My best friends are from the internet

January 30 | Guest post by Ella West
Best internet friends forever~
Sure they look like real friends, but don't be fooled by their rosy, life-like appearance. They actually come from the internet.

My best friends are from the internet, and it's not really that weird. No, that's not true. It's incredibly weird, but that's because we are weird people, not because the process of making friends on the internet is inherently weird. It took me a long time to realize just how unusual it is to make friends online, though.

We live in a world where online dating is becoming increasingly mainstream (Match.com recently funded a study that showed one-in-five relationships now start online) but somehow, finding friends online is still seen as abnormal. And that, to put it eloquently, is really dumb.

When I discovered the world of Harry Potter fandom at the tail-end of middle school, I fell into it with a passion. I was terribly awkward at school; I gained and promptly lost five different friend groups between the fourth grade and my senior year of high school, some in deeply traumatic ways. Have you ever been kicked out of a trick or treating group? Because I have! My little third grade friends were such assholes, man.

The internet, my 13-year-old self discovered, was full of clever people who liked books to the same disturbingly codependent degree that I did. In the magical land of the internet, I didn't have to force uninterested playmates to reenact The Westing Game in my backyard, or indulge my tragic crush on Lyra from The Golden Compass. There were people on the internet posting long and deeply involved theses about the symbolism behind serpent imagery in Chamber of Secrets, and how Ron was totally going to marry Hermione and anyone who thought otherwise was personally victimizing JK Rowling and was probably going to hell.

Rachael and Abbey
Abbey and Rachael met on a Harry Potter fan forum.

My high school graduating class had 200 people, and any friendships you could form were almost entirely based on geographic proximity. I had friends from my middle and high school, sure, but when things got rough the online communities I was a part of gave me a real chance to move beyond my cloistered suburban home town. Said the angsty teenager: "I finally found people who got me." I'm glad I had that option.

This discovery was back in the early 2000s, when the internet was still relatively new for mainstream America and online dating was almost as weird as online friend making, so it's understandable some people at the time would be confused by the concept of forming close friendships online. For a very long time, when I spoke about the people I met online, I called them my "friends from camp." I needed a way to explain how I knew these people whenever they came up in a real life conversation, despite not living in the state, or even the same country. And they came up in conversation a lot. Your closest friends have a tendency to do that.

While some girls were trying to climb the high school social ladder via astute application of glitter eyeshadow or playing field hockey, I was feeling incredibly superior chatting with forum friends late into the night and posting thousand word essays viewing house elves through the lens of social justice and anti-oppression work.

Surprisingly, my online social life still had all the trappings of normal adolescence, from girly "sleepover" chatrooms to wild popularity contests. I won't lie to you: I genuinely and deeply wanted to be cool on my Harry Potter message board. There were some Big Name Fans (so popular they basically had their own fan followings) who had been around forever (read: since before Goblet of Fire came out) and had all these amazing inside jokes. They commanded the respect of the entire forum any time they jumped in a thread, and we all desperately wanted to be a part of their in-crowd.

Somewhere along the line, a group of us, mostly middle and high schoolers, created our own clique in the forum. We bonded over inside jokes on the message board, swapped awkward "get to know you" posts where we told each other important things like our favorite type of soup, and, for some reason, competed over who loved Nutella the most. The group ebbed and flowed over time, some people faded away (usually to participate more fully in the real world… those losers), and new people joined in. A decade later, the remains of that group consist of the humble editors over at Tilde.

Much of my high school hormonal ridiculousness happened on message boards. I discovered and, tentatively at first, voraciously soon after, began reading tragic fanfic romances about Harry and Draco "getting past their differences." You know. By having a lot of sex.

It took a very long time to finally meet any of my internet friends in person. It's hard to run out and meet what most may call "strangers" when you're young and either living at home or car-less in a dorm. For years we shared pictures, made phone calls, exchanged addresses and sent each other Christmas cards and vaguely obscene fandom references ironed on to polo shirts.

mada mada motherfuckers
The polo shirt I ironed this on to has to be the best Christmas present my friend Abbey has ever received.

