Are online friends “Real” friends?
Why do you need online friends? Aren’t “real life” friends better? I have slight agoraphobia, which is common for people with panic attacks or other anxiety disorders. Agoraphobia means I feel very nervous leaving my home. Combine that with social anxiety, a completely irrational, paralyzing fear of rejection, and you have a problem. As a result of these 2 factors, the Internet is my primary social outlet. Instead of giving up on making friends, I decided to work within my limitations, and I have been more successful than I could have hoped.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
The Internet is such a vast place. It allows people with varying backgrounds, cultures, interests, and personalities to communicate across land, sea, and time zones with relative ease. Because of the wide variety of people represented, you can find people who are a perfect match to be your friends.
However, online friendships are more difficult to create and maintain than face to face relationships. There are many factors working against you:
- Long distance relationships are hard to maintain, even with people we know well face to face.
- You can have too many people to keep up.
- There are trust issues. It’s difficult to verify a person is really who they say they are on the Internet. You could even fall victim to a predator.
- Less accountability for behavior means people are much more likely to act mean or foolish.
- Because it’s so easy to hit the delete button and remove a person from your life forever, there’s also less motivation to work through problems.
The Steps to Making friends online
Based on my experience, if you follow these guidelines, you will be more likely to build positive relationships online in spite of the difficulties.
1. Fill out your information page
Whatever social media you use, make sure you fill out the section that contains your background, interests, and a brief description of yourself. Since this personal page is how people will form an impression of you, make it as detailed as possible without compromising your privacy and safety.
Some people prefer to see a real picture of you as well. I use avatars myself, but I try to choose pictures that represent my personality. Do NOT leave that ugly generic silhouette on your page. Because you appear anonymous, I suspect a spammer or someone looking to make trouble. At best, you seem to be just “messing around” and won’t be online that often.
2. find people with similar interests
The saying “opposites attract” is not true. We tend to get along better with people like us, so go to the places that people like you would naturally gather. Scan these pages for people who capture your interest and send them an add request.
- There are Facebook fan pages for everything imaginable. I found one of my best friends, Anna Liza, on a Facebook fan page for zombies. (Didn’t I mention I was a Geek?)
- On Twitter, you can use a hashtag like #depression to find people commenting on a specific topic.
- Join a discussion forum and participate regularly.
- Become a blogger. This takes a considerable amount of effort, but blogging is a social activity that draws like-minded people together.
- If you already have a few good online friends, ask them to recommend someone else you might like. That’s the beauty of networking.
3. Observe people carefully
Research tells us that the average person has about 5 close friends and around 150 acquaintances. The Internet can stretch these limits a bit. Most people who regularly use social media have hundreds or thousands of “friends,” but face reality. You cannot keep up with 1,500 people in any meaningful way, so how do you find the ones who will form your “tribe”? Put them on probation for a while, wait, and watch.
- Whatever social media you are using, go to people’s home pages and read the background information. What do they say about themselves?
- Then look at their stream. What are they posting? You can tell a lot about a person through what words, images, and links they show. Are they clever, funny, dark, crude, spiritual, etc.?
- Do you see anything that would set off your “Danger” instinct? Do they have offensive or openly hostile content? (Report them.) Do they hide a lot of information such as their age, marital status, etc.? Are they consistent? Liars usually mess up.
- On Facebook, click on Friends and then Status Updates. This will clear out all the game spam temporarily and allow you to see what a lot of people are posting at once. Don’t worry. Farmville will still be there when you go back to your normal feed. ;)
- Watch how they respond to you. Do they ignore your attempts to communicate? How frequently do they reach out? Do they give you genuine feedback or vague remarks? When you express an emotion, do they empathize?
- Make lists. Both Facebook and Twitter have this option. For example, I have lists for old high school friends, game buddies, fellow Geeks, family members, etc. You get the idea. This helps me make the connections with people that I need to make. For example, if I’m in the mood for some “remember when” I can pull up my old high school friends list.
4. Be authentic, friendly, and supportive
- First of all, don’t say or do anything online you wouldn’t do with guests in your home. In a sense, you ARE guests in each others’ homes, virtual ones. Use your manners, and don’t be a “troll,” someone who deliberately likes to stir up trouble.
- Don’t lie either. Since you’re hiding behind a screen, sometimes it can be tempting to pretend to be someone you are not so that people will like you more. You can’t build a friendship if you’re not showing your real personality.
- Also, avoid the trap of what I call “fake friendship.” Don’t call someone your BFF if you’ve just met them. If you are endlessly enthusiastic and act like you adore everyone you meet, the people in your online community will notice. Then if you wish to express genuine affection for someone, it may come off as insincere based on your previous behavior.
- Make frequent contact. The Internet gives you an advantage because there are a number of ways for you to communicate. If you’re like me and have social anxiety, do what makes you feel comfortable. Use chat, email back and forth, leave messages on their walls, share interesting articles, music, or other links you found. Exchange silly gifts. Be friendly and present.
- Be an active and interested listener and give genuine, heartfelt responses. This is vital for ANY relationship, on or offline. Pay attention to what’s happening in their lives. Ask about their sick grandmother. Congratulate them on their new job. If they post something sad, cheer them up. If they have a cause, interest group, or business page, support them by joining and participating .
- Be willing to work out your problems. The best of friends may have spats now and then. If you’re angry and they aren’t readily available, you might be tempted to just remove them from your friends list. Wait. Give them a chance to explain. Own up to your own mistakes as well, and avoid “landmines” or issues you know tend to start a fight like being on opposite sides of a political issue.
My friends live in my computer
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I have been more successful than I could have hoped making friends online. Using this method, I have found my Fab Five, the close friends I can count on to keep me going. I also have a number of acquaintances who verge on close friendship, and I’ve even become closer to people I know in “real life” such as my sister in law. She’s family!
Notes from the Author
Did you click on the “Research” link? It will take you to an article titled “Warning: You Can’t Make Friends Online.” Their headline is misleading. I’m living proof, and if you read the article, you’ll notice they don’t rule out Internet friendships. They just state the same problems I did earlier in this post.
Would you like to read more tips on making friends online or friends in general? Read “How to Build Your Tribe-Find Your People” on Marc and Angel Hack Life.
My goal for this blog is to build a supportive center for people suffering with mental illness, temporary depression caused by a life event, or people who have family and friends with these difficulties. Please tell somebody else you think might be interested about Surviving Limbo! Word of mouth is one of the fastest ways to travel.