The Internet Is/Not Your Friend

In 2009, Bryan and I moved to a suburb of North Atlanta. Living in his parents’ basement and working night shifts at restaurants did a number on our social lives, by which I mean it killed them. Interaction with anyone, outside of family and coworkers, dwindled to nothing. Our closest friends were hours away, we were broke, and lonely. We needed to meet some new people, some post-college nerdy types like ourselves… but how could we afford to court new friends while counting change to pay the phone bill, or while bringing home extra food from work instead of grocery shopping? More importantly, if the first step to finding like-minded people was figuring out where they hang out, then where were we supposed to go to find these slightly hip, mostly nerdy adult types?

Bryan and I needed to find our spot, that place “our people” frequented. I envisioned them like magical, glasses-wearing unicorns—the kind that are only drawn out into open by the smell of a mint first edition UK hardcover copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone. But who were they really? They were nerds, like us. People who most commonly liked to hang out at home. On their laptops. On the internet.

It’s a blanket statement (and it’s just plain wrong) to say that nerdy communities do not exist out in the real world. They do. However, before the internet I could not tell you a single physical location I could seek out to sit with other people and talk about their favorite Animorphs character or how the idea that Pernese dragons have a lisp is ridiculous, unless it happened to be a really busy day at the library. Out in the suburbs, the likelihood of finding a comic shop or a barcade was laughable. This is what makes conventions amazingly exhilarating: it’s often the one place you can enjoy the physical company of many other people who enjoy these nerdy things as much as you do.

I say this to explain that without knowing any real community to try and break into, I turned to the internet as my first choice. On the internet, I could find people like me. People who liked everything I liked! Perfect! Into the tubes I went.

Over the course of months, I started bumping up my Twitter following, focusing on people near me. Perhaps I could charm them with my snappy humor 140 characters at a time. I put Atlanta in my tracked tags on Tumblr, thinking I’d draw the attention of another wandering soul with an undying love for reaction gifs. I became more involved in the Atlanta chapter for NaNoWriMo, an annual writing event that takes places primarily online.

At the kickoff event for NaNoWriMo 2010, I met the E-Ks. They were a friendly, enthusiastic couple, had recently moved to the area, and they were interested in a lot of things that I was interested in. After the kickoff I called Bryan and told him all about them, and how cool I thought they were. Already I envisioned how we’d bond at future events during the month, becoming fast friends.

We didn’t.

They lived downtown, we lived an hour away. Most of the writing events were in the evening when I worked. Not to mention that month my steering column tried to fall out of my car, rendering me largely homebound. November passed. I followed the E-Ks on Twitter, hoping that we’d reconnect through some other shared interest.

We didn’t.

Any invite extended in either direction missed the mark just a tiny bit. They were out of town, we couldn’t afford tickets for a concert, any number of excuses popped up. Not to mention the risk involved. Sure, we exchanged plenty of funny links back and forth, but would they like us if we sat down to coffee? Meeting people from the internet is great, but what if you meet a serial killer? What if they were just pleasant serial killers?

A year passed before we even saw each other again. Our friendship hadn’t grown at all; it remained as deep as your average kiddie pool in August. The internet access hadn’t helped me take the leap, but this time would be different. I had a decent job, a car reliable enough to drive to Atlanta, and this friendship was going to happen. Luckily, on the other side, the E-Ks were just as determined to find some cool people to hang out with more than one month out of the year. A drunk brunch party was planned, and then that brunch party turned into a monthly drunk brunch party, a Christmas tree decorating party, and spending New Year’s together. Then it turned into running weird 5Ks, weekly Game of Thrones viewing sessions, and even more drunk brunches.

Less than three months after our first real hangout, I stretched our wedding budget to invite our new little group of friends. It was one of the best decisions I made. Looking back now it feels strange and unreal that I’ve only known most of these people for less than two years. If someone told me that the biggest factor in my house hunt would be having enough living room space to hold this ridiculous number of close friends I have, my eyes might have rolled right out of my skull. But it’s true, and I count myself incredibly lucky.