I had graduated college and started working a real, adult job by the time I finally visited three of my friends who were hiding out on the East coast. That trip resulted in me catching an ungodly flu and three of us nearly getting arrested for stealing milk. It's a great story, and if you look hard enough you can still find the legend in a forgotten police blotter.

It's been nearly a decade since I met my internet friends. I still call them that, by the way. Not because they're not also real life friends at this point, but because it's become a term of endearment. They came from the internet, and they made my life so much better.

Sometimes though, I think the most astounding thing about my internet friendships is just how normal they are. (Or as normal as it's going to get when you regularly force said friends to edit the story you're submitting to an MTV Teen Wolf Fanfiction contest.)

We grew up together. We gossiped late at night about each other's first kisses or prom dates, called each other up the first time we got drunk and sent overly weepy texts on our not-so-first-time drunk. We talk just about every day, even with massive time zone differences, and once almost got arrested together. Put that way, we sound about as normal as possible. In another life, we might have all gone to high school together and just been normal (if a bit nerdy) real life.

Somehow, though, it's still hard to convince people that internet friends can be just as real as people who met through school or work or happenstance. I sometimes defensively think our friendship is even more real. After all, we sought each other out and worked to keep this friendship up in a way you just don't when you see someone every day. But even the nerdiest of my non-internet friends still cocks their head and looks a bit bemused when I let slip that I met my oldest friends on the internet, and that's before I mention it was a Harry Potter forum.

Maybe it's because we live in a world that demands romantic relationships. Single is an uncertain state — something that most people assume a person will want to rectify. Internet dating is acceptable because you need to find a mate and, heck, it's the 21st century. Why not let a computer do that work for you? But friendship? That's something you get by chance. Something we, for some reason, don't consider a necessity.

Which is fucked up.

My internet BFFs are an absolute imperative in my life. The best advice I can give anyone is to go out and find some of your own. After all, who knows when you'll need someone to bail you out of jail for stealing the ingredients to a makeshift White Russian?

  1. Yes! This was SO me in secondary school! In real life, I was the 'weird' one and having glasses that couldn't correct my eyesight didn't help my social standing any (try explaining partial sight to 12-18 year olds). Mind you, swapping the glasses for a white cane might as well have made me a leper with meeting new people. But as they say, on the internet, no-one cares if you're a dog.

    I wasn't a complete social pariah – I had some friends from primary school – but they didn't really 'get' me either, and it was more about the popularity game and who's-snogging-who for a lot of them. When it turned into the "Let's go out and get as drunk as possible!" phase, I just wasn't interested, and I'd probably have felt a complete and utter loner if not for my internet friends.

    Unfortunately, while those internet-based friendships were very good for a few years, they didn't stand the test of time, but this hasn't put me off meeting any other friends over the internet in the future. The medium was not at fault.

    In fact, I ended up progressing to internet dating and, after accumulating a 'platonic harem' as I like to call them ("Hey, you're a nice chap, shall we be friends?") I ended up meeting my husband online.

    If anything, online friend-making and dating (and the overlapping of both) mean that you can find like-minded people much more easily than before, in a safe environment, without any more worry than whether you can find someone who likes [insert hobby here] as maniacally as you do.

    Oh, and for me, it was fantasy-themed roleplaying, anime and Final Fantasy that got me meeting my online friends :-3 But if only I'd known about Harry Potter forums back in the day, I think I'd have been right into them.

    1 agrees
    • "I'd probably have felt a complete and utter loner if not for my internet friends."

      This was so true for me! I wasn't completely bereft of friends in middle and high school, but there were definitely times where my whole social world got turned on its head and I felt really lonely in "real life." Having a separate group of friends online, tied together by our love of geeky stuff, was a bit like having my own personal It Gets Better video. No matter how crappy the social drama got, there were these awesome people I could connect with on the other side of my computer who helped me remember there was life beyond middle and high school.

