Thoughts #27: Online Friends


Sunday 14th September was a pretty big day for me. For the past seven years, I’ve been friends with a wonderful, wonderful group of people. Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, during sixth form, I had the worst two years of my life. I was diagnosed with depression, thanks to a variety of reasons, and the only thing that really kept me going was this fantastic group of friends. And what does this have to do with 14th September, you may ask? Well on that day I met several of them for the first time.

We met via an MMORPG called Dream of Mirror Online. I’d been playing for a few weeks, and then I was invited to join a guild – and that’s where it all started. Every evening I’d be online as soon as I got back from sixth form, because I needed them. My guild and friends on there were quite honestly my life savers. Without them, I would have been completely and utterly lost – finally, there were people who accepted me as I was, had no prejudices and didn’t judge me. And we all got along so well, cheesy as it is to say it we were like one big happy family. With the occasional argument of course, but what family doesn’t argue every now and again? We were mostly from all over Europe but we had a few members further away – several of us from the UK like me, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Iceland, France, Denmark, Italy and even Indonesia and New Zealand.

After successfully completing the guild quest!

After successfully completing the guild quest!

The only problem was, I was using this game to escape what I couldn’t and didn’t want to face in real life. My parents would get angry at the fact that I was constantly playing this game and my grades slipped. I came away from sixth form with much worse grades than predicted, and a place at a university, but not my first choice – but I made it. Because of the game, because of my friends on there, I hadn’t slipped into many of the typical depressive behaviours. They kept me going when I needed it most and for that reason I never want to lose touch with them. Although the game shut down shortly after I started university (probably for the best), and I got over my depression after leaving sixth form and we’ve all gone our own ways, I still keep in contact with them. We tried several other MMOs together but none stuck. I made a forum for us, we have Facebook, Steam, texts, Skype, so many ways to keep in touch. Although I don’t need to cling to them like I needed to almost seven years ago, they’re still my friends and I would hate to lose any of them.

I should probably be ashamed of my online time (spread over two years) but I'm not.

I should probably be ashamed of my online time (spread over two years) but I’m not.

I guess what I wanted to say, after all my waffling, is that I hate this stigma attached to ‘online friends’. A lot of people, mainly older generations who haven’t grown up in the environment we have, seem to think that anyone who talks to you online is out to hurt you. But I just wanted to say that without my online friends, I honestly don’t know if I’d be here today. It’s painful to admit but they saved me from doing anything stupid because they gave me just a glimmer of hope, and cheered me up when I most needed it. They didn’t even realise my situation until a couple of years later, when I told them exactly what I was going through at the time and how they helped. Several even said they were going through similar situations at the time, and the game and its community helped them too.

However, it took my parents several years to come to terms with the fact that these people I talk to regularly are REAL people, not pretending to be someone else or tricking me into anything. When I met up with them in Antwerp, I had to pretend to my grandparents that I was going with friends from university, because how on earth would I explain the concept of online friends to them? It’s the same with book bloggers – I might mention that a friend recommended a book to me, or a TV show, or I went to London Comic-con with a few of them – but again, I have to explain that these are people I know from online, and I can always feel the judgement from that very fact. What surprises me most is that it isn’t necessarily a generation thing – even people my own age seem to find it odd sometimes.

Brief break from levelling! My character was the one in the middle.

Brief break from levelling! My character was the one in the middle.

What do you think about the stigma of online friends? Do you find that people judge you for knowing lots of people online? Or do you find that most people you know find it perfectly normal?

27 thoughts on “Thoughts #27: Online Friends”

  1. Oh gosh, I know exactly how you feel! I grew up playing video games and that’s where all my friends were. After middle school (age ~13 or 14), I just stopped having “real life” friends. I could make friends if I wanted, but there was no one at my high school (or uni) that I clicked with. No one that loved books or video games like I did. And I guess it didn’t help that I’d rather be playing games or reading than actually hanging out with someone and NOT doing those things.

    But I had a lot of friends in my guilds or on the fan site forums I frequented. But my parents kind of looked down on that. They’d say something like, “Oh, Ashley and her ‘online’ friends,” as if they weren’t real or didn’t matter. But those were people who I could really talk to and shared interests with. I connected with those people so much more than people I went to high school with. And heck, I even ended up marrying one of them! I met my husband online and for the longest time my parents didn’t take my affections for him seriously because I “hadn’t even met him”, and then because we were in a long distance relationship.

