Online friends are real friends

On the Today programme on Radio Four on Friday, they had a segment devoted to #GrannyWisdom. One of the women who was sharing her life advice was firm about the need for what she called “real friends”.
“Make real friends,” she said. “Not from screens.”
“Learn from them,” she went on. “Share their sorrows and sadnesses as well as the joys and the fun.”
But she was adamant they had to be “real friends, not you-know-what friends”.
Much as I love the idea of #GrannyWisdom (my own granny had many – often bewildering – words of advice. My faves include not to display red and white flowers together, not to wear opals, and never to eat Wall’s ice cream – but that’s a whole other blog), I think the notion that friends found through a screen aren’t real, is absolute rubbish.
A couple of weeks ago I heard the very sad news that a friend (yes, a friend, even though I’d never met her ‘in real life’) had died suddenly after an operation. I was shocked and sad, and I miss her. She was without a doubt a real friend.
The internet definitely has its downsides (Dan TDM for one) but I think it’s amazing and brilliant for letting you know you’re not alone, whatever you’re celebrating, struggling with, or hoping for. I met a group of friends online when I was pregnant with my first baby and looking for advice about some long-forgotten bit of pregnancy. Those ‘April Mums’ are still important to me, a decade later. And through them I’ve met other people who have supported me, advised me, and made me laugh. We have exchanged career advice, helped set up businesses, lent an ear to those with relationship troubles, or who are going through fertility treatment. We’ve chosen outfits for nights out, dates, weddings and interviews. We’ve helped with toddler tantrums and teenage angst. We listened to worries about mental health issues. We’ve encouraged each other through marathon training, triathlons, and couchto5kms. The friend who passed away was one of those women and those of us who are missing her are now sharing our sorrows and sadness, just as the wise granny advised. It’s not real life, but those friends are real.
It’s not only through parenting where I’ve made friends online. The writers I share a publisher with all joined up in a Facebook group. Some of them I’ve met, some I haven’t. But they’re an unwavering source of helpful hints, cheerleading, grammar lessons, rants, excitement, and hilarity-bordering-on-hysteria as deadlines approach. I’d count them as “real friends”, too.
Age UK research shows that 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely, Esther Rantzen has worked hard to launch Silver Line – aimed at helping combat loneliness, and the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness has a similar aim. At a time when older people are seemingly suffering from loneliness more than ever, it seems foolish to write off a whole way of making friends.
So this time, I’d say Granny has definitely got it wrong (I think my granny probably had it wrong about Wall’s ice cream too). It’s friends who are important – not how you make them.

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