Are online friends real friends? Can online friendships be as good for you or as real as physically interactive friendships?

I’m a bit of a misanthrope and I have no “real” friends. I don’t like people, they wind me up. Unless they’re exactly in tune with me, in sync with what I’m doing, and essentially wanting to march to my tune, I get incredibly frustrated. You might just call me a dick, but I call myself a misanthrope. My top three annoyances are:
Indecision: You’re out with friends and one of you asks “What shall we have for dinner?” “I’m easy” reverberates throughout the group, then you say “I’m up for a pizza.” “Oh, I don’t fancy pizza.” comes the reply. But you’ve just said you’re bloody easy! If you want something or don’t want something bloody well say so. This is just one example. Where shall we go next? How shall we split the bill? What shall I wear? Are all infuriating alternatives.
Lack of an opinion. “I don’t know, I’m not bothered” is quite simply the most annoying reply to a question I ask. Have a bloody opinion. Think for yourself and say something. You must have at least the teeniest opinion on it, even if it’s just based on the small sliver of information I’ve just provided. I’m almost certainly going to disagree with you, but at least I’ll respect you for having one.
Rudeness. If we’re in public and you’re swearing around children, being ignorant of the people around you, being overly loud or harassing other people, I’ll walk away right there and then. Civility isn’t uncool or unmanly; being a gentleman is a lost art and I will respect you for upholding it. Being polite and respectful doesn’t impact on your right to be a feminist, it isn’t playing into some patriarchal stereotype of how women should behave, it’s just how people should be, so don’t start dropping the C bomb loudly just because you can.

Anyway, I’ve digressed horrifically. As you could imagine, I don’t have many “real life” friends. Because I’m so particular in who I want to spend my time with, and because I’m rarely around for long enough to nurture the friendship, I simply don’t bother. But online, I have almost 100 people that I regularly interact with, care how their day’s been, and generally spend more time talking to than my wife. But is it real? Are online friends real friends? I know that they can lead to real friendships once you’ve met up, or got together; but if you never do, does an online relationship constitute a friendship? I read a great post by Tim at Slouching Towards Thatcham that asks the question, “Who needs real friends when you have online ones?

Are online friends real friends? Can online friendships be as good for you or as real as physically interactive friendships?

Do you need to be physically present with your friends to get the most out of friendships?

Despite a swathe of psychological studies saying that online friendships are not as good as real life friendships because of the lack of physical interaction, this article by Mary Stringer offers 21 reasons why online friends are actually better than “real” friends.

When I had it, I had 60 something ‘friends’ on Facebook who I talked to regularly, but that’s it. I saw that some people, who I was friends with, had over 500 friends. Really? 500 people that you can genuinely classify as friends? Or simply acquaintances that you maintain links to in order to spy on their life’s progress? On Twitter I used to follow over 2000 people, but only had around 60 people in my various lists. These 60 were people who I chat with, had banter with, and quite often sympathised with and offered mutual support in times of need. That’s a friend right?

So why so much ridicule over having online friends? Why are they seen as faux friends? Maybe because it’s the fickle nature with which some of them can treat you. I’ve seen friend after friend drop people on a whim. Despite being “friends” for over two years, I’ve had people unfollow me and never speak to me again over a single tweet. That’s not friendship, yet they are people who I’ve felt comfortable enough with to share some pretty personal thoughts and feelings. On Facebook you regularly hear about the ‘friends cull’ and “if you see this message you’ve survived” messages. How cold and callous does this seem, yet I understand the need for it. If you’re not interacting, you’re not friends, so why be friends with each other?

I’m a naturally cynical person, I’ll always see the negative in something – under the pretence of playing Devil’s Advocate – but even I’ve started to question the motivations of people that I consider friends on social media. The speed in which people have turned on me and others; the viciousness and spitefulness which they then spread behind the former friend’s back is simply astonishing. So how do you tell the difference between a real friend and sham friend? I guess you can’t, and it tends to force me further into my shell and with a desire to avoid public interaction completely.

Of course the obvious response is to get a thicker skin and realise that there are some really mean – not just grumpy – people out there, unfollow, block, and move on. But when it seems so personal, and such a sleight, how can you so simply let it go? The last time this happened I moped and was a nightmare to be around for the whole day, so why do I let it get to me so much. Maybe this is why I’m a misanthrope, it’s a defence mechanism. If I don’t make friends then no-one can do it to me. If I isolate myself then I can be my own great company. I don’t know. All I do know, is that I’m deeply envious of those people with ‘boys’ to hang around with (like minded adult male friends, not young children), those people who have a ready supply of friends to call upon for a night out, or a night in. As much as I love all of you, my followers, I wish we could be more local and available to meet, maybe then the friendships will seem more real.

The alternative is, of course, to join in. Be that person who drops on a whim. I recently unfollowed someone who had changed from being a nice chatty guy most of the time, to someone who regularly courted controversy just to spike engagement and increase follower numbers. It’s a seemingly growing pattern. Tired of seeing it daily on my feed, I decided to unfollow. It did not go well at all. A flurry of vitriol followed by a block, immediately followed by a string of mutual contacts unfollowing me, I got to see the other side of the coin. We shared a significant number of mutual “friends” who I’d grown quite close to, but knowing that they were much friendlier with him, I saved future awkwardness by unfollowing them too. A preemptive strike perhaps before they inevitably jumped ship.

I’ve now seen all sides to this, and I’ve decided that it’s so much easier to view online friends as merely acquaintances; I need human interaction, and without it, I’m not completely invested.

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