My foray into the world of online friendships began with an intense need to have someone to relate to on a newfound love. Back in high school, I became a huge fan of a J-pop boy band called Arashi. Although I had a close group of friends who were also into the same genre, each of us had our hearts set on different bands, or different “fandoms,” if you will, so it wasn’t enough. I needed someone to geek out with me as I religiously followed the band members’ shows and went over the miniscule details of their lives. And so, by the recommendation of my Hey! Say! JUMP-loving friend (that’s another J-pop boy band), I went on LiveJournal and there, I found my happy place.
I had a humble blog in the corner of the Internet, and with it I joined communities spanning topics from my favorite Japanese idols to Harry Potter fanfiction, from design resources to music. As someone who hailed from a school with a small population — and with an even smaller population of people who I can fangirl with on my various interests — I found LiveJournal amazing.
I came to meet people who liked the same things I did, with the same level of intensity I had. It was special because we all converged in a place where it wasn’t weird or nerdy to love certain things obsessively, where we would never be judged, unlike what we would normally encounter with people in real life who didn’t understand the things we fussed over. The Internet gave us friendships that stemmed from unadulterated absorption in our common interests.
This is usually where Internet friendships start: in forums, blogging communities, social networking sites, and online games. These are where people from different walks of life unashamedly bond over bands, television shows, or books that they’ve grown to love. It starts with interest over a carefully crafted profile that lists one’s interests and quirks. Then either a brave comment on an Instagram photo, a quick shout-out to the person’s inbox, or the enthusiastic liking of posts comes next. After introductions have been made and similarities in tastes have been established, reblogging each other’s posts and chatting every day becomes part of the routine.
It’s the best kind of friendship; you guys never run out of things to gush about because you both love the same poet and dream of flying to Denmark for its music scene. Sometimes, the friendship even goes beyond the interests you’ve enumerated on your profile, and transcends to something more personal. Before you know it, you start talking about your families and problems in work or school. Sleepless nights from the difference in time zones or your parents who tirelessly warn you against pedophiles on the Internet suddenly don’t matter because the relationship is as real as, well, the ones you have with your real-life friends.
The lines are blurred, anyway, between virtual friends and real-life friends. If geography permits, people who meet over the Internet make it a point to see each other at launches, meet-ups or gigs. Those separated by continents can also argue that their friendships are as meaningful, or even more, than the ones they have with people in their vicinity. The point is that whether it’s in a university lecture hall or a chat room, the origin of the friendship doesn’t affect at all its authenticity. It’s what you build with these people from your passions and through whatever medium that’s more important.
In this age of no borders, we can connect with people from all over the world and create a virtual space to share with each other the things we find fascinating. It’s a great time to be alive. Go against that hesitation, reach out and make friends with people you stumble upon online. Click that follow button or send that email. Who knows? It may be the start of a great and very real friendship, despite the miles and megabytes between you.