With the ever growing popularity of social networks and communities like those of Circle of Moms, many moms are making virtual friends with people they never would have met in real life — referred to online as "IRL."
Some moms even say they have more online friends then IRL friends. And many find that their online relationships become essential, such as Circle of Moms member Cathy S., who reports, “My Internet friendships are as real to me as my real life ones.”
But can virtual friends play the same role in our lives as “real” friends? It depends on who you ask.
How Do You Know on Online Friendship is Real?
Here are my own stats: I have 329 Facebook friends; 64 “Likes” on one of my professional Facebook pages, and 974 followers on Twitter. That doesn’t even touch on other forums I belong to, or social media sites like Google+ and Pinterest.
This is my reality, virtual or not. Most of my work and social networking is done online, so a lot of my professional interactions are online as well. Are these people my actual friends? I'm with Circle of Moms member Krista E., who believes that physical proximity isn't always mandatory for friendship. That said, I do think a real friend is someone whose presence and personality you can confirm, so I don't consider all of the people I'm "connected" to online as real friends. I disagree with a Circle of Moms member named Teresa, who gives every online interaction the benefit of the doubt. As she explains it, “there certainly are some fake profiles, fake stories, and many exaggerations, but I always respond [with] the idea that it's real. If it's fake... who have I harmed?”
Unfortunately, people can be harmed by fake friends. Take for example, all the people who have been fooled and wronged by Internet hoaxes like the recent Warrior Eli cancer hoax or the many kids who have been bullied online.
What Online Friends Offer That IRL Ones Can't
Despite this, I answer member Katherine C.’s question “Do some of your best friends live in your computer?” with a resounding “Yes!” A lot of my virtual friends are colleagues. We share the same interests and a respect and understanding for each other’s work.
Over the years, in various groups, forums, and email exchanges, these people and I have also learned about one another’s families, illnesses, financial worries, and other real-life concerns. We’ve formed an online network of support. No one cares whether I’m in my pajamas while I write (I’m not at the moment) or whether I’m twenty-two or sixty-two (I’m in between).
As Circle of Moms member Tam B. explains, “Coming to a place like this is the virtual equivalent [of] going to a social gathering, albeit without the hassle of having to make oneself presentable.”
Perhaps virtual friends are more supportive because they’re not distracted by the mundane things mom Katie H. mentions — such as whether your house is clean, or when the babysitter needs to go home.
Or maybe, as Kylie H. points out, the lack of face-to-face contact allows people to “be funny and confident. . . when in reality they are shy and quiet and would never say those things to your face.”
There was a time when I tried to pare down my innermost thoughts to 140 characters, or when, if I said something funny, I thought to myself, “That so has to be my Facebook status!” But I’ve gotten past that novelty. I have IRL friends I can tell my jokes to.
On the whole, though, it’s my online friends who I turn to for emotional support. Statistically, with such a large pool of people from all over the globe, more of them have problems, joys, and concerns that are similar to mine.
Are virtual friends the same as IRL friends? Well, no, but that doesn’t mean the friendships aren’t real. To paraphrase mom Cathy S., you can create online friendships with like-minded people you might never have had the chance to meet in real life.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.