Anxiety · Mental Health

Internet Friends are Real Friends (And Mine are the Best)

There are people I don’t like in this world; some philosophies simply do not align. People don’t like me. Even in extreme cases of dislike, there is still a minimum aid I would provide because the cost to be a decent person is zero and it says more about me, right? For the great many people, I will go slightly out of my way to help them to the point of annoying people with me – which is all the more expressed with close friends and family where I will assist to my personal detriment. A lot of that is wrapped up in my psychology: don’t ask for help because you’re a burden to others and do whatever you can to help no matter the cost.

Then there is this elite group of online friends. These are people I have never actually met but whose hearts and minds I have come to admire, and I would move heaven and earth if they needed assistance. They could mention family trouble and I’d feel compelled to help because it was important to them. I’ve reached a point where most of my continued social media presence, in a world where Zuckerbergs and Musks seem hell-bent on de-valuing and destroying, is rooting for their success. It’s not an expectation that they will always be happy – part of what connects me with a lot of people online is our mutual airing of faults and struggles – but that they will persevere and find the lives they deserve.

Sometimes, in my perpetual state of introspection, I recognise that much of the heightened value seems to come from the deliberately walled nature of it. We are regular socio-intellectual presences in one another’s lives, but it’s an ethereal sort of presence. I may disappoint with a tweet or a post, one that goes unseen, but it stops there and preserves the status quo. If I were a more tangible presence, time and experience might not destroy the relationship but it would diminish it.

I have mentioned the parasocial relationship I have with Emma Watson in posts, and it functions similarly (except that I’m completely unknown rather than known through the keyhole of social media). The focus is on the positives, on things I admire about her public persona. If we were to become friends, it would begin with all the excitement of gaining familiarity, especially on my part as star- struck surrealism took hold. With time, even if the friendship became solid rather than fizzled, I would become “James” and she would become “Emma.” Whatever the other features of the relationship, it would also contain the punctuation of benign disappointments and the mutual banality we take for granted in familiar relationships. These are things we miss dearly in the aftermath of a relationship, but which are so commonplace that we start to pay them no mind in the present.

It’s a completely unilateral, that is, irrational, feeling that I’m describing. My fear is never that I should become disenchanted with their personality but that I will inevitably disappoint them. It’s an awareness of a perfect relationship: one where my introvert energy never feels to depleted to offer maximum attention and effort because it occurs at intervals and with little risk of the personal embarrassment that consumes me in most social situations.

One of the biggest personal concerns has always been the respecting of boundaries. I don’t mean the bigger, more obvious ones like agency and autonomy, but the private ones like which topics are suitable for conversation or whether a response is even desired in a situation. I love that social media provides the option simply to Like something, a practice I view as saying,  “I see you, I hear you, and I’m in your corner,” without the risk of putting my foot in my mouth. Comments always feel risky because it’s too easy to drift into unsolicited advice, distracting add-ons, or, my personal least favourite, of which I’m sure I’m guilty, the restatement of the original point. I have started and erased more comments than I care to remember, fighting more an urge to reach out and engage than add any real value or to build a constructive friendship.

Still, I value and cherish these friendships as some of my most important. While navigating them had revealed hazards uncommon to other relationships, I also recognise that on the other end is a human with a heart, a mind, a life, insecurities, and dreams. All of that is very real despite the digital transference of the friendship. It feels wonderful to want wonderful things for wonderful people and feel that you have a courtside seat to watch it unfold.

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