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Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Net friends

Is it possible to have a friendship with somebody you know exclusively, or mainly, over the internet? I don't mean somebody you knew who you only talk to online, I mean somebody you've never met, and have no contact with, other than what they've allowed you to see?

That's the kicker, isn't it. People can be so selective with what they show you. A forty year old man could present himself as a young woman, and it would be hard to know that the reality didn't match the image presented. Can we ever really trust someone we haven't seen in the flesh? If people can lie in the big ways, surely they can lie in the small ways? Taste in music, eye colour, where they live. What's to say that the personality you've come to 'know' matches their true self?

Well, I'd argue that the same could be said of anyone, whether you've met them or not. Your brother could be lying to you. Your wife could. Your maths teacher could. I don't think it really makes much of a difference how close you are, you can never really prove who you are to anyone.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should all be cynical about how honest people are being. I'm just saying that maybe online relationships aren't so different to any other. I have friends online, and I wouldn't hesitate to call them friends. There's one in particular that I share some very important things in common with, we get on well, and that's taken our relationship outside of MSN. We talk on the phone. He left me a treasure hunt for when I was going to be in the same place as he'd been three weeks previously. He's always there for me if I've had a bit of a pants day, and I'd like to think that I'd do the same for him. We're a lot closer than I am with some people I've known my whole life.

I'm very sensible, in general. I probably would meet him alone, if the opportunity presented itself, but in a public place, in daytime, etc etc. But I know how different the reality may be. I know that there are a million little things I don't know about him. The way he walks. If he blows his hair out of his eyes. If he fiddles with his hands. So I'm prepared, when I meet him (and I'm pretty confident that one day I will), there will be an awkwardness there because we don't know each other in that way. But once we get past that intial discomfort, I'm confident that we'll find we know each other as well as we ever thought we did.

It's just a different context, that's all. I've got to know him in an environment where looks aren't important, fashion isn't important, wealth isn't important; and we're not used to that, as a society. Whether it's a truer reflection of his personality, I couldn't say, but I don't think online friendships 'don't count' just because of the lack of a physical presence.

The hardest thing, though, is that me and my dave are both rather 'huggy' people. We like that physical contact, that reassurance. It can mean a lot when you're feeling low. And to be deprived of that just because he lives too far away seems... unfair, almost. No, yes, it is unfair. To be so close but so far away. I don't care what anyone says, those little hug emoticons just don't do the trick! ;) (Neither does <-that<-, ironically. It means I'm being lighthearted.)

Miss you, Dave. Sorry we haven't spoken for a few days. We will.


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