Online Friendship and Loss

Over the years I have often heard people opine that online relationships aren’t real. They are shallow and superficial and somehow inferior to those relationships forged face to face. I don’t believe that.

Over the years as technology has evolved from email to chat rooms and message boards to the explosion of social media sites, I have made some friends online. Sure, most of them were of the superficial variety but then, so are the majority of my “real life” friends.

I’m not at all convinced that physical presence is necessary for a friendship to be real. Who determines what is real anyway?

I first met Becky years ago at a little website called the Darwin Awards, in the forums in fact, the Darwin Awards Forums, affectionately referred to as DAF by those of us who frequented it (DAFers). I came in what was referred to for years as the “Aggie Invasion”.  Texas A&M, my alma mater, had a tragic accident when a structure that was being built as a bonfire collapsed killing 12 students. Someone nominated those students for a Darwin Award. When this news got around to the Aggies, they came in floods and droves to vote it down and to voice their opposition. Most came, said their piece, and left. I came, looked around, and made myself at home.

I found in Becky, who went by the screen name Kiko Vi, a kindred spirit. I made a lot of friends at DAF and even met some of them in person, driving to San Antonio and spending the weekend with one. Hanging out at a Rangers games with another when he came to Texas for a visit. I never had the chance to meet Becky face to face but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t my friend.

Eventually I wandered away from DAF as real life intervened, a divorce, a cross state move, another marriage and a few kids later we reconnected thanks to Facebook. Over the years she was one of my closest allies in political battles and a source of endless advice about kids and dogs. She was thoughtful and never missed a chance to be helpful. One day I posted about my kids wanting me to kill a spider we found in the house and Becky sends them a copy of a children’s book called “Be Nice to Spiders”. Another time I posted about frustrations with my dogs only to find a copy of Caesar Milan’s book in my mailbox.

No matter what anyone says, we were friends. I would find myself thinking of her when I posted, already anticipating her response before I even hit “share”.  I knew that she had one son, his name, where he lived, what he did for a living. I knew how many dogs she had and what kind they were and their names. She knew the similar details of my life.

Certainly she had family and friends that populated her real life world that were closer to her and I’m in no way trying to compare myself to them or in any way elevate my importance in her life. Yes, we were online friends and I understand that does not convey the same sense of closeness as a real life friendship does. But it is something, those bonds of friendship do exist. I’ve known plenty of people who grow close to traditional pen pals through the sharing of their lives, thoughts and ideas so obviously distance does not preclude friendship.

I came home yesterday to learn that Becky had passed away. The shock that I felt was real.  The disbelief, the initial desire to think it must be some kind of prank or mistake. The gradual realization that it was true followed by a real sense of loss. Becky was one of the nicest and funniest people I know . We may have been only online friends but the hole she left in my heart is very real.

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