Ponderings: Are Online Friendships Real?

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My lovely friend Sueanne & I

This week's pondering…..Do you feel your online relationships are real friendships? Why or why not?

There is much said online about authenticity and transparency in social media – it is a frequently discussed in chats and streams all over Twitter. What I am wondering is if the friendships that are formed within online communities and individuals are real. Is there enough authenticity within social media that you can have a real friendship. Really real – like I have an emergency I need to call you or I need help with something do you know the answer to that? For me, I do feel that I have true friendships and bonds with people that I have met online. This is not to mean that everyone I am friendly with is a friend – that is not the same thing to me. A surface level relationship of casual “hi” tweets and light conversation is not a friendship but it is really nice to have these people and these relationships can grow, stay the same or sometimes just fade away. It is remarkably easy to lose people on Twitter that you have at this level.

If you move beyond Twitter to a phone call or Skype conversation, this can deepen the level of friendship as you might get to know more details about the person and their life. For me, I have been very blessed to attended many tweetups around the country in Chicago, New York City, Hudson Valley and Boston. My husband came to my first tweet up in Boston because he was worried about “the internet people” and my safety. He was really impressed by all my Boston friends and we had a great time! 96.2% of the time, the people that I have met have been exactly like they are online. I felt like I already knew them and it was the ultimate friendship affirmation. Sure, there was a few people that I didn't click with or talk to much afterwards but the majority of the friends – and I do call these people TRUE friends – have been a wonderful gift in my life. They get my need to have my sparkly iPhone in my hand all the time and we already have a great level of communication built. I had the pleasure of being on a panel at a #140 Conference in Hudson Valley with friends that I had been talking to for months – it was a total blast!

Here are what other's ponderings were….

Thoughts from: Bruce Sallan, Author, radio host of “The Bruce Sallan Show – A Dad’s Point-of-View”, and host of #DadChat 6pm PST, 9 pm EST

I've been calling my online relationships, “Virtual Friends.” That is not meant in a derogatory way, just in a way that distinguishes it from my IRL friendships. The depth of feeling I have towards said “Virtual Friends” varies just as much as my IRL friends.

Some of my VFs have blossomed into deeper friendships when we've met, participate in Tweet Chats, and otherwise carried our relationship beyond 140 characters. While Twitter is an exceptional networking tool, for me the deeper connections still require actual contact.

Nonetheless, sometimes I feel I know my VFs extremely well. The dad blogger community has grown in ways I couldn't have imagined. As I meet more and more of my VFs, at conferences or other events, they just develop further into people I truly care about.

Like everything in life, it's a matter of degree, a matter of how much you put into it, how much you give, and the journey is as much fun as the destination! Peg is a perfect example of a VF that I know is going places. We've yet to meet, but the amount of depth we've shared in our e-mails, chats, and tweets, not to mention the mutual support we've given each other in the form of comments, has revealed more about Peg than many of my so-called Drinking Buddies.
I love it

Thoughts from Libby Baker: Libby's Blog

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” — C.S. Lewis — This is my favorite quote on friendship helps answer the question: Do you feel your online relationships are real friendships? Why or why not?

My answer is a resounding “YES”! And it stems from my definition of friendship contained partly in this quote. True friendship begins with recognition. Seeing something in the other person that pulls you towards them, makes you want to connect, spend time with them, get to know them better. Because you realize when you meet them, whether it be in a grocery store or a Twitter stream…that you want to know more about them. There is an immediate connection and a promise of more, a comingling of souls! This can happen just as easily on a Skype call as a phone call, at a face to face meeting, or a tweet. There are no barriers of time and space in the realms of our souls and hearts where friendship dwells.

I have known times when I needed a friend, and couldn’t get in touch with my sisters or brothers, or my best girlfriend since I was 13, my husband, or my daughter and my dear friends from Twitter Dave Reynolds @997dave and Rickie Tyler @rickietyler have come through for me with a timely Skype call all the way from Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Two of my very best girlfriends are Heather @AliveinMe and @MaryJTriviski. I met Heather on Twitter and Mary through Heather on Facebook. Mary lives about a half hour from my house, but our paths wouldn’t have crossed…the city is too large — except for my friendship with Heather who lives in Philadelphia.