With all this, it’s a reasonable conclusion that I am the number one cheerleader for creating your community and making friends through the internet. Wrong. I viewed the internet as my only option, but that simply wasn’t the case. I could have gone out with my coworkers and gotten to know them better. I could have had more conversations with those my age in our neighboring apartments. However, all of those routes to friendship seemed entirely more daunting. I am kind of an awkward person, I’ve never been especially social. Internet access only exacerbated it. I isolated myself believing I had plenty of friends, it’s just that I only communicated with them via text and the occasional trip. My Facebook friends numbered in the hundreds—plenty of community, plenty of shoulders to lean on, even if they weren’t physical. But my lack of any physical tie to a community contributed to a depression that was incredibly hard to pull up from. On the internet you can find hundreds of people just like you, but you never have to work at it when your relationship is nothing more than a mirror. There was no one around to support me, to make me push myself, to make me any better than I was.

The internet is not enough. It’s a place to start, the kindling for new beginnings, but it’s never a place to end. We can pretend that our online-only friendships are all we need, because we view them as almost perfect. We only see the best of our online companions, because they filter their lives as much as we filter our own online personas. And as much as they might like to, our online friends are not going to come over with soup when we’re sick, or feed our cats when we’re out of town. We live in a magical time where we can find almost anyone on the internet and bring them into our social circles with only a few clicks of a mouse. But the real work is bringing them into our living rooms and our lives. The real work is dealing with the fact that they are just as imperfect and annoying and wonderful as everyone else. Even when it’s awkward and hard. They make us better.

My internet friends are now my real-life friends. Sometimes they might be a real pain in my ass, but sometimes that’s just what I need from them. If I want another mirror, I’ll go buy one from IKEA. Right after I call in a friend to help me carry it home.

Photo: Gabriel Harber

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  • YES. Is this an appropriate time to use this as kindling for internet -> real-life groups? The APW London group is surely very underpopulated, and I’m willing to schedule a pub night to restart it.

    • Brenda

      I’m in London, I’d be up for the pub! I haven’t joined the FB group because it didn’t seem like there was much going on.

      • There hasn’t been, but that can change!

    • Teresa

      I am not in London, but I am visiting London at the end of August (this has NOTHING to do with this post, sorry!)–folks from London, where should we eat!? Feel free to email me suggestions at thisisteresat at gmail dot com!

    • Kat

      I’m in London and would be great to meet some APWers – will go join the FB group!

  • Wow. This post is SO GOOD. I feel like I’ve been extra quiet for friendship month, because so many people were writing these lovely posts I could appreciate but not completely relate to. In the last few years, some of the people I thought were my closest friends turned out to be people who didn’t shared values, didn’t support my partner and/or seemed to want me to give up my bigger dreams so I could go back home and hang with them like we did in college. It’s turned out to be a real rough time, friendship-wise to be moving away from my hometown, taking big business risks and dealing with potential financial fallout, moving in with my partner and getting married. I’ve also found new and supportive friendships in unexpected places- a few close friends from college, the close friends of my ex who went to a totally different college, and strangers I met on the Internet.

    The Internet can be so great for community and so terrible for isolation, so I love all your advice! Thank you for this!!!

  • Hypothetical Sarah

    Following Sarah T’s lead — any other APW’ers in Shanghai? In a city of 23 million people, surely I’m not the only one! It’s a new city (and country) for me, and I’m still struggling to find “my people”. Thanks for the reminder that staring at my computer screen isn’t going to make that happen.

    • Shoot, just a bit too late. I’m back stateside now. Shanghai’s a lovely city though, hope you enjoy it! It is kind of daunting to get into it though. Hope you can find people to hang out with! It’s always difficult in a new country!

