My friend Roz recently posted a Journal Prompt in her own blog that I feel today’s writings fit into very nicely indeed. I may be cheating as I wrote this post almost entirely in my head whilst away from home this week and indeed, I try to answer these prompts in my own more “countrified” blog at The Crooked House but… here we go, anyway.
Here is the prompt:
Do you think that ‘Internet friendships’ can be real, true friendships? Which of your ‘Friendships of the Airwaves’ do you value the most? Why? Where on the Internet did YOU go TODAY?Roz Cawley; https://rozcawley.typepad.com/autumn_cottage_diarist/2019/08/a-month-in-the-country-6-im-floating-in-the-air.html
This post comes with a Health Warning, do not read on if you dislike sentiment or over-sharing!
brief background, answering part 1 of the prompt
“Do you think that ‘Internet friendships’ can be real, true friendships? “
You must forgive me when I admit to finding such questions all but humorous. To me it is overwhelmingly self-evident that the answer is a resounding “YES!”
I grew up not only not having friends but also not understanding what a “friend” really is. I have known many individuals but felt for a long time that “Friends” were something Other, something beyond what I had experienced for myself. Other People had friends, I had not.(background to this will be forthcoming in a Left Luggage post.)
I am not a Social being and going out and meeting people is very difficult for me to do.
It was early in my Open University studies, in 1987, when I met the Internet. The real Internet, pre-web. Most individuals had not heard of it and only a few academic types were connected.
The Internet thrilled me. I spent many hours in a dedicated conferencing system, where I “met” other students. When my course finished and my access to this magical place went with it, I found other ways to access the Internet, to keep in touch and to discover new contacts.
My studies had enabled me to gain employment at a Higher Education institution (1988), where I discovered that a few employees “in the know”, had access to the outside world via the JANet gateway. It was all very informal and basically, if you knew what the Internet was and wished to access it a simple request for a password would suffice. Suddenly I was connected again! Not only that but I had discovered browsing as a research medium. The infant World Wide Web had arrived and hypertext fascinated me. No pictures yet – so none of that awful “third jpeg syndrome” *** – but whizzing around from place to place via hyperlinks was so exciting. The possibilities seemed endless. But I digress.
I was having conversations with interesting people, re-contacting students from my first OU conferencing days and meeting newer members of the system. My circle was widening.
Here’s the odd thing, for a social phobic like myself – I found myself making real friends. It seemed as though I found myself becoming comfortable with people, getting to know them online and then feeling far better about face-to-face meetings. These meetings became frequent over the years and true friendships developed.
Such friendships were the saving of me when I divorced in 1992 and found myself living alone and honestly lonely, in my wee flat in the big bad city. By then there were more people aware of the possibilities of connection via the Internet and I had a wider circle to draw my contacts from. The Open University systems were still available to me and indeed I had a wider range of contacts due to having graduated and joined the teaching staff in my part-time employment.
I had the opportunity to really meet my online contacts at Summer School and to set up continuing exchanges with people that I first met in real life but also possibilities such as Demon had arrived. I got myself properly and permanently connected at home.
By now, I had joined Usenet and had far more opportunities to “meet” like-minded people. Gatherings of members happened (called “cons” and “boinks”) and my personal network expanded. I flew off to Amsterdam (with one of my female OU online friends that, no, I had not met yet) to stay with a man that neither of us had previously met. Scary? Daft? No, not really. We had all three been chatting online for a long time and it is surprisingly easy to judge who is safe and who is not. Words give people away. (So does the “third jpeg” ***)
Words also attract. The right words, framing the right ideas can exert a powerful pull.
There was one man that I met online whose words were fabulous. I would term him a wordsmith. I travelled south to stay with him and was more than prepared to fall half-way in love with him. He turned out to be absolutely safe, absolutely charming, gentle, kind and more than half-way attracted to me. The chemistry wasn’t working though and I had to resign myself to simply enjoying his poetry. It was a fun trip, nonetheless. He took me to dinner by the river Cam and we ate outside on a hot summer night. The moon rose from behind the trees and hung over the river; full-fat and and creamy. The man suddenly rose from the table, dashed off and was gone for some minutes. How confusing! He did however return, with a bunch of carnations the exact same colour as the rising moon, and a box of chocolates also tucked beneath his arm. We stayed in touch for years but we both instinctively knew that when he married a non-Internet person it was time to let go. There would not have been the level of understanding of the true and deep-rooted friendship that we had built online. I would have been seen as “another woman” and that could not have been further from the truth. I do know, however, that if I chose to go online today and had need of that friendship, that I could find him, reach out and be supported by that friend in my time of need.
