I have never met some of my closest friends face-to-face. When you have a chronic illness, it’s often hard to meet new friends. In my case, it is due to self-isolation and because it is much easier to find other people I can relate to and have a lot in common with online than in person.
I am well aware of the stigma of having online friends I’ve never met face-to-face. I know a lot of people feel like you can’t really know someone you’ve never met face to face. To those people I ask, how is that any different than meeting/knowing someone in person? How many times have you been let down or disappointed when you find out someone you have met in person turns out to not be who you thought they were? I imagine the people who adhere to that stigma and feel like having mostly online friends is sad and even pathetic are struggling the most with having to quarantine and practice social distancing.
With the online trolls and catfishing, I realize I am taking a risk by making friends and revealing personal information to someone online that I will likely never meet in person. Some days, conversing with online friends is the only connection I have to the outside world — with or without a global pandemic. So it is definitely a risk worth taking for me. I have met a few of my online friends in person and I have been pleasantly surprised. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting these people face-to-face and believe they will be friends for life.
I usually do not reveal personal details about myself or my life until I have been “talking” with someone for a while. As much as I despise small talk, I utilize it a lot when first navigating an online friendship. I have had many superficial conversations with people online where I quickly realized I have absolutely nothing in common with them and actually have opposing viewpoints and philosophies. When that happens, I simply move on. I respect other people and understand that nobody agrees on everything. For me, the key is to find people with whom I share more viewpoints than not.
Another important tip is to not take anything personally online. Nine out of 10 times if someone is curt or unresponsive online, it is not intentional. And usually, if someone is curt online it is because they are knee-deep in their own personal shit and are not intentionally being combative. Those are typically the days when understanding and empathy are needed the most. Because I have a chronic illness, I understand more than some that we all have “our days.” The other important thing is to toss your expectations out of the window. Very few people are going to respond exactly the way you expect them to or even want them to. As a matter of fact, if they do, I tend to question their sincerity.
It seems more common for people who have chronic illnesses to have periods of “going dark” online. It is especially important to not take this personally. When someone goes “radio silent” it is usually because that is what they need to do to maintain their mental health and process things in their lives that I usually know nothing about. I happen to be the exact opposite. I tend to use social media to distract myself and to get my mind off the more unpleasant aspects of life. But with all the ugliness on social media, a lot of people have the opposite reaction. I do have times when the hatred that is unleashed on social media is just too much and I have to log off myself. Those times are short-lived for me, but can be much longer for others. And that’s OK.
I have wasted a lot of time feeling ashamed of spending so much time online, but I absolutely refuse to any longer. To me, spending time online is no different or worse than planting myself on the couch and watching TV, playing video games, or even reading a book (fiction, anyway). I do need to work on not letting spending time online completely take over my life. It is extremely important to find that balance — just like everything else in life. So I will definitely see you online!