I have many stories like these. My Twitter and Facebook friends have enriched my life and the giving goes both ways. I am thankful for the wonderful friends I have, no matter where or how we have met or connect. They are supportive, delightful, funny and fun and enrich each day. Hey, you may need someone to talk to in the middle of the night and wouldn’t dare call anyone on the phone, but Twitter is always open!

Thoughts from Dave Reynolds:

I have been thinking about this quite a lot recently. I did not know Trey Pennington. As a serious student of Social Media, I certainly knew WHO he was and what he stood for. His passing affected me deeply and profoundly. How could someone with so many “friends” be so uncertain about life? Easily pondered not easily answered, perhaps impossible.  I am not a smart man, please bear with me while I try to explain and let me start here. I think friendship is a responsibility not an opportunity. I have honestly tried to live that thought. On-Line “friendships” are a pretty new thing for me.  A lot of kind and generous people are found On-Line particularly in the #UsGuys stream on Twitter. This is good. But, what if an On-Line “friend” was in REAL trouble? The kind of trouble that, although helpful, kindness and generosity with one’s time and good wishes, is not alleviated. Real “friendship” is a responsibility not an opportunity, whether in On-Line or in real life.  If I publicly state to be your “friend”, then when you are in REAL trouble,  it’s my responsibility as your “friend” to help or I am a fraud. An On-Line friend of mine experienced some REAL trouble recently. He did not ask for my help. I just did.

I’m not sure there IS an answer to this question. Friendship kinda resists any linear structure and is really not measurable in any practical sense…but if you care enough to help someone out, and really reach out to them in today’s world then you are a friend. So maybe, just maybe I've answered the question. I CARE ergo on-line friendships are real. They impact my life just like the friends who live on my block. In some cases, MORE!

A good exercise for the heart is to bend down and help another up. ~ Some wise man

What are your thoughts about online friendships? Have you attended any tweetups or conferences with friends that you have met online? Please share your experiences and thoughts.

Photo credit Paul Biedermann
Article by Peg Fitzpatrick

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  1. Peg and I “chatted” last night. Again, it was “Virtual,” but it was heartfelt and real – as much or more than any superficial friend! It’s like life – a constant variety!

    1. I appreciate your contribution to this post Bruce and, of course, all your support.

      Life is constant variety and that’s great, right? The variety in our friendships adds different layers and levels to everything we do and think about – inspiration is everywhere!


  2. Great points Marc! Sorry to leave you with the conundrum but happy I got you pondering!


  3. Another very successful post Peg! You did an amazing job of putting this together. Though our friendship is in the more casual stages, I certainly hope it blossoms for you are a real gem! What a great idea for a post…mine hadn’t appeared in my blog yet, but now that you mention it perhaps it will! 😉 Have a super week!

    1. You are so sweet Libby and yes I hope it blossoms as well! Someday I will make it to a Minnesota tweet (we have clients there) and get a real live hug!
      I appreciate your support and contribution to my post as well in the months that we have been tweeting.
      You are a gem as well!

  4. I’ve been making online friendships since 1998. 

    When my son was giving me fits, my online friends were the ones sending me chocolate and cards. When my mother was dying my online friends were the ones checking on me everyday and after she died it was my online friends who sent me the most flowers.Yes, my real life friends were there too, but it was my online friends who sustained me.I started sleeping with my online (girl) friends in 2006 when I started attending meet-ups. I have three friends from around the country and we travel every year to see each other. Next week we’ll be in Atlanta together at Bloggy Boot Camp (blogging started as an excuse to meet-up together).

    Are online friendships real? Damn right they are.

    1. Hi Chloe-

      Sounds like you found some fabulous online friends! Thanks for your comments. 🙂

  5. Hey Jessica!
    Can’t wait to meet you either!! Sorry I missed your call – it was a crazy Monday.
    You are fabulous and you know I’ve got your back too!

  6. It’s me, Sueanne, Peg’s friend in the photo. Thanks Peg!
    Yanno, I’ve had many friends online now. For me, I need at least a phone call to move from a surface level friendship to a real meaningful friend. Why? Too many wacky folks pretending to be somebody they are not online, mainly.

