You don’t need me to tell you that life online has been a mess, if not straight-up catastrophic, lately. What’s also true is that, even amidst the chaos, we keep coming back. Why? Oh…if only I knew. For me, I know it has a lot to do with the friendships I’ve made online, often with people I know entirely through social platforms. I mean, hell, I’ve been on Twitter since July 2008 and I’m a Sagittarius! These online relationships are often just as meaningful and rich and strange as my “real-life” friendships, but they’re more difficult to define. Maybe we’re still a little embarrassed? Or maybe we just need to stop waiting for definitions and do the work ourselves. I care too much about my online friends to just coast along in relationship limbo. This is an ode to digital friendships, a taxonomy of connections and disconnections.
The friend who likes all of your tweets.
The friend who mailed you a giant jar of Nutella when your mom was in the hospital because, just before your mom got sick, you had just “discovered” Nutella and had been tweeting about it like you were a hazelnut prophet.
The friend who masked up and brought you a Thanksgiving plate because she knew, even though you were acting all tough on Twitter, spending the holiday at home alone in the middle of the pandemic was kicking your ass.
The friend who only DMs you about Jason Momoa.
The friend who helped you find a new apartment when you moved to Columbus.
The friend who is so good at Twitter or Instagram you’ve had to restrain yourself from liking or replying to all of their posts lately, because you want to pace yourself.
The friend you genuinely adore but keep muted because their tweets are too awkward or too thirsty or just too… too.
This friend is what you’d call a “real-life” friend as opposed to an “internet” friend. You hang out with this friend once a week, have a preferred side of their couch and an ongoing relationship with their corgi and their boyfriend, in that order. But oof, those tweets are awkward as hell so you mute them to keep the good vibes afloat.
The friend you don’t follow on Twitter but avidly follow on Instagram.
Or vice versa.
The hot friend who is only on Instagram.
The hot friend you’re into but aren’t sure is into you, so instead you DM each other almost every day about the posts of other hot guys and talk about how much you’re both into these other hot guys.
The bodies of these hot guys eventually become a bed you are stranded on opposite sides of. Also, you both live hundreds of miles apart.
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The friend who only DMs you about your tweets.
This friend worries about getting trouble at work for liking or retweeting tweets by real friends like you.
Sometimes you can almost feel how much, even as they sit in their fancy condo or fancy corner-office, this friend feels trapped and very much wishes they could live a life more akin to yours. Though, if asked, you would quickly dispel the idea that you’re having as much fun as they seem to think.
But they don’t ask; they just DM you about your own tweets to say in private what they can’t tweet. Even when all they have to say is “LOL” or “same!!!”
The friend you’ve known via social media for over a decade now, whom you meet for drinks or dinner every two or three years when you happen to be in the same town for work or vacation.
The friend whose kid is growing up before you very own, blue-lit eyes.
Second grade?! Wasn’t he just in kindergarten?
God, he looks just like his mama.
The friend who is a friend for months at a time then slips back into being a digital acquaintance and then a memory after they unexpectedly delete their account.
The friend you thought had disappeared from the internet altogether but, actually, you just forgot that you’ve had them muted all this time.
The friend you thought had disappeared from the internet altogether but they’re on Facebook and “oh hell no, nope, nope, nope, absolutely not.”
The friend you decide to unmute and then quickly mute again after they do something that reminds you why you muted them in the first place.
You really do like them though.
The friend you followed for nearly a decade but unfollowed a while back who sometimes gets retweeted onto your timeline and the tweet makes you smile and you can’t remember why you unfollowed them and you feel a kind of regret that’s just as difficult to name as the friendship itself—but you know, on some level, that something has been lost.
The friend who, depending on the angle, could be considered a Reply Guy but that’s not how you think of them.
The friend whose outrage at the world has become so incandescent, you can barely look directly at their posts.
The friend who you worry is being eaten alive by their rage, but then again: who are you to tell them not to feel what they are feeling? Who are you to them at all?
The friend who slides into a brand of politics that’s so unsettling, you unfollow them.
The friend who slides into a brand of politics that’s so unsettling, you block them.
The friend who slides into straight-up fascism and/or conspiracy shit and, in retrospect, you should’ve seen this coming.
The friend who slides into straight-up fascism and/or conspiracy shit and, for the life of you, you can’t figure out how this happened. Maybe, you wonder, they’ve been spending time on Facebook and, because you absolutely refuse to go on Facebook, you couldn’t see what was happening to them.
The friend who becomes an internet darling and then semi-famous and then famous-famous and they still like and occasionally retweet you like nothing has changed but, in fact, everything has changed but they’re still cool and it’s weird but…
The friend who becomes an internet darling and then semi-famous and then gets cancelled for a ridiculous reason.
The friend who becomes an internet darling and then semi-famous and then gets cancelled for a good reason so you just mind your business, or at least, pretend to mind your business.
The friend who tweets something so alarming about their mental health, you text a screenshot of the tweet to a real-life friend and ask if it would be appropriate to reach out because you know them but you don’t know them—but you’re worried.
The friend who finally finishes the book they’ve been steadfastly working on for years.
And the book is a smash.
Or it isn’t.
Or the book is just fine.
Or the book is fine, but that’s beside the point because writing a book is hard, man and you’re just happy that your friend followed through on their dream and when you see their book in a bookstore, you want to turn to someone, anyone, and say, “my friend wrote that and I’m so proud of them,” but then you remember it’s an internet friend whom you’ve never met so you sheepishly distance yourself from the love still coursing through your brain but, hey, why can’t this love be yours?
The friend who experiences a death or disaster or disease in the family that’s so brutal you can feel the aftershock of their pain and start crying at your desk—and then you cry even harder when you realize that you’re crying about pain that isn’t even yours and, I know it hurts, but what you’re experiencing is love and why can’t this love be yours?
The friend who bounces back.
The friend who is never quite the same.
The friend who inspires you to do what you’ve long known you needed to do.
You do it and you tell them.
Or you do it and you don’t.
Or you do it and you don’t but one day they DM to say they’re so proud of you.
The person on the internet who feels like they are your friend because you’ve been following them for a decade now and, though you know they probably wouldn’t even recognize you if you passed each other on the street, you’re out here on the other side of the internet, wishing them well always.
The person on the internet who feels like they are your friend because they’ve been following you for a decade now and you two engage each other online and they just watched that TV show you wouldn’t stop tweeting about, and every now and then you make them laugh out of the blue and those laughs really help them get through the day.
This person has mentioned you to their husband several times this week, and he just nods even though he doesn’t understand, how could he possibly understand?
But you have no idea that this person on the internet is your friend and you wouldn’t be able to pick their avatar out of a line-up.
And while, of course, you are deeply involved in this friendship, this isn’t about you, and that’s fine.