I don’t call it “real life,” I call it my “offline life.” The friendships I have with people I’ve known “only” online are Real.
The first thing I do when I wake up is look at my phone. Yes, yes, it’s not terribly mindful or spiritual, but it’s part of my routine. When I woke up yesterday morning, I had three emails. One from a college friend who I’ve only seen offline twice in the last 25 years. One from a friend and colleague here in Maine. And, one (a Starbucks gift card, no less) from a friend I’ve known “only” online for nearly 20 years.
Throughout the day, as Facebook told more people it was my birthday, there were notifications that Facebook friends had posted happy birthday wishes. In other online communities, I received birthday messages both light and heartfelt. My virtual mailboxes were overflowing with notes. It felt like I was receiving birthday cards like we might’ve received in the snail mail so many years ago. But back then, how many cards did we ever really receive? Certainly not more than 100, as I got in Facebook posts.
It’s easy to dismiss the “click and post” birthday wishes as shallow. They aren’t, though. For some they may be automatic, for some they may be deep, but in every case, as my 12 year old pointed out, “They don’t *have to* do it.” It felt like lovely attention sparkling across my electronic devices throughout the day.
Yesterday was perfect. My daughters started out the day right by letting me sleep in a bit (until my alarm). I got a pedicure (thanks, Mom and Dad!). I did a lot of modern day capitalist celebrating by spending money at “discounts.” I got a free drink at Starbucks, 20% off at Goodwill, and a free small cheese pizza (with a $5 purchase) at Portland House of Pizza. An offline friend took me out to lunch. My parents sang me happy birthday. I watched a movie with my daughters in the air conditioned room of our apartment. The three of us crammed into my (king sized) bed (we “crammed” because they don’t seem to know how to sleep with space between us) for an early bedtime.
The deeper friendships I have with online “only” people are just as real as those I have with people who I only know offline. There are still people, I know, who don’t understand the “virtual” relationships. I have to keep using “quotes” because the relationships are not virtual. They are Real, and I’m so grateful for them. Because of the online relationships I have, in all their forms, my offline day yesterday was richer.