This picture shows my friend Luisa and me with Hertha BSC’s big friendly bear, Herthinho. It was taken by another friend of mine, Mona, before a home game a while ago. The thing we have in common, aside from being Hertha BSC fans? I met them online.
My late Dad would always tell me that it was not possible to make friends online, establish friendships via Internet, and he’d stand firmly by this falsehood even when he used email as means to contact his Chinese Qi Gong teacher (who lived in a different part of Germany) or had someone build a website for him to advertise their seminars and all. To him, when I was chatting with someone online, I wasn’t talking to “real” people, but to a machine, and thus, those weren’t also “real” friendships.
That I had proven him wrong time and again, didn’t matter.
For me, using social media to connect with likeminded people is no different from having had penpals back in the day. Someone placed an ad somewhere, you’d read it, think, “Oh, that’s a person I’d like to get to know!”, took out pen and paper and started writing. You’d get to know that person you were writing to through letters and bit by bit also become friends through words.
With the rise of the Internet and social media – as stressful and exhausting as they can become, because, let’s be real: it’s not always rainbows and cotton candy there on social media – it was also another way to connect with likeminded people out there. Be it good ole message boards of bands, athletes or whatever else was out there, or chatting on messengers – there was a “real” person behind that screen and the keyboard you were talking to. You just didn’t use oldfashioned pen and paper (although there seems to be some kind of renaissance of penpalling) anymore, but electronics. Another advantage? You didn’t have to wait for some time for a reply from your pal, but got an answer immediately.
Also, not only were social media outlets a way to meet new people, but also to stay in touch with folks you’ve been friends with in real life, colleagues, fellow students, class mates et al.
Now, fast forward several years later …
Fandoms came and went, Yours Truly continued being active on social media, blogs and what-have-you. As an introvert, social media has also helped me to reach out to likeminded people. People who understand my at times sick sense of humor, who are willing to put up with me when I loathe myself more than anything else in the world, who are …friends. And I gotta say, some of those friendships have lasted for YEARS, and while some of those friends I connected with via social media may live half a world away from me – not just here in Germany, but also in Czechia, Australia, Canada and the US, just to name a few – they have become really close to me. And not just that – they are Real Life Friends as well. I may not talk to them face-to-face daily, weekly, or monthly, due to the distance, but that DOESN’T mean we aren’t friends in real life!
I also found it extremely helpful to know at least a couple of people in Berlin already before I moved here, and have since met others along the way so that I have some kind of “Support System” here as well. And yes, I met those online, either through mutual friends or reached out to them myself. They’re just one click away – reply to a post somewhere or to a Tweet. You start talking and bit by bit get to know that other person, you simply …click. At some point, you decide let’s meet up and there ya go.
And while I still haven’t met some others, simply because they live so far away, I consider them my friends. People who are there for me when I need someone to talk to, and who accept me the way I am, all my baggage (read: Mental Health) included. People who share my interests, but who may not always agree (because that’s what makes it interesting, right?) on other things. People you are willing to share your secrets with, crack jokes with, talk about serious stuff, too. And all that just because at some point in time, you decided to click on their social media – just like you decided to write that person who placed an ad looking for a penpal somewhere back in the day. The intention behind these actions is the same – “I’d like to get to know that person!” Just the means and ways have changed.
I have also learned that sometimes, those people who live furthest away are much closer than the ones next door, figuratively spoken.