Do we really know each other?

Until recently my refusal to see online life as part of “real” life was quite annoying to one of my dearest friends, she would often ask why I separate out the two. Like many I often thought well how can you really know “these” people? I mean can you really know someone that you have never sat down and broke bread with, or shared a hug of comfort with? Of course life being life, whenever I make such statements life generally comes back to bite me in the ass

Fast forward to this past year or so and I thought I knew people I called friends, friends meaning we know each other in the flesh, have known each other for years. Yet it took losing a so-called friend of 30 years to realize we don’t always know each other. Oh we may know details of each other’s lives, we may have shared experiences, a past and a present but in many cases we only know what we choose to share with one another. In other words there is plenty of gray area. In ending my friendship with my childhood friend, a woman I considered my sister who had logged so many hours with my family as a child, teen and young adult that to this day my father still considers her a daughter. I realized we didn’t know each other at all, turns out there was plenty she had hidden away, choosing to never share, things so fundamental that not sharing bordered on insanity. Add in losing a few people to suicide in the past decade, people know one ever in a million years would have imagined taking their lives, I realized that at least for me maybe I needed to reconsider how I define knowing people

It turns out that for me opening myself up on my blog and to lesser extent in other online venues like twitter has opened the door to new relationships taking form. Oh, some of these connections are fleeting and transient and others are like a young tree forming roots in that only time will tell if they stand the test of time and endure. The thing is in reflecting on connections that I once thought solid and even the work I have been doing this year in my own marriage, the question constantly comes up for me around do we really know anyone? Shit, my process of growth this year has had me mining the depths of my own being and realizing that at this stage of my life there are truths about my own self, that only now as I start the dance to middle aged, am I comfortable taking out and putting on the table

Truths that frankly have been a lot easier to share with people I don’t know very well or at all in real life. Last night while flitting away time on twitter (my virtual water cooler of sorts) I posed the question of how do other twitter users view the people they interact with on twitter. For some it was strictly as strangers or acquaintances but for others it seemed a seemingly nameless space actually served as the forming ground for actual relationships and friendships. Two people I know in real life have formed very real romantic connections thanks to twitter, I am taking people who have been to my house, broke bread with and vice versa now being in serious live in relationships with others they met through twitter.

An online buddy I have known over a decade and I were talking back and forth about twitter connections and she posed some great food for thought, that maybe venues like Twitter allow us to approach relationships and connecting from a backwards perspective. After all we can share tidbits about ourselves, some deep, some not before we have done the other lengthier pieces of connecting. As I went drifted towards sleep last night I found myself wondering is it so bad to approach things from a backwards perspective? Often in the dating advice world, women are often instructed to abstain from sexual relations with a potential partner until you know that the potential partner is willing to connect and commit on a deeper level. Well I will just say that I never followed that advice and 16 years later the man and I are still here. I most certainly didn’t think he was a cheap trick for giving up the goods very early in the dating process! Hell, there are times at least in the dating world, knowing what ya working with sexually early on is a good thing, versus some arcane rules of dating that say no sex until some arbitrary date. I think again this is where social media allows us to make targeted connections.

The older you get it’s pretty well known that it is harder to make friends, when we moved to Maine years ago we were already at the age where most folks are not trying to expand their pool of friends. The two people in Maine closest to me, I met thanks to a now defunct parenting board, both these connections are precious to me. Yet in my day to day life here while I know many people, very few of those connections are deep. Oh we may go to the same church, have kids at the same school, even take the same yoga class, but I don’t know them and they don’t know me. We know of each other. Yet I have spent times tweeting and talking with people online who probably have a better idea of who I really am then people who see me daily. Granted even then there are limits to what they know because I only choose to share so much of myself, which goes back to the question, do we really know anyone? How can we? Does time logged in over a certain amount of time really equate knowing someone? If so how? Just random questions floating around in my mind as I type this and try to delay working.

8 thoughts on “Do we really know each other?”

  1. I have made some great friends on Twitter and the list continues to grow. I’ve also reconnected with some folks from my past thanks to Social Media. Being an “empty nester” two years earlier than expected made me realize that I didn’t have much of a life outside of my kiddo. My child now asks me: “Mom, since when do you have a social life?” Haha.. Twitter has helped play a role in increasing my real life social life too!

    Oh and, Matt, don’t listen to her, you ARE old.. 🙂 <3

    • Wendy 😛 Only have you by 3 and if you’re over 40…Yea, you’re old 😉

      On the other hand I do agree with the rest of what you said about social media increasing your social life.

  2. Matt, you are hardly on the older end of the spectrum, you only have a few years on me. 😉

    Colette, I hear ya, I often tell people I can’t speak for other areas but in Maine, people really integrate the online and offline world pretty seamlessly. We are looking forward to you getting up here!

  3. When I first decided to leave New Mexico on a 100* day in 2007 I was absolutely blank on where I should go. I discovered a site called City Data. I think I wrote to about 30 different states to check out the “vibe”. The responses? “Don’t come here” was pretty much all I heard. Except for Maine. The people wrote back welcoming me and my family to come and be a part of their communities.
    That was four years ago. If it wasn’t for these people I “talk” to every day on FB (I’m still confused about Twitter)I’d be lost. I care more about some of them than I do my own family and friends in “real life”. Like Matt I’m one of the older ones. It doesn’t seem to matter. I care about the trails these people go through as well as their triumphs. I hope to move to Maine soon and I honestly feel that some of these people will be my “real friends”.

  4. I am one to say that my twitter folks are also my friends. I have met many of them in real life and will continue to do so. I have some made some extremely strong friendships this way and seem to meet at least one new person every month or so. I am a social person in general so find it easy to talk to anyone, genetics from my father who was an exec dir of a very large non-profit (800+ family synagogue in MD). I enjoy the online interaction but find I converse with people directly in replies as opposed to just putting myself out there first.

    If someone is saying something interesting, works in a field I have interest in, or what ever catches my eye, I might engage in conversation. I feel that I am a pretty good judge of character and while some have an online persona vs a in person one, I am what you see what you get kind of person. Goes back to the old golden rule our parents taught us (hopefully) “Treat others as you would like to be treated”

    I am also on the “older” end of the spectrum for the “online crowd” so many of my friends are younger than me. I discovered that after college age became a non issue for the most part. If I have had a life experience that a younger friend is experiencing I’m there for them. It also keeps my young in my mind and with 12 & 16yo kids at home reminding me regularly “dad, you’re really old” I can more easily blow it off.

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