Can Your Online Friends Become Your Real Friends?

Speakers at the Technology and the Human Person Symposium last weekend at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, were full of ideas for trading virtual friendships for real friendships.

Have you ever wanted to be real-life friends with someone you know online?

Maybe you met each other before and then you followed each other on Instagram, or you see their posts on Facebook all the time and you think, “It would be fun to get to know them.”

At the same time, you feel like you do know a lot about them because you saw their story about brunch last Saturday, and the axe-throwing party they threw on Sunday, and the field trip they chaperoned to help out their cousin who’s in the hospital with pneumonia. Heck, you even know that their calico cat’s name is Frida and she will only eat tuna from a measuring cup.

This is a problem. You feel connected to this person because you know intimate details about their life, but you’re not actually connected because you really don’t know each other. There’s no trust or vulnerability built up. There’s no give and take.

The details you’ve each shared with each other are the same you’ve shared with hundreds of other followers. If it came down to meeting for a heart-to-heart, it would most likely get awkward very quickly.

That’s not to say you should never pursue real friendships with your social media friends. It’s just that real friendship takes time and effort. The first step to laying a foundation for this is to start talking, preferably in person. If you have enough of a basis — perhaps you’ve met before or you have mutual friends or you’ve messaged back and forth about something — then ask if you could meet up for coffee.

This is probably the hardest step. Because if they don’t respond, or they do respond and say no, then you’re back to square one. Plus, rejection hurts.

But if they agree, set up a time and a place, and know that you’ve jumped the biggest hurdle. Once you meet up, you can start by sharing the small stuff in your life: your background, your day-to-day life, your likes and dislikes.

Don’t be surprised or abandon ship if the first time you meet someone it’s a little awkward. Remember that real life is a little staccato and rough sometimes, and you can’t expect to become instant friends.

It may take a few meetings to get to a place where you feel comfortable sharing more of your life, and for the conversation to stop feeling feel forced. Also, make sure you’re doing more than just sitting at a coffee shop. Walk around at a park, do an activity, play a game together. Doing something takes the pressure off sitting and maintaining eye contact from across a table while chewing and sipping.

And just remember, while you may hope the two of you become real-life friends, it may not always work out. Friendships require work, communication, and natural chemistry.

While you may be on board with all that, there’s no guarantee that the other person can commit to what it takes or that they feel the same real-life connection with you. If that’s the case, it’s okay to be disappointed. But don’t let it stop you from trying again with other people.

Now, if this sounds suspiciously like online dating to you, well … it’s similar. The point here, though, is not to find a romantic interest, but friendship.

While there are apps made specifically to help people find friends, you can make some of your current online friends real-life friends without using an app.

So grab some courage, type out a message, and get ready for the messier but more rewarding adventure of real-life friendship!

This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Flickr Josh Russell, My Facebook Friends


Cecilia Pigg

Cecilia Pigg was a Gregorian Fellow and 2015 graduate of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. A former editor of Catholic Match newsletter, she is a wife and mother living in Topeka, Kansas, and writes weekly for Aleteia.