Some people say that on-line friends aren't real friends at all.
I would disagree. In my experience, on-line friends are just the same as friends you actually see face to face. They pop into your life to say hello. They notice if you're not around for a few days and check up on you. They send sympathy when you're hurt or ill or upset. Oh, and they can get upset with you (and you with them) just like the friends you can see face to face.
"But you can pretend to be anyone you like on-line," say the detractors; "How do you know this person is what they're purporting to be?"
Good point. On-line friends may not come with the recommendation "Oh, this is Jack; I went to school with his sister," but I think the majority of my on-line friends came with some kind of connection. In some cases I've been reading their books for years and then find that the authors of these books are as warm and welcoming as the characters they write. In one case it was "This is Brendon; he's a great guy who's been through a tough time. Be a friend and give him some encouragement please." And on-line friendships need time to develop just as physical ones do. It's hard to pretend to be someone you're not over an extended period of time.
And, yes, sometimes it's not enough.
An on-line friend who knew I have been walking my black dog rather more miles than usual posted on Facebook "How can I help?" (This is an incredibly powerful question by the way: I'd recommend using that exact phrasing if you want to help anyone.)
Because I knew this person lived within reach I simply said "Have lunch with me."
So we met up in London on Saturday. And yes, it might have been awkward. We might have discovered after half an hour that we bored each other senseless. But we didn't. It was a magical time of connecting on a deeper level than we'd been able to on-line, of talking at a speed utterly impossible through a keyboard, of transforming an intellectual friendship to an emotionally kinaesthetic intimacy.
Because, in the end, you can't meet someone's eyes and share a smile on-line; you can't bump shoulders companionably. You can't share a hug on-line.
On-line friends are valuable and can contribute enormously to our lives; they can be an essential part of our support network. But we can't live the whole of our lives on-line. We really need those hugs. If you can, make sure you have a ready supply on hand for when you need them.
A Moodscope member.