Internet friendships get right under one’s skin. The connections run deep. I honestly believe it to be related to the power of words. For me personally, that separation in time and space that allows me to think clearly and to express myself allows me to present myself better than when stumbling for words in front of strangers, looking for the exits all the while and panicking, I am certain that the same is true of those friends that I have met, some of whom do have social and life skills but the vast majority of them are like myself and do not. Yes, we are the Geeks that other people make fun of. We are Internet Geeks and we form close alliances because we understand each other in a way that, historically at least, most of the population do/did not. With each other, online, we don’t have to hang out in the kitchen at parties, we don’t have to keep our backs to the wall and we can relax and just be ourselves… and get to know each other in a deep and meaningful way that sceptics simply do not understand.
The results of all of this has been the acquisition of many contacts and so many real friendships. I have continued an almost nomadic lifestyle but the Internet allows me to maintain contact with people that I might have otherwise lost touch with as I move about. Some of us have become lazy and day to day contacts have long since ceased. In some cases we may not have exchanged emails or messages in many months or even years but we still remain true friends and I know that any one of them will be delighted to hear from me, and I from them, and if ever a test of friendship is required I know that we will all come through with flying colours. That, I came to understand in later years is what Friendship actually is and I can finally comprehend that I can and do make friends and actually have many of them. This is what I will refer back to in my Left Luggage, I believe.
Sorry, I am banging on a bit with what was simply meant to be a short background piece. It seems that Roz’s prompt has worked only too well and that today’s originally intended post will form only a small part of this overall thing. However, it fits more than well under the second part of the prompt. So, shall we progress?
Which of your ‘Friendships of the Airwaves’ do you value the most? Why?
I refuse to pick and choose as I value all of my online friends, Each may have a different meaning to me but my life would be impoverished by the loss of any one of them.
In making that statement I believe that I return to my internal distinction between “People that I know” and “My Friends” and earlier notions of what it is to be a Friend; that “Friend” is something far deeper than the label that I think many people apply to others. Yes, I may be galloping towards my grave but at this late stage of my life, I still grapple with the Friends concept. Do I not fully understand it yet or am I simply picky? Is it a self-protection mechanism, keeping many at arm’s length and only admitting a few? I fully intend to continue beyond this post with the exploration of what is to me, a challenging and complex subject,
Let us crack on.
The Internet has provided me with contacts, sound friendships, lovers, lengthy relationships, and heartbreaks too but ultimately, with a husband. Perhaps I am wrong in not instantly claiming that he is the Internet-discovered Friend that I value the most but to take that answer would be trite and not, I believe in the full spirit of answering Roz’s prompt. (Did I mention that I first met Roz too on the Internet, via Usenet – and soon thereafter at a newsgroup meeting, or con. I value her friendship and support and find us on the same wavelength on frequent occasions.) It would however have made this lengthy post a whole lot shorter!
On being gooey…
It has come around to that time of year again, when Mr L and I both become ridiculously romantic and sentimental. These are not natural states for either of us, particularly the sentimental thing…
Every year, at the end of August, we celebrate the anniversary of what we have labelled our Non-Anniversary. We have a proper Wedding Anniversary on New Year’s Eve but the date that has the most meaning to us is the time that we properly got together in a romantic sense.
We had met online and I was attracted to his words from the outset. Mr L was definitely one of the standout contributors to the uk.local.yorkshire news group, so far as I was concerned. It made me happy when I saw him online and his contributions always entertained me. There were other posters that I enjoyed too and so I thought nothing much of this.
We first met at a ULY “con” in February 1999. I almost didn’t attend. I was upset, having been let down badly by my romantic partner at that time. The friend who had promised to come and pick me up and to take me to Leeds and bolster me through my first meeting with these strangers had failed to turn up. It took a huge effort of will to make myself go out there and join the others under my own steam. I had no expectation other than to be miserable, completely unable to make conversation and to leave early.
