The Proper Distance to an Online Friendship



[· new horizons ·] [ 信心 ] [akki's shrine maiden], Female
Blog Posts:
The Proper Distance to an Online Friendship
~ miscellaneous musings and random thoughts! ~

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This blog post is dedicated to @Nyann and some others for reminding me that I haven't written a blog post in a while! Additionally, these thoughts have been stewing in my head for a while, so I thought I'd stay up late tonight and finally put some of these squishy incoherent thingies to digital paper.

As usual, I'll probably write some grand generalizations and leave a story behind or two, but apparently my writing style is pretty distinct so most of you all are probably familiar with this structure already. Now, without further ado...

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The majority of us here grew up in a digital age.

We spent our teenage years on the Internet and may (or may not) have been "addicted" to electronics of some fashion.

Everyone owns a mobile phone, and some of us might say that we can't live without it.

The digital era is often written in textbooks as a time when globalization led to sudden interconnectivity all of the world. Modern communication technology made it possible for my mom to instantantly call her sister halfway across the world whenever she liked, and it allowed me to video chat (almost every day) my significant other during the four years we spent in a long distance relationship.

Many people claim that we are more interconnected with each other than decades or centuries before.

However, numerous articles and research studies claim that our generation is more lonely than ever before.

So here's the big question:

Why is there this big paradox? How does greater interconnectivity lead to more loneliness?

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I started thinking about this question around four weeks ago when I was procrastinating and toying around with an anonymous chat roulette site called Omegle (yes, I do, in fact, use Omegle occasionally, although it's probably not what you think -- I picked up the hobby in college but that's a story for another time). Additionally, there was some threads and other occurrences on NUF about online relationships, so the topic was somewhat on my mind.

Anyhow, onwards with the story.

My foremost rule when using sites like Omegle is that I never continue conversations offline. I don't share contact information (e.g. discord, skype, kik) and I don't continue conversations on other apps after a single session. Normally, I'm extremely good at this, and I'm fantastic at cutting people off. :blobxd::blobxd::blobxd:

However unexpectedly I ended up meeting someone who somehow managed to guilt me into adding them on discord.

The details are somewhat irrelevant, but basically it was a very troubled person that unexpectedly had issues that hit somewhat closer to home than usual. In particular, she had a rare chronic illness that was relevant to my medical studies, and I learned a lot by talking to her and learning about her experiences. She also reminded me of some difficult times I experienced in the hospital.

In a sense, it was this blurry mixture between intellectual curiosity, empathy, regret, and a helpless desire to fix things.

She -- let's call her Kohi - was the kind of person who had a body that caused unrelenting suffering. Although she had her good days, she was frequently in a bad mood and often lashed out at anyone who was close to her. Consequently, she frequently burned bridges in her relationships and had almost no friends -- and in fact developed a complex for distrusting people because she thought that people who she thought was her friend would inevitably "betray" her and hatefully call her an "asshole".

Frankly, she was a terrible mixed bag of a lot of bad things and trauma. And honestly she was not very pleasant to be around -- and stressful in many regards. If anything, I actually had a horrible impression of her in the very beginning.

Without really thinking of the consequences, I subconsciously slipped into "work" mode and sought to understand her thoroughly. She had an enormous mountain of baggage, and I wanted to parse through that all and overcome my early prejudice for her. After all, it wasn't appropriate for healthcare workers to develop prejudices against patients, so I wanted to train my feelings in a sense. Additionally, I have this personal philosophy that almost anyone is relatable and understandable if you talk to them enough.

Consequently, this began my naive month-long journey into the strangest friendship(?) I have ever held online.

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I'll spare you the details, but it was pretty rocky.

I learned... a lot about her. And likewise, she about me.

There were multiple times where I thought things would explosively end there, and there were multiple times where I was confident that there was no reason for me to keep talking to this volatile person. In the beginning, I thought that there was no way that our personalities could be any more incompatible. The friction was ridiculous and unlike any other person I've put effort into interacting with before.

I also needed to reconsider the way that I viewed things multiple times. After the first week, I stopped thinking of her as a "patient" and all of that mentality dropped to a more casual relationship.

However, unexpectedly... we ended up something remotely resembling friends.

Somehow, we ended up brute-forcing ourselves to that point.

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How so?

Well, to some extent it was by sheer volume of interactions.

Kohi by some regards was almost starved and desperate for any kind of social contact.

I've never met anyone as sheerly lonely and isolated as she was.