    However, once that voice or in-person contact is made, I will say friendships that started out online turn out to be even better and closer than some of the ones that are never online. I’ve met about 500 people that are online..offline… at conferences, tweetups, outside my fire escape, and such.

    Maybe this is because the written word is just as important as what is spoken, and perhaps even better thought out.

    Thanks for writing this and so happy to be your friend! : )

  7. I wonder why we really struggle with this question. Of course, it may be that we’re so use to the physicality of meeting someone and getting to know him/her along the way. Howvever, what really makes a friendship blossom is the emotional life of the relationship. When all is said and done, I don’t differentiate between virtual and real-life friendships. I do differentiate between the level of connection but I do this in person as well. This past summer, I had the joy of meeting some people I blog with who live in a
    different country than me. It was like picking up in the middle of a
    conversation when we met in person. Like you, there are people online with whom I enjoy having a laugh with or
    pondering some thought but they are not friends. When we go offline to
    deepen the relationship with a phone call, Skype or in-person meeting, we’re really nurturing the emotional life.

    1. Hi Elli – 
      Great points! “What really makes a friendship blossom is the emotional life of the relationship” so agree with this thought.  Yes, nurturing the emotional life is the point. When I met my friends in real life if was the same feeling of being in the middle of a conversation and just having it continue. So fun!
      Thanks so much for sharing with me.


    2. I think there was a stigma attached to online relationships early on due to the stereotype that people were using it were either up to no good or looking for anonymous sex.

      For years I was almost embarrassed to tell people in real life about my online friends, even though almost all my online friends were *gasp* homeschool moms. And even if I wasn’t precisely embarrassed, I had a hard time explaining it to people who didn’t understand it.

      1. Chloe,

        I can definitely relate to the awkward feeling of trying to explain my online friends! The question was “how can you know if they’re for real?” Even if I explained that I had spoken with someone beyond the social media site via the phone or Skype, skepticism remained. Making friends is risky. But, at the end of the day, it’s a judgement call we make. And, hopefully, we discover more treasure than dreck.

        1. I still have to explain my online friends all the time – I hear they aren’t your friends. But you & I know they are! 🙂

  8. Hi Doug
    I think that part of my friend-building had to do with being in a hashtag community where I was lucky enough to meet a lot of super smart, fun people. That being sad, I also had a few negative experiences but overall a positive great thing for me. I work at home now and I am a very social person so my online friends are like my coworkers. 

    I love this statement that you made “The relationships, digital or in person, are exactly what we make them.” So very true!!
    Thanks for thinking and sharing with me.


  9. Peg, 
     No matter where I travel to, I always try to meet up with an ‘online friend.’ Most recently, I was speaking in Fargo. Two, great people I had been following and interacting with on Twitter were in the area. It was amazing giving Kim, (@kbettcher) and Paul, (@PFritz21) a hug and talking over mongolian bbq and s’mores. The true power of our relationships is how many people we can walk up to in a room and say, “I am SO glad to meet you.” (And actually mean it.) Online relationships evolve into offline relationships, if you’re willing. It’s so worth it!

    1. So cool to meet people all over the country! It is so great to say it is great to finally meet you in person – because you already know them. 
      So appreciate your sharing your experiences with me!


  10. I got married back in 2008, some of the wedding guests were friends I had made on Twitter. We’d never met until then, we’ve met a few more times since.

    I think as you get to know people online and you get curious and you want to meet them, I am desperate to get to blog world and meet a whole heap of US bloggers who I chat to regularly. 

    They’re still friends on my book 🙂

    1. Oohh Twitter wedding guests! So fun!

      Are you planning on attending any of the blogging conferences? There are so many out there. Do you have any in England?
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me.



      1. I am coming to Blog world East in 2012, East Coast is easier for me with the time difference. Am setting up my own blog conference in the UK, so  we can catch up with the rest of the world 🙂

        1. That is very cool Sarah! Awesome that you are looking ahead and making the difference locally. I am sure that a blog conference would be huge in Europe too. Have you contacted the Blog World or Blog Expo people to talk to them? That would be fabulous if you could be a big part of it.