  • This post is excellent. I’ve been surprised at how I’ve made friends in the time since we moved to Cincinnati. Our first year here I really only socialized with folks I work with, and now I have friends who are all about reaching out to me to go to movies, go on coffee dates, or just to spend an hour on the phone chatting. The internet is fabulous for building community, but at the same time, I think it can be too easy to edit and self-censor in a way you can’t when out with friends. Our wedding included a friend of mine whom I’ve only known a year, but we developed a great relationship planning our weddings, and now we text and email fairly often, when we’re not planning pizza dates and cookouts.

    • that’s interesting – i find myself doing much more self-editing in person than online (perhaps a side effect of petrifying social anxiety?). this is one of the reasons i have often felt more supported by my online community than my physical community. of course, per this excellent post, online-only community has its downsides too.

      (also “how the idea that Pernese dragons have a lisp is ridiculous” – <3 this!)

  • Laura C

    For me the internet and many in-person gatherings present the same challenge: how do you take it the next step? On the internet, it’s easy to talk a lot one on one and get to know each other, but then how do you take it face to face? At in-person gatherings, parties or happy hours or what have you, I can usually identify the person I want to be friends with one on one, but I often have difficulty making that happen. So yes to this piece’s conclusions, but I’d attach similar caveats to a lot of the other ways we meet people after school is over.

    That said, I did meet my fiance on the internet. Not on a dating site, I mean. Through an online community kind of deal that moved to hanging out in person.

    • I’m replying to this mostly so I can reap the benefits of advice others give you! My main strategy right now is to invite people out for coffee/drinks. About 3-5 times (over the course of a month or two) before giving up. Sometimes it works? Though I always feel like I’m being too persistent. Opinions?

      • Keep an eye out this afternoon! There’s an open thread that you will definitely want to be in on. :)

    • meg

      You ask. It’s one of those things that’s actually that simple (and scary).

      At this point maybe 60% of our social circle is people we know from my online life (which of course for me actually means “from work” largely, though sometimes not!) And how you do it is you say, “Hey! I like to get to know my online friends in person, want to meet for dinner/ a drink/ whatever?” I say this as someone who’s accepted this offer from others, and made it lots of times. (And who is having her child’s first birthday party in another country with international friends made online, who we’ve hung out with lots of times now. Crazy, right? Lots of asking.)

      In short, there is no magic trick. It’s gathering up your nerve and asking to hang out, making a date, and following through. Sometimes it SUCKS, but overall it’s worth it.

    • I’ve had best luck with just being direct. I once (slightly drunk) told a woman I vaguely knew from a fitness class that I enjoyed the brief chats we had in the class, and that we should totally go out for lunch. 7 years later, and we’re really close friends. It’s awkward as hell to put yourself out there, and sometimes it TOTALLY doesn’t work, but I just keep reminding myself that it’s pretty low-consequence failure if it falls flat..

      • meg

        I love this. It doesn’t always feel that way, but it is the lowest-consequence kind of failure. Ok, someone doesn’t get a drink with you, mghhh. The key is to put yourself in that mindset, I think.

  • Oh, how I could/can relate to this post! Some of my closest friends are ones with whom I share all my fears and hopes, learn and grow and am inspired by . . . through my blog. Building my community of like-minded folks through books, photography and food transformed my post-college life. I email/tweet with some of the best folks almost every day and, though I wish I could see more of them “in real life,” I’ve felt their support and love through so many of life’s transitions. In some ways (many ways?), I actually feel like they’re happier for me than some of my IRL friends. Maybe that’s weird? Either way, though I do feel lonely at points — something my fiance and I discuss often — I know I’m not really alone. The Internet can feel like a giant hug when you need it most. (As can APW.)

  • grace b

    I really liked this! I’ve not made many friendships online but since moving the most out of my circle of college friends I have definitely used the internet to sustain these friendships. It’s hard. Lately I’ve been wondering if it has been holding me back from making stronger friendships on the ground.

    But honestly, friendships just take WORK. I’ve met a lot of people since moving to Austin and the ones who I can truly call friends are the ones who acknowledge this and we each water our friendship like a flower, if you will. We support each other, make time to hang out together, and just try to have lots of fun! It makes me really happy.

