Last week during a conversation with a dear friend of mine I made the offhand comment that I didn’t want to be someone they couldn’t mention in polite company. They responded immediately, “No worries. I talk about you all the time.”
I was taken aback, stammered a bit to myself as I thought of how to respond to this revelation as my mind was reeling with information that was suddenly new and different from anything else I’d ever experience.
You see, my dear friend is someone I’ve been chatting with for over seven years now and I’ve yet to meet them in person. My response of “You do?” would have been squeaked out had they been in the flesh before me instead of punched into my phone.
Of course, this got me wondering: How often do friends, those met online or not (though, more specifically those met online) come up in conversation if mentioning them would be pertinent to the topic being discussed?
So Why The Weirdness?
I approached two other long-time friends with whom I’ve chatted for over 15 years (let us remember that the Internet has been around for the masses since at least 1994), and have met in person, with the question of whether or not they talk about their “Internet friends”? I was curious if these two people that I admire and for whom I have affection openly spoke about friendships they developed online.
Results of my Officially Unofficial Poll? They did, but seldom.
Why? Because a lot of people wouldn’t understand and there would be too many questions.
Where do I stand on the topic?
I do not draw distinction between people I consider friends whether I’ve met them online or in person for anything other than clarifying context, such as the case with this post. Chatting online seemed to me a natural transition from the hand-written pen pal letter relationships that I had in grade- and middle-schools. In fact, many of my closest friendships are online, most likely because I’m not being judged upon appearance and my responses don’t have to be “shot from the hip”.
My normal day-to-day conversation with Mr. Muse typically has a mention of at least one, if not more, friend with whom I’ve chatted or texted with that day. I’ve never been what I called “a closet chatter”. Mr. Muse was fully aware of my online chatting when we started dating and it wasn’t expected to stop after we got married.
I speak of my online friends in the same capacity as I would anyone else I consider a friend. It’s not taboo or something to be ashamed of – if we’re friends, we’re friends.
So why was I taken aback?
I’ve been chatting for over 20 years and for the first time in all of that time, someone who I considered a dear companion disclosed, without prompting, that I was not “unmentionable”. My existence was acknowledged, and even admitted that I was someone in the great unknown of the Internet, and yet – I mattered and they didn’t hide it.
I puzzled this new information to Mr. Muse, astounded as I was, and he pointed out that for the first time I was friends with someone who wasn’t trying to hide their online activity from their friends or family. Sadly, closet chatters appear to be the standard online. People who are afraid of getting caught by friends or family for socializing online. This was also seconded by DazyLady. I suddenly was faced with the reality that there was another person out there in the “great unknown Internet” who treated people the same as I do.
It has never occurred to me that because I may have met someone in an online venue that their value as a friend, let alone a person, would be less than if I’d say, run into them at a donut shop. And yet, I have friends who have developed great working friendships with people at their jobs whom they have never met in person – only spoken to over the phone, who roll their eyes at mention of friends made in chat rooms. To me it’s all one and the same.
And so… now what?
Now? After a week of thinking about how cool it is that someone I’m friends with online actually discusses me the same way I discuss them, I’m both happy and a bit sad. I’m happy for the acknowledgement and I’m sad that A) it’s taken this long, and B) there are still people who I consider friends for whom I will always remain “unmentionable”.
So, my ideological bubble that all things were equal has been burst. But that’s okay. Honestly, it allows me to focus on those people for whom I do exist and matter. The people who put forth the effort. It’ll also allow me to reevaluate those other relationships that by all appearances do not matter nearly as much to the other people.
As as for people wondering if they are “unmentionable”? Oh no, if we have a good conversation – I talk about it. Here, on Facebook, on Twitter, in person – it’s all conversation fodder. You exist and you matter.
So, how about you? To you, are people online “unmentionable”? Do you bring up conversations from online, be they in Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms or otherwise? Why or why not?