Can You Have an Internet Friend?

If you’ve been following the blog for a while you know friendship is extremely important to me.  I’m not someone who has had luck with romantic relationships in my life and so most of my experience with love has been through my friends. (Why do I still feel embarrassed to admit that? It’s just the way life has worked out…Silly).  Anyway, I have been thinking about friendship lately and what qualifies as a friend. If you were to ask a child they would probably say “a friend is someone you play with”.

Unfortunately as an adult it gets a little bit murky.  A large majority of my friends have moved away from me and so I don’t get to see them as much as I would like.  Even the one’s that are close it can be frustratingly difficult to get together with schedules, kids and everything else.  Thankfully we have social media to help us keep in touch and still feel a part of each other’s life.  It’s so much more difficult to make new physical friends these days because I don’t come in contact with that many new people like I used too. This makes me even more grateful for social media and it helping me keep the friends I already have who are far away.

But what about online friendships?  Are the people we meet while blogging. vlogging and other online communities ‘friends’?  Here are two examples of videos I have done with youtubers who both refer to me as their friend.

I’ve never met either of these individuals and yet I do feel a kinship to them.  I feel like we are friends.  Am I deluded? No, I don’t think so.

Aristotle said there are three types of friend. They are friendships of utility, pleasure and virtue.  Each one has its place and is important in its own way.

A friendship of utility is a useful friendship.  It is a friendship that can be easily dissolved and done away with when a more useful version comes into place.  For example, I took voice lessons for many years and was sincerely friends with my teacher.  I still love her but now I’m not taking lessons we don’t see each other or interact really in any way (she’s not huge on social media).  So no hard feelings but the friendship went dormant because it was more of utility.

I’ve known people who see all their friends like this.  I had a roommate in college who’s view was ‘I’ll see you in the next life’.  She made no attempt to keep in contact with people or keep up relationships feeling they were all in the end friendships of utility.

This makes me sad because you never know what you might be able to do for another person and having such a cynical view of something as special as friendship doesn’t feel right to me.  These aren’t dolls you dispose of but real people.  I know that friendships of utility exist but I don’t go into anything expecting that to happen.  I would love for all my friends to be more than friendships of utility.

But then there are friendships of pleasure.  These types of friendships are built around love or passion for similar things.  For example, my open water swim friends are connected to me because of our love of open water swimming.  In fact, I would put most of my friendships, including my online friends in this category.  My friends who I shared videos above are my friends because we have gotten to know each other over our shared love of movies.  What’s wrong with that?  I have friends I’ve gotten to know because we love Survivor, or are Mormon or any number of common interests that bond us together.  I treasure these friends.  I’ve had the chance to meet many of these friends over the years.

friends friends6 friends5 friends4 friends3Aristotle says these friends are fleeting and start and stop without much pain.  That may be true but what a great ride we’ve had along the way.  I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything.   Plus, even if interactions are brief (even if it is just doing a collab video with someone) I learn something from each person I meet and interact with.  I become better.  They teach me how to be a better person or see the world in a new way.  Both the people in the videos above don’t even live in the US and yet we have a bond and friendship, which I am grateful for.

I prefer to think of life in moments than end results.  Yes a person may not be in my life forever but for that moment we shared an experience and isn’t that what life is all about? Moments of emotion shared with other people?

The third type of friendship for Aristotle is a friendship of virtue.  This is that rare friend which supersedes friendships of pleasure or utility.  This is that bond which is practically sacred it is so special.  I think we are all lucky if we have one or maybe two such friends in this life.

The best description I’ve ever heard of a friend of virtue is from The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (or Linda Brendt):

“Friend! It is a common word, often lightly used.  Like other good and beautiful things, it may be tarnished by careless handling; but when I speak of Mrs Bruce as my friend, the word is sacred”.

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I have such a friend and it is a sacred, special thing.  I also thought I had such a friend and it turned out to be more a friend of pleasure, which was extremely painful.   I think many are lucky enough to marry their friends of virtue.  I hope to be so lucky someday!

That said, if we don’t embrace all the people who come into our lives because they aren’t the rare friend of virtue I think we are making a great mistake.  Human beings are for the most part wonderful souls trying to live good lives.  If we can have a moment of their time and learn something from them than I think it behooves us to do just that.

So yes, my internet friends are actually my friends.  It may not be the friend of virtue but it doesn’t mean they don’t give me much joy and happiness.  Life is too short to not embrace the people in your life however they may enter it.  Thanks to all of you readers who I consider my friends.  I really do.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

9 thoughts on “Can You Have an Internet Friend?

  1. This is a really lovely post. I haven’t encountered this Aristotle perspective on friends before, but it’s a good one. I’m glad you feel the way you do about your internet friends!

    1. Thanks. Isn’t it amazing that truth is truth whether it is Ancient Greece or 2015? You can find the treatise on friendship in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics VIII
      Thanks for being one of my friends!

      1. And thank you for being one of mine! I admit I’ve read little in the way of philosophy. Out of curiosity, do you read Aristotle’s work for pleasure or was it part of a course of some kind?

        1. Hey sorry for not getting back sooner. I specialized in political philosophy in college and was a teaching assistant for ancient political thought so a lot of my knowledge comes from those years. But I do like to read philosophy although I dont do as much as I should.

  2. This is extraordinarily poignant stuff! I’ve only been blogging for a little over two years, and in that time, I comment/like/follow blogs, primarily because I want people to comment/life/follow my own blog. (Though I only do so if I sincerely enjoy said person’s blog.) However, I feel like I have made some real connections here, even if they are with people I know DAMN well I will never actually meet in physical form. And that is fine. In fact it is almost better, because it means there really is something that connects me with that person. Something that goes beyond the sort of friendships we make with the people we are actually in close physical proximity with. (I don’t know if that actually makes any kind of sense, but I feel like it does.) 🙂

    1. You make such a good point about internet friends being a friend by choice not by necessity as is some times the case in our regular life. It can be quite life affirming in fact because sometimes I feel like such a weirdo and then I go online and find out there are lots of weirdos out there. 😉

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