      And "platonic harem" is hilarious. I love it. :)

      3 agree
    • Ohsnap! "Platonic harem" via interweb dating. I am so guilty.

      I totally have some very close friends that I met through the internet via interests and the such. Some whom I talk to everyday, yet have not met in the 5+ years of friendship, beyond video chat. Some whom live an hour train ride away, but we find it easier to chat online as we internet stalk for new friends and potential mates (them seeking the later, me seeking the former).

      Yay friends who get us and love us and care about us, regardless if it is by pen or text or video or in person!

      2 agree
  2. As someone who's had a ton of internet friends, and even let one of them move across the country into my spare bedroom… Rock on, and don't listen to those people. I've been trying to convince my mom for years that just because I met them online doesn't make them crazy (Well, any crazier than I am). It took years to convince her to let me go meet the girl I knew who lived about an hour away. XD

    This is a lot of why I'm so excited for the OBH forums too! More friends to make!

    9 agree
    • It took so long for my parents to get used to the fact that I had friends I knew from the internet. For a long time I really hid the fact from them, since I knew they would be weirded out by it, but eventually they were such a big part of my life I really couldn't avoid it anymore.

      Now it's at the point where, while I think my family is still kind of confused by the whole thing, they know none of my internet friends are ax murderers or anything. I never had a chance to meet up with anyone until I was living on my own and had my own car, though, so I have no idea what they would have done if I'd tried to meet up with internet folks while I was in high school.

      1 agrees
  3. Oh man, those were the days, my friend. I hung out online with folks of many different age brackets so there was less "growing up together" but this still really resonates. For a time most of my closest friends came from the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings fandoms. Fandom can be a glorious thing and if you manage to hold onto those friends after a fandom slows down or dies, it's freaking awesome.

    I sometimes wish there was something like classmates.com for defunct message boards.

    3 agree
    • That would be SO COOL. It gets hard keeping up with people when so much of your interaction is tied to one website, especially when it's a forum that goes defunct or a site that eventually the fandom migrates from. Most of my fandoms have moved from list-serve to forum to livejournal and now to tumblr, and I've definitely lost folks along the way.

      1 agrees
  4. Absolutely everything about this article is perfect and beautiful, and I just want to say that.

    12 agree
  5. "Have you ever been kicked out of a trick or treating group? Because I have! My little third grade friends were such assholes, man."

    That made me laugh and feel so much better about the absurdity of some of the things that I have experienced. We don't acknowledge nearly enough – especially not in such a lighthearted and genuine way – just what jerks kids can be.

    <3

    12 agree
  6. My closest friends are a group of women who've been on livejournal for 10+ years. We've been through it all together, even though most of us have never met. It's pretty beautiful, although I wish we could all live right here. In the same giant, Victorian house. With secret rooms.

    7 agree
  7. This is me too. I met my best friends in the world on a forum for the author Ted Dekker. Actually, I met my soon-to-be-husband there, too. It's really, really hard to explain, especially because I am the type of person who was always "mature for her age", and I clicked better with the people who were 18 and 19 when I was 13 than I did with the other 13-year-olds. So it caused a bit of a stir when I was seventeen and began dating someone from the internet who was twenty-two. I eventually got to the point where I just ignored the comments…they're my best friends because of common interests and a common love for God, not because of geography. Makes way more sense to me.

    1 agrees
  8. This is awesome.

    I've had friends from the internet for years, of varying degrees of closeness. I still occasionally keep in touch with a couple I've known for 12 years and actually met back then (it was connected to internet dating but there was a whole group of people I met at the same time).

    Now, I have the Empire. I've met awesome peeps this way. Some I may never see in person but I definitely consider them friends.

    1 agrees
  9. I'm a bit too old to have grown up with my internet friends — commercial internet barely existed when I was in high school — but all of my local, real life friends from university I met on the internet first (Livejournal communities!) And I met my husband on Livejournal too! Although he was 1000 miles away. Most of my internet-only friends I never got the chance to meet in real life, but they were some of the best friends I ever had. In the late 90s and early 2000s, if not from lj, my internet friends all came from band forums. I totally wish I could have had internet friends in high school.

