I’ll never forget the summer of 2012. It was the summer I quit my job and moved from Philly to New York. It was the summer I spent days writing and drinking at the beach, and nights writing and drinking beneath the moon. And it was the summer I learned I would have to turn my office into a bedroom. Into a baby room. Because it was in 2012 I learned I was pregnant.
The following year, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
But shortly after my daughter was born — as the weather cooled and I piled blankets atop my perpetually bare breasts — I found myself suffocating not from the heat but from the weight of my newfound role. From the weight of motherhood itself. And before long I was overcome by angst and sadness. I felt trapped, and the very blankets which were meant to keep me warm began smothering me.
I was paralyzed by the loneliness and isolation that came from living in a four floor walk-up with a newborn babe.
So like any sound, sleep-deprived mom, I turned to Netflix and text messaging for companionship. I found sanity and solace on mommy message boards and in raw and honest parenting articles; confessional-style pieces that spoke to me in a new way. And while I love all of my childless girlfriends dearly — many of whom I have known for a dozen (or more) years — I found something special online. I found something special in the Facebook groups I became a part of. And before long, my “mommy friends,” “writer friends,” and “online friends” became something more.
Before long, my “online friends” were my “real friends.”
Don’t get me wrong, I know how absurd that sounds. I mean, I know that emailing, texting, and — well — Facebooking isn’t the same as a face-to-face interaction. I know many probably believe online friends are a pathetic replacement for “real life” ones. And I know many online friendships don’t work because they are long-distance and topical — at best — or are rooted in things like “likes” and “loves” and two word comments.
But my online friendships aren’t like that.
Some are, of course, but my online friends, the ones I consider my cross-country companions and international pen pals, are more (so much more) than cover photos and avatars. We turn to each other for advice and support. We share our marital struggles, our parenting struggles, our health battles, and the many “complications” life throws our way. We share our personal triumphs, and celebrate one another’s successes. We lift each other up, we cheer each other on, and we laugh together.
We smile and dance across our computer screens.
Because even though many of us come from different walks of life — we have different religious beliefs, political beliefs, countries of origin, economic standings, and social standings — my online friends are all at the same point in their lives as I am in mine: We are all parents (many of us young parents), we are all struggling to figure this mommyhood thing out, and we are all writers. We share similar stories and struggles, we value candor and brutal honesty, and even when we do not agree, we share something called respect — a value which is the root of all real friendships, in person and online.
Make no mistake: Some of us have met “in real life.” We’ve partied together, dried each other’s tears, and danced with one another in person. But most of my friends aren’t people I’ve met, and only know, online. Still, I trust them wholly and completely. With them, I feel safe. And with them, I feel heard and understood.
No matter what I say or share, I am not judged.
And I know the Internet has a bad reputation — many believe social media is pulling us apart and that our on-demand society has caused us to become anxious and disenchanted with what real life and love is all about — but the Internet can also be an amazing thing.
Social media can help people connect in a meaningful and supportive way.
Of course, I would love it if my “online friends” lived closer. I would love it if I could form the same sort of bond with one of my neighbors or the mother of one of my daughter’s friends, but my full-time schedule — my stay-at-home and work-from-home life — makes it nearly impossible to make “mommy friends.” (And mommy/writer friends are even harder to find.)
So even though most of my friends are “online,” all of my friendships are valid and real. All of my friends lift me up, and love me for who I am. And all of my friends have changed my life for the better, in person and through my small, 13” computer screen.