It did not happen that way.
I walked into the pub and stood there, overcome by the mass of people present. I heard a voice and it said “You must be Beth“. I looked across the room and my memory now is of simply seeing a gorgeous smile and a pair of twinkling brown eyes, A man who took the spotlight and the rest of the room faded into darkness. I should have known at that eyes across a crowded room moment that I was in trouble. Yet it failed to register. This despite the fact that I have experienced it once before. I married that man and he turned out to be a complete Bastard and a Lothario. Perhaps my psyche was in retreat and was hiding from the oh, no, it’s love at first sight again bad news.
I went to sit with those friends that I had previously made via another newsgroup but it was a lengthy session that day and at some point Mr L smiled across the room and crooked his finger at me. I have no idea what made me respond and go to sit at his side but I found myself there. The day wore on into evening and we talked – I have no idea what our conversation was. At some point I became aware that we were very close together (there were many people squeezed onto those benches) but also that my head was inclined and practically laid upon his shoulder. It didn’t seem odd to me though.
When Closing Time came around I was invited to join him and others at a party but I chose to catch the last bus home instead. I was nervous of being stranded in town, with nowhere to stay and possibly with A Strange Man. Not my style, dearie!
All the same, as we stood there saying goodbye, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, I really could not bear the pain of leaving. It felt as though I was being ripped away, like an Elastoplast being torn from raw skin. I knew, but I think that I suppressed the idea in that moment, that I never wanted to be apart from that man in my entire life.
I have no idea why or how I did not recognise what had happened! I was happy enough in my existing relationship and was not looking to start another. It could not have been further from my mind. However, at some point, we did move our conversations into a more private space and it is clear to me when I look back, though not at that time, that we began to flirt with each other.
It was around that time when I discovered that my new flirtation had a wife and a child and I tried to retreat. It proved to be difficult.
We met again at another “con”, in early summer and it was clear to me then that Mr L’s feelings of attraction to me were every bit as great as mine to him. Once again, I chose to leave early. he looked into my eyes with such intensity and I swear now that there was a measure of telepathy involved. I knew absolutely what he was attempting to tell me, that he was already in love with me. He didn’t want to leave me and I did not wish to leave him. He leant forward and kissed me on the lips, very gently and turned and left and I went home with my existing squeeze, (But, YAY – I got a kiss from Lofty!!)
I was determined not to be drawn in, no matter what my own feelings were, I was not going to mess around with another woman’s man. Not again (the current situation at that time had special considerations that I need not discuss here but I am certainly not the scarlet woman that this story makes me sound.) I was going to be Good. I was going to be Strong-willed. Really, I was.
(Sorry, I can’t help but indulge with these memories but hang on just a tick and we will get to the nub of it.)
I met Mr L for a third time on August Bank Holiday weekend. It was the Saturday preceding the Monday holiday. We held a small but select “con” in the pub of the village where I was living. I gave Nev, one of my (online-obtained of course) friends a strict instruction to obstruct any romantic dealings and to save me from making an idiot of myself.
In order to keep this very long story from becoming ever-longer, let us just note that dear, sweet Nev failed completely in his task.
We all repaired to my house after Last Orders were called. The others went home, Mr L stayed on. He made his move (lunged!) and we had a proper snog.
Mr L had obligations for the actual holiday but asked if he might come back to see me on Tuesday to talk about things. I was reticent but understood that something momentous had occurred and it needed dealing with. I was not getting into this mess and would discuss my reasons fully come Tuesday. In the meantime I drafted in two more internet-obtained friends, Fenny and Loretta, who had been there on Saturday and I wailed at them about my mess. They took me under their collective wing and we spent Monday together. I was in turns elated, and miserable, beating myself up internally all the while. I was also desperately missing that man. I was unhappy and resentful possibly and also uncomfortable that he had returned to do “family stuff”. It was a slap in the face for me. I was confused, disoriented and I found it hard to resolve all sides of my feelings. Impossible, perhaps. I was wondering, certainly, if my judgement of his character had been off.