    Around 2005/6, though, all my lj friends moved on, stopped posting, and disappeared, and the band forums…changed. More trolling, less community, which I feel was maybe due to increased access and connectivity? For a few years, there weren't any online communities I could feel a part of, until I joined the Tribe on OBB, and my only new real life friends in the past few years came from there! And so a hearty seconding to being excited for the OBH forums :)

    Is there anyone else out there who noticed a shift in attitudes online in the mid-2000s? Or was this just me?

    2 agree
    • The communities are still out there, but I think they might be a bit harder to find now. I found there's some "fantasy pet breeding" type games where you could find good cliques in. Or I found one playing League of Legends (which is impressive, because that game has one of the worst communities out there) who I've been talking to for over a year now via skype. But I do agree, I think the internet has changed a lot from the 90s. I miss the really tight knit forums there used to be.

      1 agrees
    • Definitely not just you. I've lived in the internet since the mid-nineties, when my daughter was a baby, and it really has changed not all for the better.

      All my really good friends for, nearly ten years, were from the internet but I've lost track of all of them these days.
      Oh, now I has a sad.

      1 agrees
    • Now that you mention it, yes.
      I'd never considered it as being a wide spread phenomena before, but I think you're right. Something did chance on the internet in the early 2000s.

      1 agrees
    • I'm so into the idea of fandom history! I know for the Harry Potter fandom the early 2000s were around the time the whole fandom shifted from list-serves to dedicated forums. I think it was mid 2000s when everything started to shift again over to livejournal. I feel like a lot of similar fandoms made that shift as well?

      I know now almost every fandom I was involved heavily with on livejournal has either died out a bit or moved on to tumblr. I've sort of begrudgingly joined tumblr, which I actually enjoy a lot, but I really miss the days of long, intense forum threads and livejournal commenting!

      1 agrees
    • Yeah I am so excited for the Offbeat Home forum! Offbeat forum friends!!!! Ahhhh, I can hardly wait ^_____^

      9 agree
  10. As a parent (of very young children, who are nowhere near internet age), this is a very inspiring story. Not every internet encounter a child/teen has needs be viewed as scary or dangerous, as is commonly taught in our society. As long as we teach them to be responsible and go to sites where they will be safe, there can be much value in internet interactions.

    Personally, I'm not involved in many internet communities, but I am involved in a forum for local moms, and I met one of my best friends on that site. It's local, so it was easy to then become friends face to face, but I may never have met her without the internet.

    6 agree
    • This comment makes me really happy:)

      I beleive the internet and having internet friends can be a very positive thing for teenagers. Especially offbeat ones who may not be able to find people they have much in common with locally.
      (I can't say much about the internet and younger children, not having any experience with that)

      2 agree
    • Oh man, I have so many thoughts on the way our society treats safety on the internet. I keep meaning to type them up in a semi-coherent way, but then just start flailing around and yelling INTERNET FRIENDS ARE THE BEST over and over again. :P

      People seem to think the internet is this huge, scary place, completely different from the real world and filled with people who want to take advantage of your kids. Honestly, I wish people would treat interactions online the same way they treat interactions in the real world. In the real world you would never give personal information to someone you just met, or whose real identity you don't know, so you shouldn't do that online either. But you would never assume every person you meet in the real world is an ax murderer out to abduct you, so don't assume that online either.

      4 agree
      • That said, this group of friends and I do have a running joke about how, if one of has secretly been an ax murderer this whole time, after ten years of listening to teenage drama and reading all of our terrible fanfiction, we really couldn't begrudge them a good axing at this point. That would be true dedication to one's cause.

        6 agree
    • I'm twenty five now, so when I was heavily active on Harry Potter forums and the like online from 11 or so on, it was still early enough in the internet for being considered 'weird' for being online so much. My dad just barely stood it, and was always very strict and paranoid about 'You are never to meet any of these people or you will be murdered and your body hacked up.'