    Of course they eventually started to understand my relationship with him after they met him and when we spent more time together (not long distance). But I think my parents still think I’m a bit odd for having online friends and not ones in person.

    1. From the very first moment you know you’ve got at least ONE thing in common with those people – you both like video games 😉 But a lot of us had so many shared interests, and it was so hard to find people at school who liked those same things.

      Oh how wonderful, I didn’t realise you’d met that way! 😀 I guess online relationships (I’ve never really had one) have an even worse stigma than online friendships, because obviously it’s even more personal.

  2. Really great topic today. I’m an introvert and in ‘real’ life my friends are my husband, two sisters, mother-in-law and sister-in-law. That’s it. I don’t have traditional girlfriends.

    I’m totally content with this and have had opportunities to have friends, but I chose not to. But, I love the interactions with other book bloggers online and do consider them my friends. I also was really involved in an online weight loss community a couple of years ago when I was losing weight (actually blogged a bit about them today), and for that time in my life they were as close as any friends could be-we encouraged each other, cheered each other on and were each others support systems, when those in our real lives didn’t ‘get it’. I’m no longer a part of that community and I really miss all of them.

    I’ve also been a part of a couple of other forums and yes, those interactions were just as real as anything I could have done with the ‘real’ people in my life 🙂

    1. Me too, I prefer to have a smaller group of closer friends 🙂

      Communities like that are just wonderful – especially for things like weight loss, where you know you’ll always have that support network to help you when times are tough. I actually did Slimming World myself a couple of years ago, and I know the community for that on Tumblr was so inspirational. Trying to get back into it (without going to meetings), so I know I can go to Tumblr for some motivation if needed!

  3. When I was in high school, my friends would talk about their “tumblr” friends and how they could talk about their problems with them, and I thought it was the weirdest thing ever. I’m the type of person who takes a long time to warm up to people, and even longer to open up to them.

    Now, I can say that I have online friends too! Most of them are bookish people, and I love being able to chat (and fangirl) about things that I can’t talk about with people I see every day. The book blogger world has made me feel like I have a community even outside of people I see face to face, which is really awesome.

    1. Haha yes 😀 I don’t find Tumblr the easiest site to get to know people on, but I know lots of others who’ve made great friends on there.

      Exactly, I love this community. There aren’t enough (or rather, WEREN’T enough) huge book nerds in my life before blogging 😉

  4. I am 58 years old and I stay in contact with others mainly via email or an instant chat through my emailer. I enjoy this for I can talk to others all over the world. I have always allowed my children to use computers. I currently have a second family with children ages 10,11,3 yrs old and all use the computer.
    It is true some are on here to hurt others but that is true everywhere one goes in every day life. I tell all of my children to use there gut instincts. If someone post things that they are uncomfortable with them use the block feature that is at most sites. They have to learn on their own and trust their feelings to be safe. To me it is much better for them to learn online where they are safe at home. They use the same trust your gut when out in real life. They use the walk away feature like the ignore button of life. Thus the computer can be a friend if one uses it and trust their gut feelings.
    I enjoy reading your posts thank you all for taking the time to share.

    1. Such a quick and easy way! I love it, now I’m in the Netherlands I can easily talk to friends and family back in the UK through email, Facebook or Skype.

      That sounds like good advice. Obviously you don’t want to be controlling and I’m sure your children respect your rules a lot more because they’re not really strict, and they still feel like they have plenty of freedom.

      You’re totally right about that though – the exact same thing can happen in real life, you just have to trust your gut.

      Thanks, Raymond 🙂

  5. I play MMOs too so a lot of my friends are online. I have met several of them before, and it’s always a good time. My husband and I even met through World of Warcraft years ago, got close when we were both raid leaders and fell in love. Now we are married and have a beautiful family 🙂

    1. Aww that’s cute! 🙂 I’m meeting more and more couples these days who met through MMOs. Some of our guildies got together, for some it worked and others it didn’t, but it’s all pretty amazing.

  6. The world is changing, that’s just the fact of it. I find it interesting that more and more people are meeting from online. But I don’t think it’s really any different from meeting up with a penpal (remember those in that era?;)). Now pen and paper are just replaced with electronic means.

    1. Exactly! That’s very true 🙂 Haha yes, I had a German penpal when I was about 12 or 13. The difference now is how much quicker it is to contact people.

  7. I never had online friends during school as the school blocked those types of websites. But now it is how I keep in contact with a lot of people.

