When my daughter was in high school, she struck up a friendship with a girl on the East Coast -- a friend of a friend -- and they spent hours a day chatting online and texting on their cellphones.
Since we didn't know this girl or her parents, I wasn't comfortable with the arrangement, but seeing her on Skype at least assured me she was, in fact, a teenage girl and not some Internet predator.
Still, I didn't understand how my teen could have such a close bond with someone she hadn't met in "real life." I just didn't get how they could be so important to one another.
Sure I spent time talking long-distance to my besties on the phone, but I actually knew them. We'd traveled together, shared meals, beach walks and hot tubs, and laughed and cried over tea or wine at each other's kitchen tables. Later we'd attend our kids' weddings and parents' funerals. And because, in addition to carrying each other's secrets, we'd worshiped together, kneeling side-by-side at the altar rail, I considered those friendships sacramental.
Little did I know, a few years after my daughter was out of high school, I'd cultivate a significant friendship with a sister writer who lives 2,500 miles away. We met nearly two years ago, via Google Hangout, in a workshop. I liked her straightforward manner right away and was enchanted by the scene she read from her memoir. I smiled when I saw her Bergere chair in the background because it looked almost identical to the one in my own living room.
We emailed later that day and planned our own Google chat. At first it was mostly about our work as we discussed the ins and outs of starting a writing career and shared the challenges of the memoirs we were crafting. We eventually became critique partners, and now read and edit each other's essays on a regular basis. We have a level of commiseration that only another writer has when our work is rejected.
We are competitive -- but not with each other, because somewhere along the way, we became dear friends. Conversations that begin with what we're writing quickly veer off track. Did we workout that day? Are the kids okay? What's for dinner? And when in the heck are we ever going to be in the same room together for real?
The funny thing is, it really doesn't feel like we've never met because technology provides us with a virtual kitchen table that we can gather around any time we like.
Ma Bell thought long distance was the next best thing to being there, and it was at the time. Remember how those videophones on the Jetsons seemed so space age? And now, here we are! We can FaceTime with our kids, Skype with our friends, send ridiculous emoticons back and forth, and exchange pictures we've taken with our own phones ... We can all share our lives and have heart-to-hearts that satisfy my need for immediate gratification in a way that snail mail never will. (Although, who doesn't like to get a card or a letter? Keep 'em coming.)
So, yes, I did the very thing that made me so wary when my teenage daughter did it: I made a friend online. Although we haven't hugged in person, taken a selfie together (yet) or broken bread, our friendship is no less sacred than if we had. Her birthday is this week and I wish I were there to help blow out the candles -- the ones she thinks are too many, although they are fewer than mine. Instead I will toast her from afar and send silly birthday emoticons.
I will use technology to wish my lovely, writer friend the very happiest birthday ... and also to offer a mea culpa to my daughter: I'm sorry. I didn't get it back then when you had that long-distance friend. Now I do.