On the Nature of Internet Friendship

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Picture licensed via corsairstw from everystockphoto.com

 

The way I make friends has changed since my days of wearing a school uniform and playing out in parking lots. I don’t have the safety net of a college campus and I don’t work in an office, so my circle of friends consists of two categories: People I meet through retreats and church-related activities and people I meet through the internet.

Internet friendship is a tricky thing. On the one hand, the internet gives off the illusion of safety. You don’t have to deal with small talk, it’s easier for you to find people who share a common interest, and since they don’t know the people in your real life, you can vent to them about anything. On the other hand, the internet is also forever and if a friendship goes wrong, it can backfire in the worst ways, such as rumors being spread about you, your secrets being leaked out to complete strangers, and your entire reputation being ruined by posting the wrong picture on the wrong social media outlet.

Usually, when I’m on the internet, I don’t talk about family issues or give away private information. But in spite of the dangers and risks, I still feel close to my internet friends as much as I do to my friends in real life. My fellow Patheos bloggers and I, for example, have an amazing camaraderie. They’re all willing to dispense of advice and I learn so much from them. I also know that I can always count on them to pray for me. The same goes for the Catholics I met through Tumblr and Facebook. Through them, I learn that even though we are Catholic, we may not agree on everything. I learn about forming my own opinion on things and not just go with the crowd the way I did in high school and college. If it wasn’t for the internet, I wouldn’t be writing on this blog or for the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship. I’m constantly challenge to learn more and write more through these new avenues.

But the strangest place I’ve found friendship is through my Instagram accounts. Yes, accounts. As in more than one. I’m such an Instagram addict that I have multiple accounts. Tumblr is okay, but I find myself spending less and less time on there because of the hive mind nature of the site. It’s through fan accounts on Instagram that I found a safer environment for expressing my love for my #1 fandom Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most of the people I’m friends with on Instagram are younger than me and they live all over the world, but we all share a love for Buffy even though we may disagree on minor things. Mostly shipping.

Sometimes, I open up about my faith on there and everyone was surprisingly okay with it. Nobody judged me or saw me as being closed-minded. And I’ve even said that I was against gay marriage and followed all the teachings of the Church. In spite of whatever differences we have in our beliefs, I’m always there for my friends and whenever I need them, they come around for me.

It was through my internet friends that I managed to get out of an anxiety attack that I had a few months ago. Granted, Tumblr (and college campuses everywhere) have turned the phrase “trigger warning” into an excuse to make everything into a Political Correctness case, but many people talk about their serious and real anxieties on the internet because they have nowhere else to go. My anxiety got triggered because someone I used to consider my best friend tried contacting me again.

I used to think that having a best friend meant having someone you can talk to about everything and go places and do things with. But that’s not always the case. The person I used to consider my best friend had their own problems and ended up almost dragging me down with them. Worst of all, they act like everything’s fine and nothing ever happened even though I’m still left with the emotional scars.

It’s a bit like this awesome Taylor Swift song:

And yes, Taylor, band-aids don’t fix bullet holes. Real friends do.

When I had that anxiety attack (the first time in almost two years), my internet friends from Patheos and Instagram came to my rescue with prayers and reassurances. I prayed harder than ever in spite of my entire body shaking and knew that I wasn’t alone. Some of my fellow Patheos bloggers understood the pain because they’ve experienced it before. My Instagram friends said that I was brave to walk away from that toxic friendship. A few episodes of Buffy and a major stream of prayers later, I calmed down and found peace.

A few months later, one of my Instagram friends opened up about being cyber-bullied and shared a picture of himself crying. I gathered my fellow Instagram friends to show him our support and asked some of my friends online to pray for him. The prayers and emotional support paid off as my friend came back, undeterred by the cyber-bullies.

I don’t exactly evangelize on my fan Instagrams the way that other Catholic Instagrams do except for when I post on my personal Instagram, but I still feel like I’m reaching out to my internet friends in a way. The internet and our fandoms bring us together in a reflection of the Mystical Body of Christ and someday, I hope to see them, either in real life or in Heaven.

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