Are Friends Online As Legitimate As Real-Life Friends? How The Internet Makes A Difference
Updated December 08, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Robin Brock
The Internet has been a part of mainstream culture for well over two decades now. It's always in your pocket; you're always on some form of social media, and yet there is still a stigma towards online friends.
Gone are the days of anonymous chat rooms and wondering whether the person behind the computer was even real. Now, you can video chat with your friend with ease, talk to them wherever you are and have a digital bond that lasts. However, if the friend lives in a place where traveling to just isn't possible, you may wonder if that friend is as legitimate as a friend who lives nearby, who you meet in person on a regular basis.
The answer is, as you probably expect, yes. Nowhere in the definition of the word 'friend' does it say that the friend must be offline only. You can share a bond with someone from behind another screen, and sometimes the bond goes deeper than it does for your IRL friends. That's because the Internet allows us to find people who share the same interests and beliefs as everyone else. You may have good real-life friends, but there are probably some things you just can't tell them. Be it an embarrassing confession, or a secret they'll tell everyone.
With that said, there are pros and cons to having an online friend. Here are some pros.
Pros of Having an Online Friend
You can meet friends on forums dedicated to an interest. Be it a political group, a blog dedicated to a certain fandom, and so on. Having a mutual interest is a great icebreaker. You don't have to have everything in common with a friend; sometimes, differences can spice up a friendship, but having shared interests is one way to spark a conversation.
You don't have to go to the movies, go eat out or go shopping with an online friend. You can just relax at home and talk to them while you're about to go to bed, while you're working, and so on. That isn't to say you must spend money to hang out with a real-life friend, but it does help with the bills.
Easy to Break the Ice
Perhaps the best thing about online communication is how easy it is to strike up a conversation. If you're introverted, shy, or just don't like talking to strangers, it's hard to make that first move. On the Internet, it's easier for most to make that first comment or send that first message. You can take time to write out exactly what you want to say. This isn't to say that there aren't some fears of talking to a stranger online, but it's just much easier.
You Can Get to Know Them Faster
Most people online are more comfortable with talking about themselves. They'll talk about their flaws, their mental illnesses, what they fear, and so on. In real life, it's hard to talk about some things without feeling like you're going to be laughed at. But due to the easy way of communicating, you can learn more about someone much faster than you can in real life.
You Can Make Friends All Around the Globe
To some, this is a disadvantage. If you live in America and another person lives in the UK, you aren't going to walk to their house and hang out. However, making friends with someone who is different from you can be a learning experience. You can learn about their culture, and they can learn from you. Best of all, if you do get a chance to visit where they live, you may have a place to stay and someone to show you around. They might even be able to chip in for a plane ticket. For the traveler, having friends across the globe can be a good thing.
Evolving Ways of Communicating
It doesn't have to be text-based. You can have video chats through your computer or phone. You two can walk around the town, talking to each other. It isn't a perfect replication of actually being there, but the ways you can interact with your friend brings it closer to being on the same level as a real-life friend. And as technology evolves, it'll get even closer.
Cons of Having an Online Friend
With that said, online friends have their disadvantages as well.
Hanging Out is Hard
Even if your online friend lives just a few hours from you, you're probably not going to visit them every weekend or anything. You two have lives and arranging a meeting with your online friend can be difficult, and costly if they live far. There is a plus to that, as mentioned above, but if you need your social fix, having online-only friends may not work.
While there are always video chats, they can't work all the time. Your friend may even live in a place where it's just not feasible. So, you may end up texting each other.
The problem with text is that there isn't enough communication. Body language and tone of voice are absent. You can use emojis, but they're not always helpful. Taking offensive to a benign message is common. It's also common to not get the hint that someone doesn't want to talk to you. Be patient and remember that miscommunications will happen. You probably won't need to hire a relationship counselor to fix your online friendship, but you never know.
Harder to Make Up
If you're going to be friends with someone for a long time, you're going to get into fights. Be it a disagreement or a misunderstanding (which can be caused by the miscommunication above problem.) With IRL friends, you may get mad at each other for a while but then bury the hatchet. Especially if the two of you have mutual friends. Sometimes, making up is the best option to keep the friend circle going, and it's a good thing. You're going to get into fights.
