When Facebook Friends Become Real Life Friends

With friends who live very far away, online friendship is still real friendship. I wish this kind of friendship were not stigmatized by people who don't understand it or simply don't need it. But here's to the friends I've met online and come to love...
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I am happily married today because of my computer. Well, partly! The cyberworld brought me the husband that I could never have found in any other way. I should write Match.com into my will.

When I think about why online dating succeeded while being set up by my friends failed, it's because I knew myself and what I wanted in a man the second time around better than my friends did, and I'm not sure I could have articulated my wishes even if I'd wanted to, which I didn't. What was important to me at that time in my life was so different than what was important to those friends or what they assumed would naturally still be important to me.

Many friends I'd had for over a decade slowly faded out of my life after I got divorced. Those friendships had previously revolved around being hip young couples going to parties and out to eat, and spending time together as intact families while the children played. I was happy enough. But looking back, I realize that very few of my friendships were about who we were as women. As soon as I found myself in a different place than my girlfriends -- muddling through as a single mom to a teenage daughter in an affluent suburb of Boston -- they assumed I wanted a pathway back into the world we'd once shared. But I didn't.

There's nothing like divorce to show you who your real friends are. If you've been divorced, I bet you know what I'm talking about. I'm grateful for the friends who stuck by me. I'm equally grateful for the new friends I made in my 40s whose children were not the peers of my child and whose small talk was not about the local schools or town politics. My computer brought me girlfriends like I've never really had, if I'm being honest. And please don't feel sorry for me upon that admission, or wonder what is wrong with me that I have yet to become fast friends with women who by sheer chance live in the new town where I've started a new life with my new husband. Maybe one day this will happen -- and I hope so! -- but their geographical location is not an automatic proxy for it, and I'm one of those introverts who just needs a few deep friendships based upon more than convenience. You can meet BFF material or queen bee nightmares online or on your own street, and either way you have to figure them out.

I suppose I could join a gym or yoga studio or church or community organization to meet people, as many people do to meet romantic partners as well. There is logic to joining groups that draw people with shared interests. I'll get there. I'm just saying that meeting people online works too, and is just as valid.

Opinions about Facebook are so polarized. There are the people who scorn it as a waste of time, a vacuous stage for the parading of people's falsely presented perfect lives of beach selfies and tony restaurant meals, or a political soapbox for people to barrage their online friends with rants and blog posts and Change.org petitions. Then there are the people who laud it as the ultimate social and professional networking tool, the virtual portfolio for their writing or art, or simply a place for much-needed self-expression and connection with other likeminded folk across the miles.

I think it's all of these things at times, but for me -- a self-employed consultant and author who has gained a lot professionally and financially from my use of Facebook and blogging -- social media is also like Match.com for friendship. I'll be the first to admit that I'm picky about who I get close to. At my age, it simply can't be about the children anymore, and it also can't be about the serendipity of who lives nearby. For goodness sake, someone on my street stole the Obama sign out of my yard two years ago! I can have casual friendships with folks of different political persuasions, but I can't have substantive friendships with people who, for example, do not support a woman's right to choose or a gay couple's right to get married. Go ahead and criticize me--I really don't care. That's the awesome thing about turning the corner on 50. Zero effs given!

My computer has brought me friends who are a perfect match, as it brought me the same in a spouse. Social media is an intriguing canvas. Because people control what they present to the virtual world, it is of course never a complete picture, but it's a starting point, just like Match.com profiles. Maybe you go out with someone whose profile interested you and come to find out that your date is not as good a match as you'd predicted, and so you hit a dead end and move on. Friendships are the same, whether online or off.

But here's the best part, and the part I hope will be heard and understood. Friendships that start online can evolve offline, the same as with dating. In the days before the Internet, my brother met his future wife only briefly while traveling in New Zealand, and they fell in love through letters in the mail, getting married years later. There are so many ways we have as human beings to make connections with others. I've made friends on Facebook who started out as professional colleagues or fellow author-activists or political news junkies, and who later became truly remarkable real-life friends with whom I share much in common. We talk regularly on the phone or via Skype, and I see them in person as much as I can, depending on where they live. The friends I've made this way have helped me become more passionately engaged in feminism and politics because those things brought us together in the first place, and they spill into real life when we gather at rallies and conferences. I've found my voice as a writer and use it more often and more powerfully than was the case before making friends with others who do the same. We share a sense of purpose, and a belief that a happy life and a meaningful life are not mutually exclusive, but rather that the latter can be a sublime pathway to the former.

With friends who live very far away, online friendship is still real friendship. I wish this kind of friendship were not stigmatized by people who don't understand it or simply don't need it. If you think I'm ashamed or attempting to assuage self-loathing by admitting I have friends on the Internet, you are wrong amigo!

So here's to the friends I've met online and come to love... those I do or do not see offline. You know who you are. Now I can't wait to upload this blog post to Huffington and share it on social media. Maybe I'll even fix a cocktail from a recipe one of my friends has posted on Facebook while I watch the comments roll in about how awesome or pathetic I am for writing this. Cheers!

Lori Day is an educational psychologist, consultant and parenting coach with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport, MA. She is the author of the new book Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More. You can connect with Lori on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.