Similar to how there is the stereotypical NUF extreme of the addicted nuffian who spends all day long on profile posts and is the queen butterfly who is instantly able to appear on any interesting conversation of note -- Kohi gave off the kind of impression of someone who immediately responds as soon as you message her.

Furthermore she was the kind of person who got easily upset if you ignored her for too long (although she was not the type of person to say it directly). She would also periodically message you aimlessly talking about what she was doing if you ignored her for more than a few hours. In this sense, she was the epitome of clingyness that I've never met in a person before.

Well -- I've seen clingyness in romantic situations, but this was something on another level, since it was just an ordinary friendship. Or was it even a friendship? We were barely more than acquaintances yet she seemed to approach our faint connection with a level of ferocity that certainly felt abnormal.

For weeks I ended up glued to my phone -- almost to the point it was impossible to put down.

There was always something to reply to, and always something to talk about. In this sense, Kohi was an excellent conversationalist. There was always another topic or another question that I was interested in enough to engage with. Furthermore, she was self-aware enough to attempt to hold back, saying that she was was "sorry" for being "annoying" or "irritating" or "bothersome".

I did not dislike her, fundamentally speaking.

However after a month of interactions, I could fairly confidently say two things:
  • It could get exhaustingggg
  • She was emotionally unstable and got angry frequently

A combination of these two things were the most challenging thing that occupied my thoughts frequently. Despite this, overall I would say that she was nice to talk to and generally speaking a good person.

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...Which brings us back to our main subject.

Over the past four weeks, I have probably spent more hours messaging Kohi than the cumulative time that I've interacted with the majority of people that I know on NUF. She knows just as much about me as the close group of friends who are in my personal group PM on NUF, although we've only known each other for a tiny fraction of the time.

We have a very peculiar and unusual friendship that I'm unable to pinpoint -- we don't share any interests, and objectively speaking it is difficult for me to say if there are obvious discrete qualities that I definitively like about her.

However, we talk a lot and I do believe she's fairly trustworthy.

Yet at the same time, sometimes I feel like this is unsustainable.

Who can keep up with a relationship of this intense pace?

As for me? I'm pretty slow and leisurely and introverted by nature.........

(I mean, I kind of want to read sometimes without being interrupted with *beeps*?)

I don't think I have the stamina............

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Cell phones are really... frightening ...things.

I never quite appreciated until recently how scary it is to have a "friend" who never leaves your side.

It's a little bit of a terrifying idea to consider.

Imagine having a friend who was too close, always present, and always talking nonstop.

Maybe there wasn't anything specific that you disliked about her, and in fact you do like talking to her sometimes. However, it's rather difficult to define boundaries with an over-enthusiastic friend in an online space short of ghosting them or pretending you didn't see their message.

Ultimately it can leave a rather sour taste when originally it would have been no issue.

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Someone on NUF once said (sorry if I forgot who) that online relationships (romantic or not) are fleeting and ephemeral. In my own personal experiences, this has generally been true for me as well.

Because it's so easy to be glued to the screen, three years online feels like three decades.

Without being careful with ourselves, it's easy to over-invest ourselves in online spaces. Before you even know it, suddenly 15 minutes becomes three hours, and you've invested the emotional IRL equivalent of three days. It results in this odd phenomenon where I can't remember any of my middle school classmates in real life, but I vividly remember the online friends that interacted with in middle school.

The world ends up really skewed.

It's hard to grasp and comprehend to some extent.

The pacing seems kind of twisted to me. When the temporal proximity of friendship grows too close too quickly, things rip ahead too fast, time advances at 100X speed, and the absence of barriers results in something that feels somewhat flimsy and primitive.

Doesn't it feel like something is missing?


    1. AliceShiki Sep 11, 2019
      @yuzuki Oh yeah, it's true that we can quite easily jump to the idea that someone doesn't want to talk to us anymore... At the same time, when someone seems to be ignoring us, it's hard to think of anything else...

      I certainly prefer the pace of forums over the pace of something like discord though... I can take my time to reply on forums, and to give proper thought to things and to also make a longer answer without worries... The immediate factor of discord is quite troubling at times.