    Thanks for highlighting that moving to a new place, making friends can be damn hard and how the internet can try to abate that to some extent…

    • Me too! I have a few close friends from where I grew up and went to undergrad, and I’m now halfway across the country from them. I use the internet to communicate with them, let them know if I’m coming to town, play cards against humanity online with them, et cetera. Especially since I really, really dislike talking on the telephone if I can avoid it.

      I also use it to wrangle my more local friends: for example, I run a tabletop game for my friends, and facebook is my primary method of informing my players about upcoming games, food duty (we take turns bringing dinners), and some other stuff.

      Also, hey, you’re in Austin? I’m about an hour from Houston.

  • Moe

    Can I be your friend? I am in desperate need of friends in my new neighborhood. Despite being pretty damn witty and funny online making the leap to real-life is frought with fear and awkwardness.

    After getting married I moved clear across town away from my community of friends that took years to develop. I’m less than an hour away but in LA with the added obstacle of traffic it might as well be across state lines. The Internet has been helpful at filling in some of the friendship gap. I can keep up with some current events and keep in touch but sadly no it is not the same.

    Just like online dating has become mainstream I think making friends online has too. I have several “dot-comrades” who are wonderful cyber friends I have never met in real-life and some I have met only once.

    Seriously though, I need some LA friends.

  • Meghan

    “…sit with other people and talk about their favorite Animorphs character or how the idea that Pernese dragons have a lisp…”

    Brb, moving to Atlanta!!! :)

    (JK. I’ll be in the PNW for awhile.)

    • Meghan

      Edit function not working for me – *lisp is ridiculous

    • You can always visit!

      Also my favorite is Rachel. <3

    • Katelyn

      Now I have the desire to re-read the Harper Hall Trilogy for the millionth time…

  • Kathryn

    I love this! I’ve been wishing for awhile for that mythical community of friends to surround me. I know I need to go out and create that community and these posts are a helpful shove.

    Following others’ lead – any other APWers in the Denver area. I’d love to start a Denver APW group and meet more people!

    • meg

      Exactly. For me this is the point of friendship month. I want to point out that it’s just HARD to make friends and build community. Hard, scary, risky, and really important. Like so many things in life I think it’s easy to sit back and imagine other people have what we want, and effortlessly too, envy them, and do nothing. The harder and truer thing is to realize it’s just scary and hard and we have to jump the hell in. And that it’s worth it.

      • I’ve really been kind of flummoxed at how many of us have the same friendship struggles. I had no idea so many people felt that way.

        • meg

          Reading the submissions has been even crazier. You guys, SO MANY PEOPLE are struggling with this. It’s so totally not just you.

    • Erin E

      Denver! Yes!

      I’ve been stalking the comments all month for a Denver mention. I’d love to help get a group together!

      • Kathryn

        Erin – Will you message me separately? kathryn.ruggeri at gmail

        I’ll set up an APW – Denver facebook group and we can get started inviting some people. I need at least one other person to start the group.

        • Kathryn

          Actually – I was just able to create a facebook group.

          For anyone in/near Denver who would like to get together, please request membership in this new group:!/groups/624182690935803/members/

          • Casey

            FB is blocked at work, but I’ll join later this week! I’ve been in Denver two years and haven’t made as many new friends as I’d like. Thank you, Kathryn!

          • Erin E

            Yeah!! Joining today… thank you, Kathryn!

    • Lindsay

      Yay Denver!

  • KatjaMichelle

    I’ve found my closest group of friends through the internet. Some I’ve gone in to meet in person at conferences and such and some continue to exist only in my computer however they are equally dear to me. I’d never have found “my people” if not for blogging and twitter. We all have a different yet shared experience that brought us the the same section of the adoption-blogosphere that I couldn’t find at the local (insert local venue here) or through coworkers

  • Rae

    Great post! I love all of the discussion it generated — so many of us share these kinds of experiences.

