Are Online And Real Life Friendships The Same? How The Internet Makes A Difference

Updated December 15, 2023by Regain Editorial Team
“Today’s technology gives us the opportunity to connect with all kinds of people. Taking advantage of that can be a beautiful thing. The definition of "real friend" can have a wide variety of meanings and can be unique to each person as each individual desires and needs different things in a friendship. - Ryan Smith, LPC, NCC

Making And Keeping Friends Can Be Complicated

The internet has been a part of mainstream culture for well over two decades now, and yet there is still a stigma towards online friends. With today’s technology, you can video chat with your friend with ease, talk to them from wherever you are, and have a digital bond that lasts. However, if your friend lives somewhere that you can’t travel to, you may wonder if that friend is as legitimate as a friend who lives nearby. The answer is yes. In this article, we’ll explain why.

Pros Of Having An Online Friend

Nowhere in the definition of the word “friend” does it indicate you must communicate in person. Online friendships are a wonderful part of many people’s lives. You can bond with someone from behind another screen, and sometimes the bond goes deeper than it does for your in-person friends – for several reasons.

Mutual Interests

Forums make it easier to meet friends who share a common interest. Be it a political group, a blog dedicated to a certain fandom, a specific hobby, or many other commonalities, having a mutual interest is a great icebreaker. While you don't have to have everything in common with a friend, having shared interests is one way to spark a conversation.

Easier 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 often hard to make that first move. On the internet, however, 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. 

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. Due to ease of online communication, you can often learn more about someone much faster than you can in real life.

You Can Make Friends Around The Globe

Making friends with someone from a different part of the world can be a fun experience. You can find out more 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.

There Are Multiple Ways To Communicate

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Communication 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 together, but it can be unique and fun. 

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 that often. You two have separate lives and arranging a meeting can be difficult – and costly. 

Miscommunication

Some forms of digital communication – like texting – can be misconstrued because body language and tone of voice are absent. You can use emojis, but they're not always helpful. Taking offense to a benign message is common. It's can also be harder to get the hint that someone doesn't want to talk to you. Be patient and remember that miscommunications will happen. 

Harder To Make Up

If you're going to be friends with someone for a long time, you're probably going to get into disagreements at some point. With in-person friendships, you may get mad at each other for a while but then make up – especially if the two of you have mutual friends. Sometimes, making up is the best option to keep the friend circle going.

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 becomes difficult to try to reach them. It's also socially unacceptable to make another account and try talking to them. 

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.

They Disappear

If you grew up online, you may have had an online friend who just disappeared. Maybe their account got hacked or the website you use to talk through 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 difficult. It’s smart to get more contact info than just the social media site they're on. 

They May Not Be What They Seem

If you're on a 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 who they say they are.

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Making And Keeping Friends Can Be Complicated

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 to connect with people who will respect you and reflect your morals and values. When you’re finding friends – whether online or in real life – it’s okay to be picky. 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 whom you relate to that can enrich your life. 

The point of seeking people to chat with on the internet is to feel less alone. When you find friends online, you can tell them about what matters to you. Find friends online that care about your hobbies and can relate to you. Join some social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to widen your options for connecting with others. There are also groups you can join where people have similar interests to you. 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

It’s exciting to have online friends, but don’t get carried away, it’s important to be safe. Be careful not to reveal information about yourself too soon. When meeting new friends online, find ones who are slow to open up and don’t just blurt out all their personal details. Be safe, and take your time revealing who you are. You don’t want to tell anyone where you live or work until you get to know them well. You don’t want people showing up at your door because you told them your address.

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. 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. 

What To Look For In An Online Friendship

Friendships take time to develop. You want to look for somebody who genuinely is interested in you, and you are curious about them. Someone who is genuinely interested in being your friend will ask you questions about your interests and your life. 

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 talk 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. 

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. 

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. 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.

Getting Help

While it is often easier to connect with people online compare to in person, it can still be unnerving. While many people online are nice, depending on the forum, there are also “keyboard cowboys” and cyberbullies whose main goal online is to argue and belittle other people. Other people have social anxiety disorder, which makes it extra difficult to strike up a conversation with someone new, sometimes even online.

A professional relationship counselor through Regain can help you navigate your friendships. They can also help with issues like social anxiety disorder or cyber bullying 

If you have a hard time connecting with others, one of the most important steps that you can take is to reach out to a counselor.  Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a popular method of psychotherapy that has been found to help individuals with social anxiety, depression, and many other mental health concerns. CBT helps you learn new ways of behaving, thinking, and responding to social situations, as well as helping to build self-confidence

Studies have found that Internet-based CBT (iCBT) is usually just as effective as in-person therapy, which can make it easier for individuals who have social anxiety, as well as for those wanting to practice their online communication skills. Online counseling with Regain lets you find a professional relationship therapist without having to leave the comfort of your home, and they can work around your schedule, not vice versa.  

Takeaway

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. If you need help maneuvering through online friendships or working through mental health concerns like social anxiety, an online Regain counselor can help. Reach out today. 

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