I read the articles by Cricket on the topic of online relationships and realized that I have a somewhat different view than she does. She definitely has a lot of valid points, and I agree with a lot of what she has to say, but my experience has been vastly different. I have managed, over the past four years that I have been online, to integrate my Real Life and my Online Life. It has not always been an easy task, nor a pleasant one, but I have learned a lot over the past few years.
When I first started having an online presence, I spent a lot of time on IRC (Internet Relay Chat). I was 19 or 20 when I first logged on to Undernet and started talking to people in chatrooms. Some of the people I chatted with were honest about who they were, as was I – I am usually honest to a fault – but some of them presented a façade that showed only part of who they are, maybe the best or most interesting parts, but they left out a lot of other things that would have impacted how I thought of them. And, of course, there were those who out-and-out lied about who they are and their intentions. I saw all kinds in IRC, and I had to learn how to deal with them. Fortunately, the various online groups of which I was a part were dedicated to the safety of the people who chatted there. When I asked m0irey, the channel manager of IRC Undernet’s #toronto channel (http://welcome.to/toronto/), his opinion on IRC relationships in comparison to real life relationships, his response was, “IRC is the sandbox of Kindergarten. People approach IRC relationships differently. Inhibitions fall by the wayside and stupid mistakes are oft made.”
To this end, It is my opinion that meeting in large groups is much safer than meeting someone one-on-one, even if you meet in a public place. My first rule of meeting people I only know online is, ‘There is safety in numbers.’ My second rule is, ‘Meet in a public place where there are lots of people’ and my third one is, ‘Make sure you aren’t depending on someone you don’t know for a lift home.’ The third rule would never have come into being except that my ride’s car broke down one time when I was supposed to be getting a ride back to another city after a get-together, and I was basically trapped in a city that is a 2 hour drive away from my home with no money and nowhere to stay.I ended up sleeping on the channel managers’ floor (a very nice couple, with whom I am still friends – but their hardwood floor was rather uncomfortable).
Channel managers would do their best to keep things safe by holding any get-togethers in neutral places, so no one would find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. All of the gatherings were on major transit routes in the city where most of us lived, and it was at these get-togethers that I first started meeting online people. It was interesting to put faces to the nicknames I had learned to call people by, and I managed to make a lot of friends that I still spend time with – many of the core group still have picnics or go out for dinner or coffee. Perhaps 5 out of the few hundred people I have met online have become close friends in Real Life, which is a pretty high ratio if you think about it. Since I find it difficult to make really good friends in general, I value the ones I have made through IRC, whom I never would have met if not for the internet. Of course, besides the friendships I made, there were numerous online crushes…..
I remember my first online crush – We had met once, briefly, at one of the organized group events the channel we chatted on held, and we started chatting more on IRC after we met. I was convinced, after talking to him for a couple of weeks and having intense conversations at 3am when neither of us wanted to sleep because we wanted to talk longer and didn’t want to be apart (when really, we were never together…), that I had found my soul mate – someone with whom I could be happy; someone who was an ideal complement for my personality. I wrote poems about him, and we exchanged numerous emails. It seemed like we had completely fallen for each other, so we arranged to meet again.
We spent a day and a half together, and I realized by the end of it that we had very little in common in reality. I honestly did not feel the connection with him in real life that I had felt online. Disappointed, sad and frustrated after spending time in each other’s company, I realized that I had, in fact, created an image in my mind of who I thought he was based on his online personality. His Real Life personality did contain some aspects of the attributes I had envisioned in him, but there were other things about him I had never seen that made us completely incompatible. You would think I might have learned from this experience, but it seemed to happen over and over again. I would get along great with people online, meet them at group get-togethers and go out on dates or just spend time with them, but each time, I found myself somehow disappointed. While I did come out of the whole experience with some good friends with whom I have kept in contact to this day, I learned – the hard way – that you cannot fall for someone solely on the basis of their online personality. Common interests and good conversation can be the foundation of a friendship, but you really don’t know who you can fall in love with until you have actually met them. And though friendship is a good place to start, I had to learn not to mistake friendship and my own loneliness for Love. It was a rather painful lesson.
It took me a while to learn how to separate my online life with my real life, especially when the two of them became as intermingled as they are now. I still go to events with my online friends, and the few friends I have made online that have lasted are now part of my Real Life. I spend more time with them in the real world now than I do online. Another positive thing to come out of my online friendships is that the only reason I know Jay, my boyfriend for the past year, is because he was a friend of one of my online friends who later became my roommate.
I have shared a lot of things with online friends that I may never have been able to share with real life friends because sometimes it is easier to talk to someone when you can’t see them and can think about what you are going to say before you say it, so that you don’t sound too stupid. The problem, however, is that it is very easy for someone to misinterpret something when you are typing it. It is difficult to convey emotion and intent with only smilies and disclaimers, and it is hard to tell if you have hurt someone’s feelings by something you have said or are making someone uncomfortable if you can’t read their body language. There are certainly positives and negatives to both online relationships and real life relationships (and I hate to use the term ‘real life,’ because for me, the two are connected and both are important to me), and although I consider my online friends real people, I am cautious. As Cricket said, you can never be too safe.