I have an online blogger friend, Elisabeth, over at "As my world turns" who posted today about her experiences meeting face-to-face with online friends.
More often than not, Elisabeth's posts stimulate my brain's thinking process and today was no different, with the exception that this post prompted me to respond with a post of my own rather than comment on her blog.
I've, as yet, not met face-to-face with any of my online friends. If an opportunity to do so presents itself, I will make the effort to meet them.
Online, we can present any face we choose. We may develop a sort of virtual person that is no true reflection of who we are in real life. In fact if a friend from our "real" life were to read one of these fabricated personnas, they might say "I don't know this person, it's not the so and so that I know". On the other hand we might only display a part of our real selves to the online community, while hiding those things we find embarrassing or at least uncomplimentary. If that is the case and you do meet one of these folks face to face, it can be expected that we will see someone different than we anticipated. Does that make our online friendships less real? And, really do we do anything less in our "real-life" relationships?
I've worked in my current place of employment since 1969, with a 5 year hiatus to go to nurse anesthesia school and pay the Army back for footing that bill. About ten years ago a nurse who worked the wards and had been there as long as I'd been in the OR applied for and was given a job in our ambulatory unit. One day she heard me joking around with a group of co-workers. Later she mentioned to them that she was surprised at how talkative and social I was. She said that she had always thought of me as a quiet, reserved, timid sort of fellow. Everyone, I mean the entire group of my co-workers looked at her and said en mass, you certainly don't know rel at all!!! Yet we had been acquaintances for 20 years prior to her coming to the OR. So, I ask you, for this woman, which rel was I?
We , each of us, are an amalgamation of different personnas. We are different with our boss than with our bosom buddies, We are different with our lovers than with our friends. We treat strangers differently than our close acquaintances. And yet we can also be friends with each one. How is that, and what does it have to do with Elisabeth's post?
It all has to do with expectations.
A year or so ago I borrowed a book from a friend which was about an interview with the Dalai Lama. In this book the Dalai lama discussed expectations as being the root of most people's disappointment in life.
After reading this passage I came away with this caveat, if we suppress or set aside our expectations we'll be happier.
Those of you who have read my blog for awhile might recall a trip my wife and I took this past November to Arizona. It was a business trip as I was attending an anesthesia conference. The first evening we attended a "get acquainted" dinner. We arbitrarily chose to sit with another couple who were sitting alone at a table for four. We had never met before, and the only commonality was that at least two of us were nurse anesthetists. As the evening progressed we discovered that we shared many more interests than anesthesia. There was a significant disparity of some thirty years in our ages, yet we "hit-it off" immediately and over the course of the week spent most of our time together. While Scott and I were in meetings, my wife and Michelle shopped and saw the sights. Every evening but one we went out to dinner together. In short, over a period of a few days we developed a keen friendship.
Over Christmas we exchanged Christmas cards and an e-mail. We've not communicated since. I still think of them as friends and I would not give up the time we spent together even if I could have fore-told that we probably would not sustain that friendship over the long term.
When I was in Anesthesia school We made friends with a couple and we became best of friends. Guy and I graduated as co-valedictorians of our class. We partied together often and cooked holiday dinners together. We were inseparable. After graduation he took a job in a city two hours from my home, I on the other hand had to repay my debt to the U.S. army for footing the bill for my education. My friend Guy and I corresponded regularly. When I was to leave for an overseas assignment to Korea, D. and I stopped and spent a few days with Guy and Gail and in fact I went to the hospital with him one day to show his employers my skill at anesthesia as a prelude to my applying there for a job upon completion of my military obligation. We've not seen each other since. That was in 1972. Guy and Gail are divorced and Guy is retired. Two years ago we started corresponding again but only sporadically and usually around holiday time. I think he reads this blog from time to time. If I could have known that this would have been the outcome of befriending this fellow, would I have refrained from making friends with him. No! I value the time we spent together and still recall fondly many of the good times we spent together.
Online friendships are online friendships. If perchance you meet face-to-face and a friendship develops; hip hip hooray. If not, does it make what you had online any less? Online friends are worth something. It's like finding a gold coin or a rare relic. It's a real relationship where you share ideas and like thoughts and even differ from time to time. By and large it's a friendly caring support network of kindred spirits. Unless the blogsphere is controlled by a wizard of OZ, these are real people with real lives that I'm corresponding with and I consider them real bonafide friendships.
I've made 10's of thousands of friendly acquaintances over the course of my 61 years. I look back at many with fond appreciation of the time we shared. I don't rue the fact that they ended.
Do I regret not marrying all the girlfriends I've had in my life? No way. Do I remember them fondly? You bet I do....But my wife of forty years was the best choice then and now. Are we a good match? Most of the time. Other times we're like fire and water. What's important is that most of the time we complement each other. We shine in our differences.
Of all the many people I met, I liked and like most of them. A few, I've allowed to get under my skin and fester like a tick, but I'm working on forgiving them for being such assholes.
My hooch-mate from Viet Nam, Pappy, calls me every year on or about the 10th of November (the Marine Corps Birthday.) We were friends of circumstance. We shared a war and espirit de corps.
A few years ago, he came from Colorado to spend a few hours with me. We had a couple of beer, and ate dinner...his treat. We talked about where our lives had gone since Nam. He asked me, "Goofy, I thought you were going to become a doctor?" I said, "Pappy, things change!" We parted with a hug and a smile, a smile between two men who shared a life altering experience. Who were the best of friends for a few months over forty years ago. "Take care Pappy." Take care Goofy." He called last November, while I was in Arizona making new friends, and left a message on the machine.......! No expectations, just living each day, one delightful moment at a time.
rel (goofy) and Sonny (Pappy)
Online friendships are a gift. A gem is a gem. If you don't hit it off face-to-face, the friendship that led you to seek out the meeting is still a gem.