Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My invisible friends

I used to think that couples who said they fell in love online were crazy. How in the world could you fall in love with someone you've never seen or met in person? How could you truly know that you had a real connection with them if you've never laid eyes upon them? It was a complete mystery, and I wasn't so sure I believed it.

Until it happened to me.

I fell in love over the internet. But not with a man. I fell in love with a group of women, or as my husband calls them, "your invisible friends".

I'd been connected to the world wide web for some time, but had never ventured into online forums. For some weird reason, the thought of going online and chatting with total strangers intimidated me. Then, one day in November 2006, I received an email from Clubmom inviting me to join their exciting new mommy website, CafeMom. I checked it out, and thought it would be cool to get in on the ground floor, so to speak. One of my concerns about joining online forums was that I would be a stranger and a newb and not know how things worked, and would embarrass myself. But if I joined CafeMom at the very beginning, I'd know how things worked. So I joined, and began to personalize my home page. And the friend requests started coming. I felt like Prom Queen! Total strangers wanted to be my friend! This was AWESOME. I began to spend more and more time online, reading journals, commenting, and writing my own. In the early days of Cafemom, it was small, and it seemed like everybody knew everybody. I felt like a rock star when I got comments on my journals. I started making more and more friends, and eventually, it expanded from just commenting on journals and sending private messages to instant messaging. Talking in "real time" was so cool! My friends hailed from all over the country. We'd stay up late at night and talk for hours and hours. I couldn't believe the way I was forming bonds with people I'd never met in person.

Over time, my friend list became streamlined. Gone were the days where the thrill of adding to my list was more important than the connection we shared. I realized that quality mattered more than quantity when it comes to friends. I had a circle of friends that couldn't have been more perfect for me. Brilliant, hilarious, kind, loving, witty, snarky women who were there to support me no matter what. And I was there for them in return. We come to each other in good times and bad. And in some ways, it's better to have them all to myself. They don't know Todd, they don't know my kids, they don't know my extended family--they only know me. They are my support system for those times when I can't turn to my husband or mom or even real-life friends.

When my dad died, the love and support I received from my friends was overwhelming. From phone calls to texts to cards to flowers...they were there for me in a way some of my oldest real-life friends were not. Even though I was going through one of the most devastating times of my life, I knew I always had a soft place to fall. I knew that I could go in to my groups, and cry, vent or rage, and they would be there to comfort me. And comfort me they did. I only hope that I am as good a friend to them as they are to me.

So now I know how people can fall in love online. There is a freedom online that you just don't feel in person. All artifice is stripped away. No one cares that I'm sitting here, in my pajamas, with major bedhead and stinky morning breath. No one cares about that zit on my chin. I don't have to worry about being self-conscious--I don't have to feel that feeling of anxiety when I walk into a room and think, "Oh my goodness...I'm the fattest person here." They know me--the real, true, honest ME. Of course, they've seen pictures of me. The closer we all got, the more of our lives we've shared, and that includes photos of ourselves. But nobody is judging me based on what I look like, because they've seen the inner me, and the outer me really isn't important.

The only drawback to having friends who live in the box on my desk is the lack of physical contact. For all the pluses of getting to know a person from the inside-out, the lack of physical contact can be depressing. When I lost my dad, I really wanted to feel all of the virtual hugs that were being sent my way. I've been lucky enough to meet two of my online friends, and it was so wonderful to finally make that face-to-face connection. I've always told my husband that if we ever win the lottery, one of the first things I'm going to do is arrange a HUGE, extravagant weekend for all of my girls. Oh, the fun we would have! Hmmm...maybe I should actually start playing the lottery so I can increase my chances of winning...

My friends may be invisible, but they are as real to me as the chair I'm sitting on or the person I see when I look in the mirror. They make me laugh, they comfort me when I cry, and they are the force that keeps me going when I think I can't possibly go on. They have blessed me and overwhelmed me with love and ask nothing in return but my love. I am one lucky woman!