With an online friend, however, it's easy for them to get mad, hit the block button, and then find another online friend, forgetting about you in the process. When you're blocked, it gets difficult to try to reach them. It's also socially unacceptable to make another account and try talking to them. The online friend may even forget they blocked you.
When communicating with an online friend, keep your cool if there is an argument. Don't reach for the block button. Take some time alone and talk again with a cool head. If you do hit the block button, remember you can always unblock.
If you grew up online, you probably have experienced this. Your online friend just disappears. Maybe their account got deleted, or the website you use to talk about is no more. Some people take breaks from social media, or tear down their accounts and rebuild them somewhere else. All it takes is a changed username to make reconnecting with an online friend very difficult.
Of course, this can happen IRL too. Friends move away or become hermits. In either case, always get more contact info than just the social media site they're on. It's the perfect example of putting all your eggs in one basket.
They May Not Be What They Seem
The cliché of the online friend lying about who they are is exaggerated, especially in an age when you can see photos or video of them with ease, but if you're on a more anonymous message board, exercise caution when making an online friendship, especially if you're younger. Obviously, you shouldn't accept an invitation to hang out with someone until you know for sure they're real.
Stay True to Yourself
When making friends online, you want to stay true to yourself and what you want out of a friendship. You can find friends who reflect your interests and passions. It’s important when you look for people to connect with respecting you and reflecting on your morals and values. When you’re finding friends (whether it’s online or in real life), it’s okay to be picky about them. These are people who are here to support you. For them to know you well, you need to be real. New friendships are an exciting opportunity to show off your personality. When you make friends online, there are ways to show these individuals who you are through words, phone, or video chat. You don’t have to pretend you like something just to fit in. The whole point of making friends online is to find people who you relate to that can enrich your life. Maybe you live in a remote area where it’s hard to find people who get you. When you find friends online, you can tell them about what matters to you. Maybe you’re into social justice, animals, writing, or sports. Find friends online that care about your hobbies and can relate to you. The point of seeking people to chat with on the internet is to feel less alone. One of the benefits of online friendships is that you can test out potential friends. Join some social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to widen your options for connecting with others. You can find new friends on these sites. You might discover friend requests each day you log on. Online platforms make it easy to meet new people. You can find friends online in so many ways. There are groups you can join on Facebook, where people have similar interests to you. When you find a group online, it’s comforting to connect with people all over the world who share your hobbies. You can find friends in a new virtual space you never thought existed. Think about what’s important to you, and look at ways to connect with others. There’s a platform to make friends for everyone!
Be Safe Online
Finding friends online may seem easy. There are so many ways to discover people who have your interests. You’re excited, and you want to learn more about these folks. You’re starting conversations left and right. These individuals are mysterious to you, and you want to learn more about their lives. It’s exciting to have online friends because you can learn all about their lives in other parts of the country or the world. But don’t get carried away, it’s important to be safe. At first, things seem easy. All of a sudden, you’re surrounded by people who understand you. They’re fascinating, and you want to know more about them. Maybe you start a group online of people who have similar interests. That’s an amazing accomplishment! You’ve made friends online without even noticing. You’ve got a great collection of buddies to talk to about your interests. You start a conversation online in the group, and things are going well. Be careful not to reveal information about yourself too soon. It’s tempting when you meet new friends to want to tell them everything about yourself. Remember that contact online is a balance between sharing new facts about you and protecting yourself. You don’t want to tell anyone where you live or work until you get to know them well. If you meet new friends, focus on your personality. See what your friends start revealing to you and build off these facts. In a way, it’s like “friend dating.” You’re testing out who you want to get close to, and which relationships to foster or let go. With so many ways to make friends online, it can be overwhelming. Think of social media as a “friend dating app.” You’re going online to find people who you can talk to, and be emotionally vulnerable with, but that feeling comes with time. Like any friendship, trust takes time. You want to find new friends online who seem trustworthy. Let them earn that trust. When meeting new friends online find ones who are slow to open up and don’t just blurt out all their personal information. Be safe, and take your time revealing who you are. You don’t want people showing up at your door because you told them your address.