I had every confidence that the mess could be sorted out… I did not want it, after all. I also knew, or thought that I knew, by instinct that Mr L was not the kind of man who could conduct an affair. My expectation was that he would show his face for half an hour, apologise for drink-induced behaviours and return meekly and properly to his married life, leaving me enormously relieved but perhaps with a large chunk removed from my heart. My intentions were both good and honourable. I swear it.
Tuesday did not happen that way and instead of hearing “Sorry, I can’t” I heard “Can I come here?” He meant, could he come and live with me. *gulp*
He told me of his unhappy marriage and miserable existence (having heard this elsewhere, I was momentarily sceptical but somehow I did believe him and some of my qualms were settled to my satisfaction when I heard that he had discussed many times with his wife his need to move out at some point when his son was old enough.) I knew that he also meant “for the rest of my life.” Don’t ask me how – I just did! I queried my gut, always the holder of my truest instincts. I wobbled for milliseconds, to be honest (actually, we should call that sensation by its proper name of panic) but for some reason that I still fail to understand, I heard myself saying “Yes” to someone that I had met only four times in my life, kissed once, never had sex with and yet I knew was going to be my life partner.
Now, I didn’t expect anything much to happen any time soon. I even mostly thought that it wouldn’t happen, would fizzle out when his hormones had died down – but on Friday, there he was, on my doorstep with his little bag of luggage and he had come to stay for the rest of his life and this less than a week since his romantic intentions had become clear!
These are the events that we grow sentimental about each year as August Bank Holiday hoves into view. We both become as hopelessly romantic as we were at the time it was happening.
Each and every year, I marvel at the fact that it has been so long; when our relationship still feels to me to be fresh and new. It all feels as though it was just yesterday, or perhaps only last year.
This year it adds up to a startling twenty years since we were busy fighting our attraction. At least, I was fighting. I am not entirely sure that Mr L put up any resistance at all. It transpired eventually that he was just hurtling blindly into what he wanted and so urgently needed. I was just busy trying not to entangle myself in somebody else’s marriage and reminding myself that I was already entangled with my own Someone Else.
It is also true that each and every year, I have cause to think of my good friends who helped me through this period in my life. I have great reason to be grateful to Nevilley for not adhering to my instructions and for knowing when it was time to leave Mr L and I to our romantic fates. Not least do I have reason to remember with gratitude the support and understanding from Fenny and Loretta. I love you all.
These friendships, gained initially from the Internet, but honed into true long lasting and deep connections are very important to me. They are not the only ones and I will stand up and argue against anybody at all who would try and dismiss the validity of Internet friendships.
I simply say – give it a go, what do you have to lose? You may gain much, especially if, like me, you find it really difficult to go out and meet people socially or simply don’t have the opportunities to do so, The Internet is a great enabler, a great leveller, and any form of Special Interest Group will provide opportunities for conversation with people of a like mind to your own.
I am not going to argue that the Internet isn’t less wholesome and safe than it once was but civilised pockets of discussion remain and may be sought out. Just keep your wits about you, listen to your instincts and take a friend if you venture forth.
To be truthful, even in the early days it could be fraught. The Third Jpeg problem is a case in point.
I have no idea if it remains the case, and most likely not when there are more immediate forms of expression at hand nowadays, but in the Goold Old Bad Old Days it was not uncommon to fall naturally into conversation with a member of the opposite gender. Emails were often exchanged off-group. The conversation would begin normally, quite innocuously. Often photographs would be sent with the emails. The first would be a full-length shot “this is me”. Oddly, the second one was often a photo of the chap’s car (why?) but the third email attachment was always something that I really did not wish to see, thank you. And many budding friendships ended there and then. Put your willy away mate, it ain’t for me!
Intuition, gut instinct, properly applied intelligence and good safety measures when necessary were the order of the day. Intuition, I believe was the most important factor in remaining safe. Somehow, I always managed to sense the dodgy ones from the word go.
Mr L, bless him, never gave me a moment’s hesitation. Twenty years later, I am deeply thankful for my instinct and that I chose to run with it. I was in no way wrong and we have been very happy together. He is, of course, my greatest Friend – internet-obtained or not.
Oh, and we will skip that last part of Roz’s prompt as the answer is entirely obvious – I went to my blog today and spent hours there, boring the pants from my Internet friends.
Kisses and hugs to every last one of you.
Congratulations for reaching the end of this post. You have stamina.