      PMs as well are like... Uhn... I dunno, I generally think PMs are too personal and a bit scary, I prefer to only use PMs when something private is involved... Using them just to chat just feels so weird! >.<
      Well, I started using PMs a bit more now that I'm a bit more involved into game forums though... Mainly to PM some devs and ask them about a few things of the game that I need clarification on. But that's quite different from actually chatting in PMs~
      And the expectation that they will get a reply can be taxing at times too, sometimes I just don't feel like replying after all...
      Group PMs on the other hand feel a lot more comfortable to me, it's like our own private space in which we can talk at ease~

      Oh, and I totally agree that we need some sort of space, even married couples do! Like... I really remember back to my own parents and like... They didn't have friends? Pretty much everything we did was as family and with family, I don't remember they ever going to visit a friend and spend some time together for... Well, anything.
      I understand that it's important to stay together and cherish our relationships, but... Sometimes it's good to just have some time for ourselves or with our friends I think, a bit of personal space will do wonders for any relationship I believe~

      It's like... Just how we can get exhausted by hanging out with a given friend every single day, we can also get exhausted if we hang out with our significant other every single minute I guess? Of course we're aware we'll spend (hopefully!) our whole lives together when we marry and we're of course comfortable near each other... But that doesn't mean we should sacrifice having at least some time for ourselves~

      Mmmmmmmmm... I didn't touch the RL VS Online part much in this reply... Mmmm... Dunno what to say, it's just... I do enjoy my IRL friends, but it feels kinda scary to share some things with them I guess? The fact that they're close and know other people I know can be very scary... Online I feel more free to say the things I want about myself~
      In a way I think it's easier to develop a closer bond to online friends tbh, even if I do care for my offline ones too.
      That's an interesting thing to think about... I only met one person I met online so far, and it was a pretty nice experience overall, and I kinda want to meet a handful of other people too if I ever visit their countries... I don't feel this barrier as much I guess.

      I don't think you need to call it a shadow of a friendship though, you have your own limitations and the things you yourself is comfortable with and you don't need to force yourself outside of it. That doesn't make our friendship any less real~

      The hypotheticals are also interesting though... I honestly don't know what I would do either, though I think I would want to at least visit them in the hospital, I think I'd also be scared of doing so... The nature of online relationships truly brings quite unusual questions to our minds~
    2. yuzuki Sep 10, 2019
      Nuu~ my comments got deleted! ;-; I will be short then, I guess...

      @Cutter Masterson Very true! A live concert very much isn't the same thing as a recorded one on television! The feeling is quite different!

      @kyuukestu A lot of really excellent points! Online interactions carry a lot more weight because we are in full control of whatever information we choose the reveal. Consequently, even little pieces of information have a lot of meaning and significance if someone chooses to share them with you. It's really precious!

      Another thing about online interactions for me is that anonymity is a major component of my experience with the Internet. I often feel like anonymity confers a sense of "safety" and "security" when I am online, since there is always a "reset" button within reach if something goes poorly (I guess it's a really reassuring though to someone who is anxious about interpersonal relationships!). This feature about the Internet makes it so that many of us are more comfortable sharing deeper and heavier things about ourselves that would ordinarily be out of the question in real life. It also also us to experiment and express ourselves in ways that may feel more relaxed or even genuine.

      @SummerForest It's really interesting because you seem to be the polar opposite of @Cutter Masterson! That aside, a few years ago I was really obsessed with novels that focused on the theme of fake versus real. For instance, what is the meaning of "fake boyfriend" even if you go through all the actions of a real couple? Or perhaps the stereotype of the "green tea bitch" who acts really nice but has a nasty personality deep inside?

      I think about this sometimes because for me there's a clear limit for what I would be willing to do for my online friends. For even some of my closest online friends, I think I will probably never share with them my IRL address or plan to meet with them IRL -- although clearly none of these things are an issue with my IRL friends.

      This barrier rests on my mind sometimes.

      If I'm this unwilling to do something as trivial (as @kyuukestu mentioned) as sharing personal information with online friends -- even my closest online friends who probably know a lot more about me than many of my IRL friends -- do I really have the right to call this a genuine friendship or is it a mere shadow of one?

      I mean, it's possible to come up with more extreme hypotheticals too. If an online friend got in a car accident and ended up in a hospital two hours away from home -- would I go visit them? Would I buy real birthday or Christmas presents for them? Or an extra order of bubble tea to take home to deliver? Or mail post cards?

      These questions are actually quite hard for me, I think!

      What @Nyann mentioned also comes to mind -- for me there's a lot of fear that the magic of what makes an online relationship work will evaporate as soon as it turns offline (or has a voice or video chat component). Perhaps it's merely a factor of how I haven't gone as far as some of you in terms of meeting online friends or talking to them regularly, but for me that has not quite yet been a barrier I've been able to surmount yet!
      Loni4ever, Matsurika, iampsyx and 3 others like this.
    3. yuzuki Sep 10, 2019
      Slowly making my way through responses!

