Virtual friends or imaginary friends

What makes a relationship real?

Online relationships are commonplace, but not everyone validates them. Your relationship is as real as you make it, online or in person. 

Meeting someone online is getting nearly as common as meeting a romantic partner in person. In fact, dating site, eHarmony says approximately 36% of Canadians date online. 

I assume most of these people eventually meet in person. But what about digital relationships that never lead to an in-person relationship? What about relationships where people take years to meet? 

Are these relationships “real”?

I’m probably one of the few people I know who’s never dated online. As a serial monogamist, I can’t remember a time in the past 15-years when I wasn’t in a relationship. So, I’m coming at this from a different perspective. 

A friendship perspective. 

I believe online relationships are real. I’m sure not all of them are real. Just like not all in-person relationships are as real as we believe them to be in the moment. But they can be real. 

Getting online

For me, the online bug caught around 14. I started sharing Harry Potter fanfics (cringe) online. This led to chatting with people on the forum I used, which led to sharing other interests online, like music and movies. 

Now, let me preface my next anecdote with a cautionary note: Visiting somebody you’ve only met online, alone and in another country, is not always a great idea. In fact, it can be dangerous. 

But I was young and wild and free, and my mom talked to her mom. So, I went.

I was 19 and I’d been talking to a girl from Charleston, South Carolina for three years. We were both fans of Rooney, The Strokes, The Donnas, and a handful of other bands most people have probably never heard of (Except The Strokes, if you haven’t heard of The Strokes, for the love of biscuits, go do so). 

I considered her one of my best friends and we decided we should meet in person. 

Taking things stateside

I stayed in Charleston for two weeks. We saw My Chemical Romance, Reggie and the Full Effect and Alkaline Trio in concert. We went to nightclubs where I wasn’t allowed to drink because I wasn’t 21, but they stamped my hand and let me in to dance. We went to Raleigh, North Carolina to visit her university friends. 

We squeezed a whole lot of friendship into 14 days. 

And it was real friendship. Secret sharing, belly laughing, tear shedding friendship. It felt no less real than any other friendship I had. 

Sadly, we’ve grown apart over the years, this friend and me. We’ve grown up and built lives separately. Does that mean the friendship was less real? Heck no.

 I’m not friends with most of the people I was friends with in high school. Honestly, I believe, if you can hang onto one or two good friends throughout life, you’re killing it.

We may not chat on the phone anymore, text to say “Get online because Mom said I’ve only got an hour,” anymore, but I think about her every time I hear Rooney’s “Blueside,” and that’s real enough for me. 

Friendship isn’t romance but it’s love

Friendship and romantic love are different in some ways, but similar in a lot of ways. Both versions of love build a connection, require trust and create an emotional response to another human being. 

I think if you’re honest with your online partner, platonic or otherwise, and they’re honest with you, there’s no reason it can’t be as real as any in-person relationship. With FaceTime and multiple other ways to video chat, we can even see our long-distance counterparts.

Personally, I don’t think I could do without some form of physical intimacy in a romantic relationship, but not everybody feels that way. So, while I’ve never had an online romance, I fully believe that online relationships can be as strong and real as in-person ones. 

Just be careful out there. 

The internet opens doors around the world, but it doesn’t always keep the bad guys from crawling through. So, just like in-person dating, be cautious, be smart and take care of your heart.

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