      Fast forward to my high school graduation and moving across the country, and we end up stopping one night to stay with a scooter forum buddy of his he'd never previously met, and later, my dad organizing huge meets for the folks off the forum.

  11. Love this! Some of my greatest friends are online, and I will not hesitate to meet any of them in person (it's only happened with a few so far), but the amount of time we spend on our forum, I feel like I know them all more intimately than I know many of my co-workers or people from high school/college!

  12. This post is awesome!

    I ended up meeting my husband in an online car modding forum. We both had the same interests (modding cars and video games), and were close friends on the forum. So, we decided to hang out for a bit in person. 3 hanging out sessions later, we were dating and 2 years later, we were married.

    The really cool part is, a few of our internet friends from the same forum ended up coming to our wedding! One drove all the way from New York (to Tennessee) for it.

    Nya, I love my internet friends. Some of them are closer to me than in person friends which is beyond awesome.

    3 agree
    • It's so cool to see the huge variety of places people have meet friends/significant others online. I'm mostly familiar with the tight knit fan communities that form around nerdy books or movies or comics, but then you get things like car modding or the mention of military spouses below, and even though the shared interest is so different, the communities they form can be so similar.

      2 agree
  13. I have made many great friends through the Internet over the years. Some go back as far as 10-15 years through a forum for a computer game. When I struggled with home life, they were there. When I was living away from home at university, they provided much needed company (til 6am – timezones rock). When I lost my virginity, the first person I told was one of those girls.

    I have met individuals on there in real life whilst at university, travelled to 'meet ups' where 6-8 people arrive at one destination for a weekend of in-jokes, laughter, sleeping in tents and the occasional bout of chaos. I even attended one such lady's wedding this year and eagerly await the birth of her first child. I have no doubt they'll be invited to my wedding.

    Funnily enough I have met more people since, through a separate community dedicated to both the theatre & sci fi conventions (it started when David Tennant did Hamlet). Through the magic of the Internet & Facebook, those two friendship groups are finding friends in each other too.

    1 agrees
    • oh my god weddings. None of my close friends I've met online have gotten married yet, but I know the day will come eventually. I can't even imagine how crazy that will be.

      • Axe-murderer friend weddings! Due to finances and physical distance, two groups of my internet BFFs (who are also BFFs with each other) had never met in person, even though I had met both. (My parents were incredibly forward-minded. They allowed me to meet internet friends on the way to where we were going on road trips, as long as they were there the first time and we met in a public place.)

        Fast forward, oh, eight years, and my best friend gets married and invites both sets. EXPLOSION OF WONDERFUL. And fast forward another two years, and my wedding gets them together again. So grateful for big life events making it possible for my axe-murderer friends to finally meet in the flesh.

        3 agree
        • ha! My mom called my husband "the axe murderer from NJ" for a long time (until they met and he and I had been dating about a year)

        • My mom was cool with this too! I met an online friend at the zoo when we happened to be in her state, when I was maybe 12. She and my dad got along really well with her parents, too, so it worked out well.

          1 agrees
  14. OMG YES THIS POST FOREVER.
    I met my boyfriend online. And when I say "met my boyfriend online", I don't mean Match.com. That's the way everyone interprets it when I say it, and explaining the reality of it is so difficult that I usually leave it at that.
    He knows that when I say "I have this friend who–", I mean "I have this online friend who–".
    I've always been more comfortable in conversations wherein I can save what I'm saying as a draft and come back to it later. I share more when I don't have to speak it–I'd so much rather listen, anyways.

    7 agree
    • YESSS. High-five for meeting boyfriends and/or girlfriends online-but-not-through-dating-sites (not that there's anything wrong with dating sites). I just feel like it's THAT MUCH MORE MAGICAL that we HAPPENED to find each other. But it's somehow more embarrassing to say "we met because we wanted to roleplay the same things" … Hahahaha!