      @AliceShiki I think you're absolutely right that the longevity of a relationship depends entirely on the mutual effort that two people are willing to put into it. I think this is generally true of IRL relationships too, although in the online setting there's the disadvantage that we're not forced to see anybody on a regular basis (whereas often in IRL maybe you might encounter a work acquaintance every day) -- this is both a blessing and curse in the sense that you only need to see the people that you want to see.

      However, the corollary is that the opposite is easy to jump to conclusions to.

      Since it's so easy to talk to anybody, if someone stops talking to you... isn't it the case that the only assumption is that they're not really interested in talking to you anymore? It's kind of a harsh but too easy (and sometimes wrong) conclusion to quickly reach in the online space because boundaries are so thin.

      In real life, physical constraints force a certain degree of physical distance between friends.

      Sometimes I feel like online, the average expectations are different. If we send a text message (or DM), the general expectation (across the board) is that maybe there will be a response the next time the next party picks up their phone. I've had very precious online friends on discord who would wake up and message me "good morning!" every single day! Suddenly we seem to have a communication frequency at the level of people who are roommates or cohabiting more so than your typical average friend that you hang out with during recess at school.

      (personally, reflecting on this, I kind of prefer the pacing of forums more!)

      I'm not sure where I heard this from, but I think even for romantic relationships there is a healthy amount of distance that is good for couples. People need time to decompress, and most people need a certain amount of "alone time" to recover. I think people can be different with regards to how much "alone time" they like or need or require, but generally speaking I often feel like introverts are exhausted more quickly.

      For me personally, I really like and love a lot of my friends!

      However, I think there's a limit to how much I'd be able to hang out with them constantly! XD I'd definitely and absolutely get exhausted (and I burn out too!), but I still love them a lot! I kind of find it difficult to reconcile this feeling that I frequently have -- that is, I have all these friends I like a lot, but I don't always want to hang out with them since I'd rather quietly read a book (IRL too!). Isn't this strange?
    4. SummerForest Sep 10, 2019
      @kyuukestu, I agree with you on the 'weight' part. Even sharing irl name is like a milestone here, really.
      I also agree on the 'environment' part, but I've online friends who can tell my mood better than irl friends and who actually care more. I've a friend here who can easily find from my few words that Forest had a tiring day at work. There are also friends who read my depressing rants and actually care to come to convos to ask what happened.
      So, I'll say I value my online friends no less than my irl friends. Actually, I never saw them differently in the first place.
      Matsurika, iampsyx, yuzuki and 2 others like this.
    5. kyuukestu Sep 10, 2019
      Ohhh! First off, this was beautifully written. I've never actually read one of your blogs before, but I can see why your writing style is distinctive.

      Everyone has their own idea and perspective, just as @AliceShiki suggested, but I think it extends to more than just how they view the relationship. In the case of online vs real... well, let me fumble my way through my thoughts.

      I'll agree with @SummerForest and your own ideas about time seeming to speed up online, but I'd like to pin a loose reason for that phenomenon.

      I'd wager the discrepancy of time is actually because of how we view the relationships comparatively.

      For example, IRL with friends from school or work, your first common ground is your environment. In high school, I used to spend those early days after meeting someone blabbing about classes, homework, lunch, and other really...casual things. It was just something we immediately had in common, so it was very easy to talk about.

      I never really needed to upon up and get emotional with them because there was always something readily available and in our immediate environment to talk about. Of course, all the talking raised familiarity, after which I'd feel more comfortable talking to them about my personal life, family situation, etc. But getting to that point took time.

      Since the above situation is the 'normal' relationship, that's slower progression is how we generalize 'good pacing' in a relationship.

      Now when you look at an online relationship...well, there isn't that much in your immediate environment for you to talk about without it feel at least a bit personal.

      Whereas when you're talking to a friend IRL, they'd usually have at least somewhat similar circumstance to you, and thus you can share these 'trivial' thoughts knowing they can easily relate, it's really different in an online relationship. You don't really know what the other person's circumstances are, and thus even smaller details tend to feel more personal because it reveals more about your life.

      I'm not sure why (A topic for someone else to explore), but there's a lot more 'weight' to things in an online relationship. You'd easily share your name with a person you'd met IRL, but when you're online such a simply task now seems like a relationship 'milestone'.

      Everything seems much more personal across the screen, and as you share what would've been minor facts about yourself which you wouldn't even have second-guessed in an IRL relationship, it gives the impression that you're getting to know the person across the screen so much faster.