Fostering Positive Online Friendships
Online friendships are a wonderful part of many people’s lives. By making friends on the internet, you’re opening up the possibility of connecting with others who live far away. You could have friends in Australia while you live in California. Before the internet, that would be difficult to pull off. But now, making friends online is much easier than it was before. There are people who share their interests all over the world. It’s an adventure to uncover these different personalities. You can discover new exciting people from all over the world. Meeting friends online is a beautiful thing. As long as you’re being safe and using precautions when you talk develop these new friendships, they can be a great enriching experience. There are so many ways to find people who share your passions. Ways to find friends online include social networking sites, chatrooms, gaming sites, or hobby groups. When you find healthy internet friendships, you’re not alone anymore. You’ve got someone you can message at any time of the day. Since there are different time zones, you may message your friend in the morning, but it’s the evening for them. It can be challenging to find a time to chat that works with each person’s schedule, but you will work it out. They will get back to you because they value the connection just as much as you do. It’s also a bit like having a pen pal. You’re writing brief letters to each other in the form of messages. People who are invested in the relationship will keep up with communication. Friendship is a reciprocal connection. You will find people who understand you and care about the relationship as much as you. Keep going online and discover how many friends you find!
Too Many Online Friends
Having too many online friends, or friends in general, can devalue your friendship. As mentioned before, sometimes you can get blocked, and the person blocking will then move onto another friend. The internet has allowed us to make friends with a lot of people, but there is a disadvantage to that. If the two of you are only friends, that friendship is hard to break. But if you two have a bunch of other unrelated friends, it can be a problem.
According to Dunbar's Number, you can only have 150 stable relationships. There are exceptions to this, but if you have thousands of Facebook friends, only a chunk of them are going to be your friend. It's up to you to figure out which of those friends are real.
As you can see, online friends are just as valuable as real life friends, and IRL friends have their pros and cons as well. As long as you have some common sense, making online friends can be valuable. Just communicate well, make sure who you're talking to is genuine, and prepare to make a friendship that will last a lifetime. And maybe one day, that online friend will become your real-life friend.
What to Look For in An Online Friendship
Making friends online can be a great experience. You discover people who are caring and wonderful human beings. You can find new friends all over the world who share your morals and ethics. It may not be easy to foster friendships in your area. Maybe it's hard to find new friends where you live because you're in an isolated area. You may not know it but all of a sudden you found a best friend. It's possible to make wonderful friendships on the Internet. You need to be open to the experience of finding friends online. Let's say you meet friends who seem like great people. How do you know if they are what they seem? You don't want to end up in a toxic friendship. Here are some things that you need to look for in an online friendship. We are making friends with people online focus on getting to know them for who they are. New friendships take time to develop. You want to look for somebody who genuinely is interested in you, and you are curious about them. Find new friends who want to learn all about you. They don't just want to make new friendships because they want to increase their follower or friend count. You don't just want to be one of many friend requests. You can tell if somebody genuinely wants to learn more about you. They will ask you questions about what your interests are about your life. New friendships are exciting. Whether you are looking for platonic friends or friends with benefits situations, when you meet new people online, it can be an enriching experience. Your best friends online should be people who have your back. When you meet new people on the Internet, ask them about their real life buddies. See if they have a close circle of friends, and ask them to tell you stories about those people. When making friends with people you can't see in person, pay attention to the words they use; they matter. You want to read what they're telling you and take those statements at face value. The stories and reflections they impart about their real life friendships will show you what sort of person they are. If they're loyal, it will come across. Another thing you can do is share about yourself and see how they respond. Do they want to know more? Pay attention to the way a friend you're interested in talks to you. By being observant when you're meeting friends, you can learn a lot about them.