    Also no one I really know in person is into books as much as I am, so it is nice that there is community where I can talk books to my heart’s content! It doesn’t really matter that it is online.

    1. Yup, I know only a couple of people who love to read, but even so I can’t always discuss latest releases and stuff with them. It’s nice to have people to get excited over new books with 😉

  8. Poo on the stigma and nay-sayers. online friends are some of the most awesome friends you’ll make. You find someone exactly into what you’re into and friendships are formed, who cares where people live, right?

    1. YES! Exactly what I like to hear 🙂

      I mean, I’ve known those guys for seven years, basically. We’re still in touch, quite close with a couple of them – and we’ve been friends longer than other people I’ve known offline, in some cases.

  9. This is a nice post. I have a group of “online” friends though they were all local. We started out playing Halo years ago. I met new friends because one person would invite someone and someone else would invite someone else. Now we are all playing Destiny together. One of those friends even passed away last year in a freak accident. It was very sad. I even met a fun friend in New Zealand and love him. I do love video games and they are a great escape. So glad it helped you with depression. Depression is real and can happen out of no where and to find an outlet to help you get through it is just amazing. I do wish I had more real life friends but it just gets harder to find friends as I get older. Great post.

    1. Ohh Destiny looks SO GOOD! I want to play it 😦

      I’m sorry to hear about your friend. It’s especially difficult in those situations because some people might not be understanding of why you’re so upset because of ‘someone you met online’.

      Yup, even now it occasionally creeps back. In fact this very week I had a ‘down day’. I get them now and again, and my second year of university was really bad for a couple of months, for no real reason. Just horrible 😦 I don’t think it ever really leaves you, but at least it’s only very occasional now.

  10. I definitely know feeling the stigma of forming friendships online, and a relationship online. Some people have been really suspicious about my “online” friends even go so far as to say “well, those types of friendships aren’t real.” Ugh! 😐 While I think it is important to stay safe on the web, it is also important to understand that yes, friendships can be formed over huuuuge distances.

    My boyfriend, who I met online, is an amazing guy and I am so very happy that I was able to meet him. When I first told my family about him, the suspicions were so very real. I could understand their concerns, and once they actually got a chance to talk to him and meet him IRL (!!!), they really ended up liking him. 😀

    1. SO FRUSTRATING!! Obviously a casual offline acquaintance who you might see a few times a month is a much more ‘real’ friend than someone online, whom you speak with every day, share intimate and personal information and get along with really well – right?? Psssh.

  11. I honestly don’t think I would’ve ended up where I am today if I hadn’t met you back in 8th grade. My parents were always suspicious of the time I spent online, but having a group of people who accepted me — without judgement — for my nerdy, web-developing, LotR-obsessed self got me through my teen years in one piece!

    Never having to apologize back then for being who I really was allowed me to confidently pursue a career in web design and development, and I’m still as LotR-obsessed as ever 🙂 For that, I owe you a HUGE thank you!

    Come visit the other side of the pond sometime!

    1. Aww Em! We had a great little group of LotR nerds though. I loved running websites, and all the experience from before definitely helps now.

      Plus you’ve now had experience for your career from a young age! What were we, 13 or 14 when we started??

      Oh I will do! 😀 Being here in the Netherlands has made me want to travel more than ever.

  12. First of all: great new layout! I love the colors, they really pop 😀

    And about this post, I hate it when people judge. Online friends might be different from real life friends, because you can’t just meet them whenever you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. I feel wonderful for having all you guys in my life. You are my people when it comes to fangirling about things I love 😀

    1. Aww thank you Mel, I’ve done a lot of tweaking and I like it, but I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% happy with how my blog looks 😉

      Exactly! 😀 And I’m glad we’ll get to meet next month!

  13. I adore this post. I think, in my life, the stigma has come from people regardless of their age who haven’t made friends online. They connect digitally to their friends – like through facebook or email. But aren’t apart of an online community where you meet new people and have conversations and get to know one another and make friends. I’ve always been more bold and connected online than a lot of my other friends so even in college I was making friends with people who built websites I loved and stuff. Now I adore the book blogging community because there’s so many interesting people to connect with 🙂

    1. Yep, I always feel a bit awkward when I explain how I know people from all these different countries because I’m not sure how someone will take the fact that I have online friends. And actually, interestingly I was discussing it with one of my friends here in Leiden, and he said he had a girlfriend who was really into online gaming and made some great friends through that, so he totally understood my situation. That was really nice to hear, because it doesn’t happen much!

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