14 February, 2011

Friends - in real life and on-line

I wrote about connecting with other childless women in "We are not alone" and how I still find it useful even seven years later to be part of a community where I belong.  And then I read about Lisa moving away from all her friends, but realising that she still had friends contactable by phone and email. I realised there was more to say.

I first connected with other women on-line back in 2002, after my first ectopic pregnancy.  I got to know women going through the same experience through an on-line support group.  There were lots of women there, but it was interesting for me to see how strongly personalities came through online, and how we made friends with other like-minded women and began chatting off-site, but still on-line.  Many of these women were in the UK or US.  And so during those long nights, especially when ectopic number two came along, when I couldn't sleep for grief or fear for the future, I found women to chat to on-line.

As I've said elsewhere (and I know I'm only quoting a dear friend of mine from that site), we got to know each other inside out.  The anonymity of an internet site or chat-room provides a safety that is appreciated and I think necessary when you are feeling vulnerable.  The blindness of those through the laptop screen was welcome, as I sat in my pyjamas "talking" to them with tears streaming down my blotchy face.  But gradually we got to know each other in more detail.  And as the weeks and months and then years went by - or simply on the days when we felt we couldn't talk anymore about ectopics or fertility -  we got to know each other outside our bubbles of pain, the women who had come before and would come again.  I discovered unique, interesting, intelligent, enormously compassionate, and  very funny women. I loved these women, and called them my friends.

It felt odd at first to refer to friends whom I had never met.  But these women knew more about more inner heart than any of my real life friends.  Some of them had been very supportive, but I'm a private person, and suffered largely in silence, with my husband.  I was terrified that I would drive them away, and so while there were several occasions when I would weep into my coffee when meeting them at a cafe, I really tried not to burden them with my crazy desperation and grief.  I also did this as self-protection.  Talking to people in real life opened me up to insensitive comments, and painful reminders.  I felt it easier not to expose myself to that.

I decided too that I loved my friends for what they brought to our relationship.  It seemed unrealistic to expect them to be able to support me in every facet of my life.  I had my online friends for support over loss and fertility and childless issues.  And so I didn't need my real life friends to do that.  But I didn't get upset at them for not being able to.  Because if we had always enjoyed talking about travel, then we could still do that.  If we had talked about food and exercise, we could still do that.  If we had always talked about work, or books, or politics, then we could still do that.  It wasn't realistic to expect them to be experts in fertility and grief.

A few years after I first joined the online support site, my husband and I travelled to Europe in search of snow.   Afterwards, I took another couple of weeks to meet up with the women I'd been talking to almost every day for two years.  I was delighted to find that the women I had loved on-line were the same women I loved in real life. Their personalities and voices were the same.  I realised how real these friendships had been.  I guess that's the point of this post.  Friendships forged on-line are just as important, just as true to me as those made face-to-face.

I've been very lucky to meet up with my friends in the UK a couple of times since then, and two of them have managed to visit me in NZ.  I managed to attend the 10th Anniversary of the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust, the organisation that provided the website where I received so much support during my tough years (and where I still visit now from time to time, when I need it, or when I feel I just want to check on others).  We celebrated in the House of Commons, for tea and scones and tiny sandwiches, looking out onto the Thames from the centuries-old building, and then went to the pub. 

Since then I have made new, non-IF friends on my other blog (and I hope I'm making new friends here).  I know I'll meet them one day.  After all, I love travelling.


  1. I just posted on Lisa's blog about my online friends. I think I mentioned this to you before, knowing you're from NZ, but I've had a NZ penpal since I was 15 or 16 -- almost 35 years now, eeek! It was all pen, paper & snail mail in those days, too. We do more e-mailing these days, & keep in touch on Facebook now too. I'm so glad she is still in my life! & still hope to meet her someday.

  2. I never thought I would have a blog, then never thought anyone would read it, and never thought that 18 months later I have "met" women who have become friends and who know me better than a lot of the friends I have in real life. I am so grateful for this community and the honest and caring poeple in it.

  3. This blogging community is amazing. Sometimes hearing support from another you can't see is more powerful than someone you see daily. It also helps so much with knowing you aren't alone.

  4. I hope I meet you someday too, Mali. Thanks for inviting me to read along. I'll probably not comment a lot here -- but know I'm reading.