In our world of social media, insta-stories, snapchat and all of the other mediums available, it is easy to connect with people all over the world. This means that we can develop relationships with people who we have never met in person. We can directly message them, follow their lives on social media, and possibly even take it to the next level and talk to them on Skype or FaceTime. Yet if we never actually meet in person, can we really consider these people our friends?
In my personal experience, I have been fortunate to have developed a group of followers on social media who I interact with regularly. In some cases I look forward to their posts, they tell me they look forward to mine, we comment on each other’s musings, and we feel like we have some sense of each other’s daily lives. I feel like I relate to them because of the things they post, and I feel like we have some sort of connection. Often they inspire me to do better, cheer me up, and remind me of what truly matters.
On my own social media, I often post about what is going on in my private life which recently included a broken finger. surgery, flooding and a new office location. My followers congratulated me on the positive, cheered me up over the negative and sometimes even made me laugh. They reminded me that they cared, even if we have never met in person, and I felt some sense of support reading their empathetic comments. In contrast, I have friends who I have known for years, who are not on social media, and who I haven’t had much contact with in the last couple of months, who know of none of these significant developments in my life. They didn’t have an opportunity to offer support or encouragement because they were unaware of the events going on in my life. Ironically, the latter group are people I definitely consider friends, whereas the former group, I question what category to put them into since I have never met them in person. Is one group more my friends than the other?
Ultimately what I think it comes down to is how one defines a friend. For me, a friend is anyone who I feel a connection with who brings something positive to my life, and with whom I enjoy having contact. The form of contact doesn’t matter. It can be online, or in person, however, I must confess that I can only feel a really strong connection with someone who I have met in person. There is something deeper when you can look someone in the eye, feel their energy, observe their body language, hear the tone in their voice and sense their aura. The only form of contact where this type of connection can be made is in person.
This brings me to one of the dangers of online connections. In my view they aren’t enough. If someone isolates themselves from connecting with people offline and only has virtual connections, they will be missing something in their lives. Virtual friendships can compliment real life friendships, but they cannot replace them. So, can you truly be friends with someone you have never met in person? My answer is yes, but a virtual friendship is different than a friendship in the real world.