  11. It’s me, Sueanne, Peg’s friend in the photo. Thanks Peg!Yanno, I’ve had many friends online now. For me, I need at least a phone call to move from a surface level friendship to a real meaningful friend. Why? Too many wacky folks pretending to be somebody they are not online, mainly.However, once that voice or in-person contact is made, I will say friendships that started out online turn out to be even better and closer than some of the ones that are never online. I’ve met about 500 people that are online..offline… at conferences, tweetups, outside my fire escape, and such.Maybe this is because the written word is just as important as what is spoken, and perhaps even better thought out.Thanks for writing this and so happy to be your friend! : )

    1. Hi friend in the picture!
      Giggling with you at the #140 and tweeting up a storm were such a blast. I think you maybe right that the written word may have something to do with the connection, maybe it is more thought out or the act of reading it and reacting? Questions always lead to more questions!

      I am super happy to be your friend as well sistah!!
      Peggy <3

    2. Thank you for this great photo – reminds me of giggling all day at the #140 Conference and tweeting up a storm!

      I am not on the bacon conversation but enjoy.

      So appreciate your commenting and supporting me.


  12. Peg, great post.  And hell yes, they are. 

    I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of my tweeps IRL at meet ups so far and I plan to meet more.  I enjoyed #margaritas IRL with @prosperitygal:twitter and at a meet up in Minnesota organized by @libbytalks:disqus had the pleasure of meeting her friend @MaryJTriviski:twitter.

    More locally, I met @HeatherEColeman:twitter and am now working on a Midwest International Tweetup after some instigation by her and @beckyrbnsn:twitter. I’m hoping to finally get a chance to meet Becky and @GarryTrammell:twitter when it’s finally pulled together.  And I can’t wait to meet @josepf:twitter, @milaspage:twitter and others at #140confMTL. 

    And just let me say that @997dave:twitter is being very modest.  Anyone who he calls friend should be honoured.  

    1. Hi Dean,
      So very cool that you have had some tweet ups – adds a whole new level, right?

      I might be at the #140ConfMTL so I will get to meet YOU!
      Thanks for sharing with me.


  13. I’ve met some awesome folks on social media that I’ve known and communicated with just as longer as some RL folks. I have some that are overseas and we share our cultures and our regional diversities, If I don’t hope in Skype for a few days they wonder am I well. I have friends that I communicate daily with that are state side too. If I travel to their part of the country I’d want to meet them in real life so, absolutely they are real friends. I’d be happy to do coffee at Panera or Starbucks and cover the bill cause they all know I am a coffee fan! Not to mention the flip side, the RL friends who have moved to other states and now are connected to me solely via social media 😉 

    1. Hi Kat!

      Great thoughts – so interesting how Skype is used today. If you have your Skype on, does this this mean to you that you will accept calls at anytime? I work at home so I need to plan my time and find that my Skype calls are always pre-planned. I will rarely just randomly call someone who is online and not many of my friends just call either.

      Some days are just crazy between Skype chat, Facebook chat, Google IM, tweets, texts, phone calls – where is that notification coming from?? The added confusion layer is that some are personal & some professional. But I am thankful to have friends who want to talk to me.
      Love your thoughts!


      1. Hi Peggy! 


        I chat & phone on Skype. I do not accept random calls. All of my buddies are tactful to send a private chat message to see if I can take a call before phoning in. However for my international friends and when there are several of us communicating we go for the chat format only. We once did  a group call and it was very funny for all of us, chuckling at each of our regional dialects (one Australian, one Scottish, two Texans, one Norwegian, one  New Yorker and 2 Michiganian) and comparing how different we all sounded 🙂

        Yes, some days it get’s busy, chats, tweets & IM’s and notifications coming from all over the place! But now, I couldn’t imagine life before we all were so inter-connected.

  14. Hi Matt,

    I must admit, I still haven’t done a Google + hangout. I need to try it again – I had tech issues on my first try. I have heard that you can do things like watch YouTube videos together on Google +. I would say that you can do activities together with Skpye screen sharing which I use all the time for projects with people around the country.

    I do agree with you, yes, they are real if you let them develop that way much like the quote “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    I appreciate your sharing.


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