Thursday, 03 October 2013
Extending Friendship Beyond the Blog
On Tuesday here, we talked about the importance of online friendships especially to elders. Two commenters and two others via email warned against online friends:
”I'd like to caution that no one assume an online friend will also make a good real life friend,” wrote PiedType. “There's so much that doesn't come across online, or isn't allowed to come across, or that no one thinks to mention (personal habits, lifestyle, eccentricities, relationships, etc.)...”
Gabbygeezer agreed. Apparently something went wrong in an online group with which he and his wife played internet games:
“The whole thing collapsed when one supposedly trustworthy group member started hitting on several women in the group. I have found good friends on the web, but now I take it slow in turning acquaintances into friends.”
No disrespect intended to either PiedType or Gabby but both of these cautions seem over the top to me or, perhaps, of all the things I might say about online friendship, these would come last.
In my more than 20 years of daily online experience, I've run into a couple of creeps but it's not like they were sitting in my living room. They were easy to get rid of.
And I like meeting people whose lifestyles are different from mine. If they seem too extreme, one of the great things about the internet and email (compared to someone who knows where you live) is that you can easily cut them off or block them from turning up again in your inbox.
In person, I've met about 25 or 30 people I first encountered online. A few of those became and remain close friends. With most, it was a lovely afternoon or evening and, as happens in first-time meetings of any kind, there was not the special simpatico that occurs when people click. Nothing wrong with that – we're old enough to understand how these things work.
In addition, there are, currently, a handful or so I've never met face-to-face who mean as much to me as my closest in-person friends (too many of whom keep dying on me).
But taking ordinary precautions we should all, by our ages, understand, I'm with Darlene in this debate:
”I think I know my Internet friends as well, or perhaps better, than my live friends,” she wrote. “Who you are cannot be disguised for long when you divulge your interests, feelings and life style on a blog or by e-mail. I think that we learn how people think and what their interests are by their writing.
“I have met a few of my blogging friends in real life and was never surprised or disappointed. They were exactly as I had imagined them to be and were just as wonderful.”
Two other comments seem salient. Mary makes an interesting point about maintaining congeniality:
”My online friends allow me to reach out to many around the country and abroad. While I correspond with many whom I have not met in person, I feel that I know them as well as I know some in my town. A little 'distance' is probably good. We can be friends without irritating each other.”
Jeanette, who lives in Australia, is ready to make some new online friends:
”I haven't made any effort to reach out and make new friends - not sure why - I love emailing my long time friends but I think I should soon start broadening that circle because I certainly believe the internet is a lifeline for elders.”
So after all this wordiness (but I think all these people are worth quoting), here is the comment I most want to answer. It's from Mary Jamison:
”I envy you all your ability to make friends online,” she wrote. “I tend to back off for fear of presuming too much and thinking there's a friendship when the person is just being polite.
“And I'm also a little afraid when someone seems to me to be coming on too strong (e-mail after e-mail in a day, say). I'd love it if any of you would elaborate a little on how, in your experience, the back-and-forth process goes.”
Here we go, Mary Jamison. (By the way, this applies only to blogs. I have no idea how new friendships are handled on Facebook, Pinterest or other social media sites.)
As Darlene notes above, we learn a lot about people who blog and/or who comment frequently on the blogs we regularly read. I completely agree with her that over time and a variety of topics, it is impossible to disguise who we are.
If the person who interests you keeps a blog, there is usually an email address to send a message to them. If the person is a commenter who does not keep a blog, you can always email the blogger and ask him or her to forward a note to the person.
(Blogs require readers to submit a working email address to leave a comment so the blogger does know email addresses.)
I've done that any number of times – asked a commenter if I may forward a note another reader has asked me to send. No one has ever declined and I know for sure that new friendships have blossomed from that circumstance.
From there, take your cue from the response. If the person's answer extends the conversation with additional thoughts or information, is friendly and chatty, there is probably interest in following on further. Take your time. See how it goes.
Don't necessarily be dissuaded if you don't hear back the same day. Not infrequently, I let two or three days go by before I answer even close friends just because I'm busy and my butt gets too sore in the desk chair to spend a single moment more on the computer that day. I can't be alone with that problem.
In reverse, if it feels like someone is pushing too hard, you can answer politely without extending the discussion.
If, after a couple of such exchanges, the person continues to push harder than you feel comfortable with, you can either explain that you don't have the time to continue that much email or not answer until they get the idea or if they are way too pushy, block them from your inbox.
Most of the people at elderblogs are open and friendly and interested in making new friends. And because we are old, unlike at blogs and websites where young people hang out, hardly anyone is interested in exchanging naked pictures or “sexting” so there's not that difficulty.
The worst that will happen is that someone will reject you. That's part of life – we've been there before. But most of the time among elders online, Nancy's experience is typical. As she wrote on Tuesday's post:
”As you know, Ronni, my husband passed away this year and without my computer friends to 'Talk to' I do not know what I would have done.
“I have a fairly large family in the area, but none of them is even close to my age. I am the last of my generation in this family and rely on my on-line chums for comfort and conversation. Without them I would truly be alone when it comes to subjects that elders enjoy talking about like the 'olden days...'
“I thank you and any of my other computer friends who may be reading this for your friendship and love.”
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: Traveling Ports of Call