      Ugh, I have trouble explaining it beyond this so let me condense everything I've said into something short:

      IRL vs Online, actions and words can have so much more weight to them, and I think its that increased sense of weight that gives the impression the relationship is advancing so much faster than an IRL one.

      Of course, there are other factors you have to take into account such as; Some people are just more open online. So I wouldn't say my suggestion is true 100% of the time but...A penny for your thoughts?
      Loni4ever, Matsurika, iampsyx and 4 others like this.
    6. yuzuki Sep 10, 2019
      @Osamaru Haha yeah >.< honestly I’ve been on both sides too, if anything I had a tendency to be quite clingy in the past! So I know what you mean!

      @Nyann I’m kind of hesitant to conclude that we should spend less time with online friends. For the case in my blog, I’m positive that if I spent less time with Kohi, we would certainly drift apart and not be friends. Online is a competitive environment and there are constant distractions. Unless you are able to maintain someone’s interest, there’s a risk that the other party will just choose to spend their time on something else. So really, it’s hard for me to say!

      @iampsyx Thanks!! <3 *hugsclings* Hmm, as for technology and inter connectivity, I think it brought both negative and positive things. For some people, the negative things can be particularly bad.

      To go back to using Kohi as an example, she actually has extremely high standards for friendship. If someone doesn’t want to spend time with her (let’s say for like a day), she reads that as you don’t like her or even hate her. Consequently, sometimes I feel like I’m in that situation of what often gets said about roommates — if you like someone, don’t live with them — because the more unnecessary time you spend with someone, the more likely you’ll get annoyed with them.

      So in this sense I feel like having a social network right at your fingertips can be frought with drama. If you’re a drama-prone person, maybe it would be healthier if you just avoided environments that spawn negative drama constantly — but I mean lots of us are still addicted, right? For some people, the negative aspects can overwhelm the positive.

      Lastly, the rapid nature of online relationships can lead some people to feel jaded. At least, Kohi certainly felt this way. Like for a while she would go on Omegle, meet someone for a week, chat with them for the semblance of friendship, burn the bridge, and start over again. Like that was her routine — but she also didn’t really know anything else.

      And that kind of shallow online friendship can really be quite disillusioning. As Alice mentioned further above, it can be really painful when people burn bridges online — and doing this constantly certainly has consequences on a person.
    7. Cutter Masterson Sep 10, 2019
      Interesting thoughts.
      For me, when I look at how the internet has created a global interconnected body. I feel it has brought the global community to a similar equal footing. Although there are still third world atmosphere. I believe with the global connection and larger information access. Many worlds will slowly merge. We still have our styles and culture, but with many enjoying one aspect or another. People will flock to a similar desire. Creating a world where many can relate and understand.
      As to the loneliest. Here’s an example. Let’s say you we’re listening to a recorded song. It was perfect. They must have sung that song hundreds of times and play those instruments many times just to record that one song. It was perfect. You could also feel the heartache or passion from the song. Now A live concert has mistakes and maybe an anticlimactic moment. But here’s the deciding factor. Empathy. A physical connection with an inspiring feeling. Hence why a live concert is raved as being better.
      That’s why many troupes of A.I.’s or robots feel lonely. Many shows or movies show case a machine as a simple answering machine. While a musician will have inspiration.
      In the end what I’m trying to say is that at the end of the day. Your device while many can’t live without. Is still a device at the end of the day. Creating that loneliness. While RL has real empathy and emotion.

      At least that’s what I think.
    8. AliceShiki Sep 10, 2019
      I think the biggest problem with online relationships are that different people hold different expectations... Of course this also holds true IRL, but I think the issue is much bigger online.

      When I get seriously attached to someone I met online and want to keep a close friendship, that person might have thought of me as just a casual friend that happens to be in the same environment as they are. Once they get tired of the environment, they might just leave unannounced because there was no bigger attachment there... Meanwhile I get devastated due to the disappearance of someone I cared deeply for.

      The possibility of simply disappearing with a snap of your fingers is absolutely terrifying... And well, when the computer's screen is the only thing that connects us, we don't even have a way of reaching out to them then.

      I think this isn't that different from what you went through with Kohi, you thought of her as a patient of sorts while she thought of you as a friend while she desperately needed one... The difference on what each wanted in the relationship creates a really troublesome tax on you I believe.

      Still, as long as both parties don't want the relationship to be ephemeral, I think it won't be. Maintaining contact depends solely on keeping the contact alive after all.