      2 agree
    • I met all previous boyfriends (bar one)and my husband on the internet but not dating sites…. Granted i did meet hubby on myspace… which may have just been a dating site for teenagers/early 20's…

      I Want OBH Forums naaaooo!

  15. I'm slightly too old to have been able to do this in high school, but for me it was college! My boyfriend-now-husband was in the Army and I went to a liberal arts college…I felt torn between the college experience and loving and supporting my boyfriend. People in college used to tell me that they had 'no idea' how I could date someone in the military, that he was probably killing civilians, etc. I was also seriously depressed and angsty, which I'm sure didn't make me super awesome to be around all the time.

    I found a great network online of military girlfriends and wives, and while some of them were totally effing nuts, quite a few of them were absolutely amazing. We still talk and I've been friends with some of them longer than many of my real-life friends. When my husband went to Iraq they became even more important. I still talk to many of them on a weekly basis and have made even more friends as an adult who doesn't live in places with other young childfree professionals.

    Your story totally warmed my heart for this reason! I don't know where I'd be without my Internet friends, even if I feel the need to explain it to everyone in real life when they look at me like I'm nuts. :)

    1 agrees
  16. Chief among the things that saved my life: fantasy novels, internet forums, musicals. Often these things were combined.

    I was pretty lucky in that I had pretty solid nerdy friendships in high school, but I know I would be dead without the support of people on a few forums, some of whom are now dear real life friends.

    The two real life friends I have where I am now, I met online. Most of my current socializing happens on the Regretsy forums. I live on the internet. And I have no problem with that.

    2 agree
  17. yes this post! My best friends come from the land of interwebs as well, and I'm always talking about them and people look at me like I'm crazy! But my online friends aren't my friends because they want to be popular, or get your notes from you after class, or just sit next to you cuz you're both loners. They are my friends because they liked what I had to say and either wanted to argue with me about it, or agreed. My high school friends fell apart fast after graduation. They didn't need me for homework and well now they can try a new popularity contest called college, but it's okay because my real friends are online waiting to tear apart a new book's symbolism or argue about OTP's or just chat. And I love them for that.

  18. Seeing this headline made me so happy! I get so tired of all those fearmongering articles talking about how social networking is destroying people's ability to connect with one another. For some of us, online communication is the best and easiest way to get to know people. I've made some incredible friends on the internet, many of whom I've been able to meet in person over the years. The fact that they live in other states or countries doesn't make them any less real than people who live next door.

    1 agrees
  19. Oh no… it's my life story. Kind of.

    I don't actually have any friends IRL right now. Aside from having classes together, I didn't have a whole lot in common with most of my school friends. Let's be real… I have a huge Stargate chestpiece and cried buckets after basically every episode of BSG. That put me pretty far out into left field.

    From the time I was 10, I was hanging out on Neopets forums (the RP board and VPC, word uuuuppp). I made a really close knit group of friends. I miss them. Things happened. We split up.

    During high school, I felt weird for having more friends online than I had IRL. I strayed. And then I graduated and realized it was way better to be loved for who I am rather than who people IRL think I am.

    I love my internet folks with all my heart.

    3 agree
    • NEOPETS!!! I had a group of friends from there, too (The Draik Clan, i.e. the "DC"). Also have lost touch with all of them since then but, man, they were great.

      That's all.

  20. What an awesome article, thank you so much for this.

    I have met some of my very best friends online and one of them has become the sister that I never had growing up. We connected over music and found out we had more in common – and we were off and running from there.

    Its nice because a lot of my real life friends from college live far away so my online friends have been a lifesaver a lot of the times.

    Meeting people from the Internet doesn't have to be creepy or scary – you just have to be smart about it!

    1 agrees
  21. THIS, THIS, THIS, but the age doesn't matter. Really. I only vaguely communicate with IRL friends left from high school or college (& then, it's thru Facebook, hah), but all my closest friendships of the past 20 years, other than my husband, have started thru the interwebs.