How to Know if An Online Friend Cares About You
Making friends online can provide you with a support system you didn't realize was out there! You are surrounded by people who care about your wellbeing. When you're feeling down, you have someone to reach out to online. It's exciting to feel connected to people all over the globe. When you meet new friends, you want to integrate them into your life. It's exciting to get a message from your new online friend. Of course, with anyone you meet, you want to find out all about them. Once you get to know each other and you're regularly conversing, how do you know if your online friend cares about you? You can gauge that by how often you speak to each other, what you talk about, and if they're there for you during rough times. When you find new friends online, it's crucial to have high standards for them. You deserve to be treated with respect and cared for in friendships. Online friends (just like ones in real life) can be supportive during critical times in your life. Maybe you're going through a bad breakup or a divorce, and you want someone to talk to that's not in your real life circle. Your online friends are there to provide impartial advice and genuine support. If you open up to your buddies on the Internet during hard times, and they're responsive, that's a good sign. That means they care for you. You can tell if anyone is a good friend by how they reciprocate your kindness. If you feel positive in the friendship, go with that instinct. If something is off, follow your gut there too. When you meet new friends online, they should align with what you want in life and care about you as a human being.
What's in it For you?
It's crucial to understand why you want to make online friends. If you know your intentions, you can seek out the right kind of people. When you're talking to friends in a new setting, such as a social media platform, or chatroom, you may not know what to expect. That's natural, but try to relax and be yourself. An online friendship can provide you with love and support. You can speak to your friend about anything you'd talk with a real life buddy about, like love, heartbreak, or career challenges. You get to decide what you want out of an online friendship. Think about what your goals are, and be realistic. You can't hang out with an online friend if they live in a different country. But, you can video chat with them and have a fun conversation. Some people meet online friends that become romantic interests. You might click with someone and discover there are feelings between the two of you. Before you know it, you're video chatting every day and saying, "I love you." That can be a thrilling experience. You may even make the transition from online friend to real life one. And before you know it, you're in a relationship with someone who you used to only talk to online. It's possible to have that happen! When friendships stay platonic, online connections are valuable too. People don't just go online to find love. They visit social media sites to find people who get them and foster real healthy friendships. Whether you want romance or a close friend that can happen when you make connections with people online if you're open to it. You get to decide what you want out of an online friend.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Online Friends
Do online friends count as real friends?
If you're reading this, it's likely that you talk to people online or have talked to someone online at least once. When you meet people on the internet, you might be seeking a sense of support or connection. Maybe, you're about to move to a new area, and you're looking for friends online that are in the location you're moving to. Perhaps, you play games online and have met friends through gaming. If you're wondering, "are online friends real?" the answer is yes. Online friends absolutely count as real friends. It doesn't matter where you met; it's the social emotional connection that counts. You may start out with digital communication and move onto hanging out in person, or you may take a while to meet due to distance. Either way, online friendships can be special and unique connections.
Why are real friends better than online friends?
Again, it's not where you met that makes friends real. Many people meet their online friends face to face and establish connections with them offline. Whether you met someone in high school, at a social event, or online, you can have long-term associations with them that amplify your mental health and quality of life overall. Nothing beats having a true friend that you know will be there for you and that you can trust. Of course, before you consider online friends real friends, you have to make sure that they are who they say they are and establish trust. Online friendships are becoming more and more common, and people meet people online in person every day. Online friendships were once kept on the down-low or shunned and were regarded as separate from in-person friendships, but times are changing, and most people have at least one friend that they met digitally before engaging with one another face to face. There is something special about talking to people face to face and hanging out in person. In fact, it's irreplaceable, and it's important for your mental health to have social support that exists offline. That said, it's necessary to remember that for some, online connections become those face-to-face connections. Don't discount someone's friendship if they meet a person online because that person could mean a lot to them.
Is having online friends bad?
Having online friends isn't bad as long as you go about it safely. If you're wondering what makes online friends real, it is partially the social emotional connection you have and partially verifying that they are who they say they are. Before you make online friends real friends, make sure to video chat and talk on the phone. Be sure to always bring someone with you when you meet people that you've only had digital communication with so far in person.
Are online friends healthy?
Having online friends is certainly healthy as long as the internet does not become your whole life. Online friendships can be unique in the sense that you are likely to bond over things that you have in common rather than your geographical location. Of course, having friends in real life is extremely important, but sometimes the people that you meet in person initially won't always share the same interest. For example, if you are interested in mental health, you might meet people through mental health groups online. If you're interested in travel, astrology, or another niche, you might meet people online who are into those things as well. It is essential to have social support from people who truly understand you, and of course, you can always meet your online friends in real life eventually. Some are more extroverted than others, but even introverts need friends and experience health advantages from social connections.
