When You Dismiss My Internet Friendships as Shallow

Someone told me over the weekend that they have real friends, not “internet friends.” It was meant to be a verbal stab. But the place it landed was shiny and tough with scars from the many times extended family have complained about me using my voice, especially in a public forum.

I’ve been accused of posting my thoughts just to get “likes” and attention, been told that many people who support me in public are talking about me behind my back. This shot is a repeat; complaint number 137 turned into an implication that my relationships are fleeting, shallow, and false and that my voice is a betrayal. The narrative is that I’ve sold my soul for the false promise of the obviously inferior internet friendship.

The exchange was a reminder of how little that person understands what is important to me and what real friendship is.

It’s 4am. I’m staring at my journal thinking, do I even want to give this incident the dignity of taking up space here? Should I devote any more energy to this absolute ignorance? Maybe this precious time in the dark, before the demands of the day begin, should be a time for gratitude or meditation.

Then, I hear my housemate’s soft voice emanating from her room. She’s doing a last, out-loud readthrough on her piece about the violence of capitalism. She’s at the part of her essay that extols the virtues of complaint in our positive-vibes-only world. “And are you familiar with a certain Mr. Jesus of Nazareth, a.k.a., The Christ?” she coos in Marxist lullaby. “That man was a power complainer.”

I smile and reflect on how Alexis came to be in proximity to me, sitting at our dinner table to share in our food and our favorite-parts-of-the-day ritual, retreating afterward to her space to put her deep thoughts and feelings into words.

I met Torski at a careers conference 8 years ago. She and I hit it off, and we kept in touch via Facebook. She decided to try a drop-shipping business, and I tried it with her. I attended a drop shipping conference in Vegas where I met Torski’s friend Karen, a powerhouse business coach who knew just how to put an unwanted male hanger on in his place. I loved her right away, so she and I kept in touch. The drop shipping didn’t stick for any of us.

But Karen and I formed a mastermind with another friend via Facebook groups. Each of our businesses made great strides that year. Karen said I should get a reading/business consult from Alexis Morgan. Alexis and I were both in Chicago, so we met up, and did some stuff together before life had us in different states for a while. But when Alexis wanted to come back to Chicago, she PM’d me, and we were soon making arrangements to turn our back room into a little apartment for her.

I think about my other internet friends. There’s Ana and the natural hygiene community she founded that is just as much about our personal ups and downs and generally curious conversation as it is about exercise, sufficient sleep, and the eating of raw fruits and leafy greens.

There was a time when I didn’t want to join support groups because I didn’t want to identify as a “survivor of X.” Gotta keep it positive, right? Well, I’ve discovered there is great healing in sharing with people who understand what you’ve been through, learning from those further along their path, giving a hand to those coming behind you. I’ve found those supports online, full of a camaraderie and understanding I didn’t find anywhere else. And it turns out, the dear friends have helped me make sense of the rough bits so that they’re not so front-and-center, so there’s room in my purview for genuine goodness, not Band-Aid positivity.

I think back to finding a copy of “War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims” by Melody Moezzi at my local library when I lived in Lake County, IL, feeling isolated both as a Muslim and as an artist and political radical in the suburban landscape.

The Muslims profiled in Moezzi’s book were people I could relate too. They were Muslim, but not bigots. They were Muslim and truly fighting for women’s rights, not saying that the real feminism was to be “protected” by veils and gender-based exclusion. They were Muslim and felt free to explore the meaning of prayer as it was performed in the mosque, in the mountains, or not at all; Muslim and loving who they loved, regardless of ignorant fatwas.

When I shared this with my therapist, she suggested I send the author a friend request. “Really?” I thought. Isn’t that kind of stalk-y? But I did, and she accepted and is still an “internet friend,” today, one I’ve grown richer for.

Ditto Dr. Amina Wadud whose book, Qu’ran and Woman, was a breath of fresh air after being surrounded by centuries of male scholarship on Islam. She introduced me to the concept of being is a state of Islam (submission to the Divine), versus attempting to live up to expectations of other Muslims. I was beside myself when she accepted my friend request, and though we don’t interact much, her loving, adventurous presence in my feed make me feel like I have an internet auntie who is also a brilliant thinker and spreader of joy.

Dr. Wadud’s daughter Ferishte, it turns out, is friends with Alexis. We’ve connected with each other too in this small online world, and I’ve learned much from her about being a badass woman and working with energy and intention.

A week ago, I made a vulnerable post that resulted in much moral support online. It also led to friends meeting me in the “real” world and providing much needed tactical assistance.

The internet has provided a platform for me to interact with people and ideas in ways that are valuable, no matter where they fall on the virutual/IRL continuum.

Friendship does not isolate.

Friendship does not devalue.

Friendship can live online.

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