    First, in the early '90s, it was usenet. And really, a lot of my closest 'net friends are those same people, we've just left that system & moved on to LiveJournal, IM, Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, even texting. We live all over the world. We've met up at various times over the years, but we mostly just chat online. While we started talking in a certain little niche, now we talk about our marriages, careers, kids, cats, politics, growing old (since we're mostly in our 40s now).

    And then there's all the geographically local people I didn't really know until we "met" online thru some interest group. Now we hangout IRL but they're still originally net friends. I'd seriously have no social life if not for the internet!

  22. "I genuinely and deeply wanted to be cool on my Harry Potter message board. There were some Big Name Fans (so popular they basically had their own fan followings) who had been around forever and had all these amazing inside jokes. They commanded the respect of the entire forum any time they jumped in a thread, and we all desperately wanted to be a part of their in-crowd."

    This was one of the things that really resonated with me. I have found that internet cliques tend to be similar to real life ones. There are always the "cool" internet forum people. It always felt weird to me…WHO GETS TO DECIDE I'M NOT COOL??

    This whole article is super awesome though. Finding friends online is nothing to be ashamed of. Finding friends is similar to dating in my opinion, just without the romantic aspect. So why not use the internet to branch out?

    1 agrees
  23. This makes me smile, the story and the comments. I got online in 1994 at age 17, and a few months later discovered IRC (internet relay chat). In 1997 I joined a chat channel for Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I met the man I married there and am still in touch with many of the friends I made there today.

    And my habit of making friends online has never stopped. I even have friends online I met first in person, through mutual friends, and only discovered our common interests and passions when we began interacting online.

    I think about how rich my life is because of this how i have friends around the world and across the nation, some who I have never had the privilege to meet despite a decade and a half of support and friendship.

    And how as a nerdy, nerdy girl, before that was anything resembling cool, I found out I wasn't alone, was able to build and maintain lasting friendships and relationships, without changing who I was.

    As I'm old enough to remember both worlds, the one without as well as the one with internet, I couldn't be more thankful for a technology.

  24. Shout out for The Westing Game reference! I was OBSESSED with that book when I was little and totally tried to talk some friends into incorporating some of its ideas into our games once. That..didn't go so well.
    I really love this. I'm sorta a Harry Potter Fan World in-law, one of my good friends is a Wizard Rocker and through her concerts, I've met lots of really awesome musicians and fans. It's such an amazing and supportive community.

    • ah ha ha. Westing Game and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler were my two big playtime inspirations when I was little. I kept trying to force all my friends to play with me, but that's something everyone really has to be on board with and they… very much weren't. (It's a wonder I ever had friends I didn't find on the internet, thinking back on it….)

      2 agree
  25. I relate to this article so very much it's terrifying. It was like you were reading into my mind. My very best friend in the entire Universe, bar none, I met in an online Harry Potter community.

    We maintained a friendship through her moving TWELVE time zones away and her living in another country. Later this year, she's going to be the only person in my "party" because she's the only person I know for a fact I want up there with me when I get married.

    Thank you so much for this. I can't even begin to tell you how much this will mean to all those crazy internet people I still talk with. :-) I'm amplifying your sound on my Facebook. :-)

  26. Oh, honey, I couldn't agree with you more. I fell into the internet in my 20's–through a Harry Potter website, myself. Thank you for the article. Found families are amazing and needed.

    1 agrees
  27. Yes! I still have a few friends that I met on the internet back in middle school/high school. It's funny because I forget that's how I met them, and when I remember, it seems so weird. But it's not!

  28. I didn't have internet when I was a teenager, but if it had existed I would have fallen into it headfirst, and it would have been a godsend to a socially awkward freak girl in a backwater small town. (High school graduating class:127, and it was the first year that nobody dropped out.)

    I still exchange christmas cards and sometimes lovely presents with the friend I met in college through a Listserv board about horror movies. I've met and befriended people from Norway, ireland, South Africa and other great places through the computer. I skype all the time with friends from a forum I used to be a mod on. We share all the same kinds of life stuff that you share with people you meet in a "normal" way. I've even got freelance work through contacts made online.