    Any ladies in northeast ohio that want to try an APW meetup sometime? Or know of a better way than looking for interest in the comments threads? :)

    • Kristen

      NEO lady here! If I understood facebook groups better or could figure out how the other meet-up groups formed, I’d have created one for NEO ladies.

    • Kristen

      I felt like Kathryn from Denver up there was making me look lazy (which I was) so I went and created one. North East Ohio Ladies if you’re interested:

      • Amanda

        I’m in NEO as well! I don’t fully understand Facebook groups either, but I will gladly join anyway!

      • Rae

        Amazing, thanks Kristen! See you on fb!

  • Rachel102712

    “We live in a magical time where we can find almost anyone on the internet and bring them into our social circles with only a few clicks of a mouse. But the real work is bringing them into our living rooms and our lives.” Love this.

    Since reading last week’s post on “how to make friends as an adult,” I met a fellow APWer for coffee this week! I would still love to get a group together. So again, I through this out there: any other readers out there live in the Louisville, KY area?

  • Irene

    This is such an amazing posy, and kudos to the APW team for curating these in such a way that the blog is like a month-long conversation.

    Anyone interested in a Michigan/MidMI-APW meetup? I have seen a few other posters here over the last few months giving a shout-out to the Mitten state, but I don’t think we have a group!!

    • Irene

      Post! Not posy! Ack!

  • Jenni

    Oh my God, an Animorphs reference on APW. I love it!!! (Marco)

    For the past year I’ve been living between two different states, which has made it hard to make friends in either place. I hate having to say no all the time. No, coworkers, I can’t hang out with you this weekend, I’ll be visiting the fiance. No, southern friends, I won’t be back for the next two weeks. You know what gives me hope though? People keep asking. And while sometimes it’s sad to have friends scattered across the country, at least we can still keep in touch with each other’s lives via Facebook.

  • bootsoo

    Anyone out there from Philly? I keep waiting for someone else to mention it so I can continue to lurk here undetected, but I suppose the point of all this is that I’m supposed to take the risk if I want to reap the reward!

    • Steph

      Philly right now (center city) and moving out to conshy at the end of aug. what part of Philly are you from?

  • Rachel

    Love this post! I, too, am pretty happy just hanging out with my imaginary internet friends, and going out and meeting them in person takes so much effort for me! But I’m working on putting together a revived Houston making-new-friends group with APW-ers, so that’s a start!

  • I don’t know if APW Alyssa is on here anymore, but I know she did a meetup in Dallas a few years ago. Is she around here somewhere? Or are there any other Dallas women in da house?? I just moved here from NY 6 weeks ago and I NEED TO MEET GIRLFRIENDS.

    Any takers? :)

  • Christina

    I just gotta say, Meg, I am really glad you decided to do theme months, I think the whole thing is going really well and I’ve really enjoyed the posts this year, this month especially but all the months have been pretty rad.

  • Ezz

    Hey there – I’m a little late to the party, so I apologise (I’m also going to apologise for writing apologise with an ‘S’ – I’m Australian). :)

    I’m kind of new here. I have just spent about an hour trawling through these articles, feeling like my heart is about to burst out of my chest. You know those times when the universe dumps a heap of stuff in your lap and says “read this”? That.

    I am about 70% hermit, 30% “Oh-I-Don’t-Need-Friends”. My heart has been burned and scorned with reckless abandon to the point that I assumed that I just wasn’t fit for any kind of human interaction. In the past 6 months I have used terms like “It’s a lifestyle choice” and “My husband is my best friend so…” and “I think I just prefer my own company”. It’s bullshit. All of it. Unfortunately – despite the fact that I can speak in front of a few hundred people,I can’t pick up the phone. I wish I could meet people online. I haven’t the faintest idea where to start.

    I guess all I wanted to say is thank you for these posts. I may not have a solution yet – but it may have opened my heart a crack to allow the possibility of trying again. And that’s well, a start.

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  • Meaghan W

    I’m marrying my internet friend >.>

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