one of our brethren finally caught up to him, we found out that his mother had passed away. My heart sank and I grieved for him. When another member lost her beloved aunt to a senseless and brutal crime, I cried for her. Though I have never seen this woman in my life. I have never even heard her voice and I have no idea what she looks like.
But she’s my friend. They all are.
It’s an online place where I am my real, true self. If I beef out with TheHusband, I’m not gonna talk about it here. But I will plead my case to the SuperheroSociety. And they will give me an unbiased opinion on the situation.
Every so often, members of the Society meet in person. There have been lunches in midtown Manhattan. There have been meet-ups at movie premieres and SuperBowl parties.
I’ve never attended a single one.
I don’t want to meet my Online friends. Not ever.
(Strangely enough, I belong to another private blog, a small group of writers who motivate and encourage each other. And I desperately want to see them all IRL. I fantasize about having enough money to whisk them all away for a writer’s retreat at a spa in Sedona. Maybe because it’s an all-woman group and there are only five of us? Or maybe because we’re all writers and we never have conflict on our blog? Just girl-power and exchanging recipes and networking about writing assignments.)
But on TheSecretSociety, we’re known to go hard and deep if you deserve it. I’ve logged off in disgust when someone has chewed me out for something, even when I knew they were right. We’ve had heated debates that go on for days and days with no one backing down. It’s an intense relationship. And one that is very valuable to me.
So why don’t I want to meet them?! Here’s why:
There’s one member of the SuperheroSociety in particular that I’m close to. We’ll call him…Bobby.
[Oh shoot! Very important sidebar. I just realized that I’m not sure if I know Bobby’s real name! We call him “Bobby” on the site. But a few of us have screen names that are not our real names. My name, for example, is “Wiz.” It’s a shortened form of my email address. And I don’t know who gave me the name. But somewhere along the line, that became my moniker. I don’t know if “Bobby” is his real name or just a screen name. That’s crazy.]
Anyway. I don’t know what Bobby looks like. I may or may not know even know his freaking name. I’ve never heard his voice. I don’t know where he lives or where he works. I know he’s married. I believe he has a son. And I know that in another life, he often found himself on the wrong side of the law.
But when the group debates an issue, I often find myself siding with Bobby’s point of view. And even when I disagree with him, he manages to break me down in a way that makes me still respect him. And many times, I end up agreeing with him.
Bobby has an annual Holiday party and invites both his IRL friends and his secret society friends. I’ve never been.
This year, I vowed I was going to go. I marked it in my planner. Called and booked a sitter.
But then there was TheHusband.
The invitation was extended to him, of course. But should I really bring him? I felt like it would be like bringing him to a spa party with all my best girlfriends: he’d feel awkward and out of place, not knowing a soul. But knowing that they all knew him.
That’s an issue with online friends. I don’t share them with TheHusband. I often talk to him about what’s discussed with the SecretSociety. And he completely supports that I have this crew of folks that I can share with and vent to. But when it comes to hanging out in person, I felt like it would be a little weird.
So, I’d go alone? Sure, why not! I could pick up one of the few women in the society, (there are only three of us active at the moment), and since she doesn’t drive, I could give her a ride.
I told my husband about the party. He told me to go and be on my merry way.
I didn’t go.
Well, what if I hated them in person! It’s altogether possible that you could love someone online and hate them in person.
(I know this is true because I know it works in the opposite way. I love TheHusband in real life. But I hate his online self. He always gives me one-word responses to my emails. If he responds at all. And in general his emails are always dry and somber. I can’t stand TG’s online self either. I send her long emails telling her she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and she sends me an email back that says: thx. ur so kool 2.)
All I could think about was walking into Bobby’s house and instantly not liking him. Maybe he’d make me take my shoes off and be all picky about wearing the slippers he provided. Or maybe his wife would give me a weird look and not make eye contact. Maybe his kid would kick me in the shins or something. And what about the other members of the crew? I actually know a few of them IRL but haven’t seen them in years. What if they were rude or obnoxious? What if they talked too loud? Or too soft? What if their voices were nasally? What if they were close-talkers with bad breath. Or touchy-feely types that gave me the creeps?
But really…what I was most afraid of:
What if we didn’t have anything to say?
When I’m emailing back and forth with my fellow superheros, I can think before posting. I can review before I hit Reply All. I can delete a whole message if I feel I’m going too hard and might hurt someone’s feelings. I can do a quick Google search before posting to make sure I can back up my argument. I can’t do any of these things in person.
During the day, things come up that I want to share with the Society. So I talk about them. And they may reply right away. Or days later. Or not at all.There’s no pressure to respond.
Some of the longest threads are about sports. I never open those emails. And if I do, I just scroll through but never reply.
There’s no such thing as scrolling through silently in person. What happens if there is a lull?
And then there’s the whole issue of how familiar we all are with each other–online.
I know what Bobby likes for dinner. I know who his celebrity crushes are. I know his fears about his career. I know how much he loves his wife and the exact reasons why. I know his weaknesses and strengths as a husband and a father. I know his political affiliations, his thoughts on abortion and which sports team he roots for.
And I know that about each and every single person in the society. And they know all that and more about me.
And I fear that’s just too much information to meet up face to face. I think I’d explode.
So I didn’t go to the party. And though I hate to admit it, I probably won’t see my SecretSociety folks IRL anytime in the near future. Who needs that kind of pressure? I don’t see what good could come of it. I can’t love them any more than I already do. And I don’t want what we all have to be tainted by awkward silences and nose picking.
So, I’ll never see them. Sad but true.
I’ll be in a nursing home at 85. Tapping away on the keyboard that’s been medically implanted in the palm of my hand, posting pictures of my great-grandkids and arguing with Bobby and the crew on which gender has it harder in the world.
Dear readers: Do you have friends who are solely online? People you never (or rarely) meet with IRL because of distance, time or just because you want it that way?
I’d love to hear from you…