I honestly don’t think what I’m about to say is all that revelatory. It might’ve been two decades ago. In this day and digital age? Unlikely.
This also isn’t strictly writing related, but better to write about something that’s been on your mind than try to force out a generic blog post for the sake of marketability. Here goes.
I’ve lived a lot of different places in my life. I’ve met a lot of people. Almost universally, the ones I’ve kept in touch with longest and to whom I feel closest have been those I first met online.
Wherein AJ admits he’s sometimes awkward when it comes to the social
I grew up shy as a child, painfully so. I was someone who would chatter people’s ears off about one particular special interest, not realizing no one else was quite so similarly riveted. (Hello, autism spectrum.) My family also moved around a lot when I was younger; by the time these relocations reached the double digits, I’d lost much hope of ever making lasting friendships.
Although I felt isolated and awkward in school social settings, I soon discovered there were spaces for people like me online in the late 90s. These virtual meet-ups gave me the chance to meet people on my own terms; they let me think through my replies before having to commit to them publicly. I never felt put on the spot, no one forced me into eye contact that rendered me near-speechless. Better still, I could tailor my interactions to people who shared many of my same interests.
I’ve been friends with some individuals I first met online for well over a decade. Some I’ve even met in person. They live everywhere, from Los Angeles to London. Sometimes we go for weeks or months without touching base. But when I seem to need them the most, they’re there, on the phone offering support, inviting me to come down for a weekend and celebrate Passover, or for virtually any other reason.
Online friendships: justification and a timeline
I realize not all people you meet online are going to be awesome, or even trustworthy. Why I’m mentioning this at all on my blog is just that I’ve found I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to start this site, or to work toward publication, without the support and encouragement I’ve received from friends online.
These friends are also probably the reason I’ve been increasingly able to socialize with new people I meet offline over the past few years. They gave me support but also space when I needed it, let me grow into my own during a time when I felt most vulnerable. They taught me that it’s okay to be a little (or a lot) quirky, and through my interactions with them I learned to express myself more or less coherently in writing (dare I say, sometimes eloquently).
When I was 14, I copied the grammar of people older than me on internet message boards (thankfully, they were a well-spoken, grammar-savvy bunch). When I was 24, I wrote my first full-length novel that involved collaboration between people I’d never met in person before. When I was 28, I flew to Florida to meet an online friend as part of an effort to move past an emotionally difficult relationship breakup. Not long after, I trekked out to Texas to see another one of these long-time e-friends walk down the aisle and take her wedding vows.
A little less than a year later, I received an online message from a guy who eventually became my boyfriend. We met in person soon after that first ping, but initially spent almost a month getting to know each other digitally. I suspect this delay in face-to-face meeting boosted my comfort considerably.
And just a week ago, I completed the Middle Grade Mastery class through the Children’s Book Academy, an online course that has helped me understand how to construct middle grade fiction. I’m now friends with about fifty other course students who are all wonderfully supportive and have a full chapter-by-chapter summary outline to show for my effort.
I don’t venture into new online spaces as much as I did when I was younger. Maybe that’s because I’m too busy various adult responsibilities. Or maybe it’s something more. Maybe all those years of hiding behind a PC screen were my own form of preparation for how to live a successful life both on and offline.
Now, wouldn’t that be something.
Photo credit: iAmMrRob [CC0 license], via Pixabay