Virtually inseparable: Embracing a new age of friendship

This past October, I met my best friend.

Yes, you read that correctly – read it several more times if you must. No, we did not become best friends after we met, we were best friends already. How, you ask? Technology is a wonderful thing. It has the power to connect two very similar people – so alike that it’s scary, actually – who are separated by 1,337 miles and would never know each other otherwise. Call it weird, question why I can’t make a best friend in my own city (let alone my own state), offer to sign us up for the TV show Catfish – I’ve heard it all before.

For those who are still skeptical of our friendship, Trish Westfall and I had our official “Catfish” moment on October 31, 2013. You know what I’m talking about – that moment when the two people who have connected over technology for so long finally meet in person. The best friend I had met on Twitter stepped out of her family’s rental car at the hotel, and suddenly the cyber friendship we had shared for an entire year prior to that day materialized. Trish didn’t turn out to be some creepy old guy who tried to kidnap me (boring, right?), and she truly was not any different in person than she ever had been over technology. It was an instant connection, and while we initially thought it would be the most surreal thing ever to finally be with each other, it actually wasn’t. It felt completely and totally normal, like it was just any other weekend spent with our best friend.

The unfortunate thing is that most people would never make an attempt at a friendship like ours because it is so unusual and, therefore, socially undesirable. Meeting people via the Internet, i.e on dating sites, Twitter, Facebook, or any other form of social media, is typically looked at in a different light than physically meeting someone before forming a friendship or relationship with them. But, have you ever stopped to think about why that is? Probably not, because there is no logical answer. In a world where technology is constantly advancing, we virtually always have access to people who are in the next county, state, country, or even on the other side of the ocean. Technology and social media have ushered in the new age of pen pals – so why not take advantage of it?

Of course, one must be cautious on the Internet; there are plenty of people out there who pose as someone else or use it for perverted purposes – I’m not denying that. It’s a well-known fact, and children are warned to be weary about connecting with people on the Internet from the youngest age that they can begin understanding how to use it. But we have so much available to us to help avoid the Internet “predators” we are warned of: the use of FaceTime or Skype platforms, and even apps like Snapchat, to ensure that we are indeed speaking to the person we think we are.

Once we’ve verified someone’s identity, there is also the issue of their personality being completely different behind a computer or a phone screen than it is in person. The once outgoing friend can become shy or awkward, or simply not as magnificent as they seemed to be through the virtual wavelengths; that’s a completely plausible situation and could very well happen. However, with video communication available, the possibility of that occurring can be greatly reduced.

In all honesty, never did I imagine that I’d be an advocate for utilizing technology to form a strong connection with someone, and I certainly didn’t think I’d be doing so as a result of personal experience. But if the person you are destined to have a close friendship – or any type of relationship – with lives miles and miles away, technology is a saving grace until that situation changes. Always use your judgement, but don’t completely rule out the potential of establishing a deep bond through the computer or the phone, through MMS or Skype, or through any type of technology. Some people are meant to meet, whether their initial meeting be physical or not; the friendship that Trish and I have is living proof of that, and it’s proof that a true, healthy friendship can be maintained even when the two people have yet to meet.

I’m not telling you that you should go meet your lifelong best friend on Twitter – not all of us need to do so. All I’m saying is, don’t judge a friendship by how it was formed, don’t judge the person in the friendship for forming it in that way, and don’t completely rule out the possibility of it happening to you.

Yes, I met my best friend via the Internet. Yes, she lives 22 hours away from me, and I’ve only been able to spend four days physically in her presence thus far in my life. Yes, it’s difficult to sustain a devoted friendship with so much distance in between us. No, it’s not a normal friendship, in any way.

But no, I do not regret making this friendship. Not one bit.