Why is making friends online bad?
Making friends online is not bad, but again, it is essential to be safe about it. Often, when people criticize online friendships, the main part of the problem they see is the potential safety issues affiliated with meeting someone online. This is a valid concern, but there are protective measures to take. Be sure to talk to people you meet online through video chat before you meet up. Meet in a public place and bring someone with you. Online friendships aren't just made by adults, so it is important to be aware of the potential that your teenager might make friends online whether you know about it or not.
Many teens report having one or more online friendships or friends that they initially met online. If you are the parent of a teen that makes friends online, it is understandable and unavoidable that you will be concerned. Your concern is valid. When a teenager wants to find a way to meet an online friend in person, it's hard to stop them. One of the things you can do is support them and accompany them when they meet an online friend for the first time. That way, you can avoid the possibility that they might sneak out or do something equally as unsafe so that they can meet a person from the internet. You can join up at the mall or in a café. Public places are always your best bet, and you don't have to make things awkward. Just be there for the first meeting, and if possible, get to know the person's parents. Likely, the parents of your teenager's friend will want to attend their first in-person meeting as well, so you can talk to them before meeting up, and they can accompany you, your teen, and your teen's friend when they meet in person.
How long do online friendships last?
When you meet a friend online, it may be the start of a friendship that lasts for the rest of your life. As with any friendship, there is the potential to stray apart, but there is also the possibility of a lifelong connection. When you make online friends real life friends by meeting in person, this can become especially true. Remember that there are real people behind the screen, and that's part of what makes online friends real. This is part of why it is so important to be kind to the people you meet online. You never know who is going through tough times, and the words you say to people both in real life and online matter. Cyberbullying is an extremely serious issue to be wary of when you talk to people online or if you know that your kids are talking to people online. Being on high alert when it comes to this kind of thing is crucial, but it doesn't make all online friendships unhealthy, nor does it make them invalid.
Think about online dating. Some people start dating individuals that they met over the internet and end up getting married. Couples that meet online can get married and stay together for the rest of their lives in some cases. Relationships can go bad whether they begin online or in person, but they can also be exceptional. The same is true for online friendships.
Can you trust online friends?
It's important not to trust people online too quickly. You can trust online friends once you meet them in person and confirm that they are who they say they are. Again, it's essential to take someone with you and stay safe when you meet an online friend in person. Video chat can be a place to start when it comes to making virtual connections real. Using video chat, you can see people's facial expressions and hear their voice, making everything feel more authentic. It can take time to develop trust in any friendship, but that's especially true for online friendships due to the possibility that you may come across someone who isn't who they say they are in any capacity from time to time. Trust will build over the course of months or years when you have phone calls, move onto video chat, and meet up in person. Once you've met someone in person in a safe manner, your bond can become even stronger. Meeting online friends in person for the first time is a joyful moment for a ton of people, and as long as you take every safety precaution possible, making virtual connections can be the start of a long, healthy friendship.
Who are real friends?
Real friends are people that make you feel good. Social connections are positive for your mental health, and being around someone that is a real friend will generally be uplifting. A true friend should give you a sense of support. When we talk about a support system, we often think of friends, family, and possibly, a mental health professional or multiple mental health providers. A real friend is therefore you through tough times and pleasant times alike and enhances your life.
What do online friends do?
Online friends talk via web chat, phone call, video chat, and more. Sometimes, online friends will play games together remotely. They may chat or meet on web forums. When you meet a friend online, the eventual goal is often to establish a connection in person. You may text each other throughout the day or talk on social media, and if you live near the same area, you might meet up.
Therapy Is Personal
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- RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) - 1-800-656-4673
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255
- National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-7233
- NAMI Helpline (National Alliance on Mental Illness) - 1-800-950-6264
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) SAMHSA Facebook, SAMHSA Twitter
- Mental Health America, MHA Twitter, MHA Facebook, MHA Instagram, MHA Pinterest
- WebMD, WebMD Facebook, WebMD Twitter, WebMD Pinterest
- NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), NIMH Facebook, NIMH Twitter, NIMH YouTube
- APA (American Psychiatric Association), APA Twitter, APA Facebook, APA LinkedIN, APA Instagram
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