    Dude, the internet is great, and I think it is especially wonderful for people who might be awkward talkers but good typers, like me. :)

    2 agree
  29. Like everyone else here, this is so my adolescence <3 I used to ferret out the internet password when my parents tried to hide it, and learned about deleting browser history, because I felt horrible when I got disconnected from my forum buddies (I'm now also realizing I've been a net hound for longer than I thought, having realized some of those hiding spots where in a house we left when i was young).

    I met several good friends off of ICQ's old chat with a friend feature that set you up with other random people who had it set on. God, I miss those days. I ended up with a really good friend in Finland because of it (who spent half our friendship thinking I was a fellow boy, because apparently my clearly feminine American name is similar to a masculine Finnish name).

    I am SOOO looking forward to the forums starting here! I've had a hard time making new friends since I moved to England and started uni in the fall; I've never thought much about generally always having friends 6-15 years older than me, but damn, there is such a noticeable gap between 'worldly' (one of their words) 25 year old me and my more traditional 18 year old fellow students in my BSc degree, and I desperately miss my old Boston drinking and gaming buddies. Being in a monogamous partnership headed towards engagement also means the old habit of finding people through 'the date didn't click, but you're cool, so let's be friends' and expanding through socials circles that way is out. Sigh. I'm looking forward to chattiness on a homie forum, and am secretly nursing a hope that I'll discover homies nearby for local pub/knitting/gaming/gardening escapades.

    1 agrees
    • Hey! Whereabouts are you at uni? English Homie here, up for pubbing and very poor crocheting :)

      1 agrees
        • Hampshire. Bit south and west of you, not far from the coast – about 80 miles. Possibly a bit far for regular pub going! Boo.

          I'm looking forward to the forums too – I have always made friends on t'interwebs and have much more trouble in the flesh. It's so much easier to say what you want in words on a screen than it is out loud, somehow saying them makes them get all swallowed up, which, given that I write like I speak is daft!

          1 agrees
          • My partner's mum lives down in that area, so have made the occasional trip; is a bit far for a regular occurrence, but possibly not too far for the occasional shenanigans? ;) If you ever want to chat, I see the email addresses of comments on my blog, as a semi secure way of trading addy's.

  30. Dude… there are so many folks who remember Harry Potter fandoms here. Were any of you on Diagonally?

    So many memories.

    • I wish I could ask a sensical question to figure out if that's one of the ones I was on, because it sounds soooo familiar, but at the same time, well, Diagon Alley. Like, "Oh my god, was there those crazy long forum posts over months that were supposed to be one Winter ball, some of them in really good RP, some of them complete Mary Sues?" probably isn't really going to sort out one forum from the next, I'd guess.

      Whichever one I went to was rich in RP, and I remember my shining moment was having a male Slytherin character who I discovered one fellow forum member thought 'if that's not a guy writing that character, I'll eat my hat'.

      • Nah, this wasn't role playing at all. It was a discussion forum for grown up Harry Potter fans. There was an attached website that eventually held fics and art, but the forum was the big business.

    • Diagon Alley was too friendly to multiple ships for me. It was The Sugarquill all the way for me! (I was going to guess it was SQ for Ella West, too. It just sounded familiar.)

      While I never got into 'ship wars, I was a thirteen-year-old Ron/Hermione 'shipper who thought anyone who didn't agree was WRONG and STUPID.

      I have since mended my ways, and ship ALL the 'ships, including ALL the poly combinations thereof. :D

      2 agree
      • Ha ha, GOT IT IN ONE. You were on the Quill too? That place was my home for years during middle and high school.

    • Oh yes!
      I was super into the art section and always wanted people to love my obsessive drawings of ginny. But yes. I read The Draco Trilogy, fangirled Cassandra Claire and printed out fanfiction stories to read in bed like books.
      Sometimes I miss Diagon Alley! What happened to it?

      • Ahhhh, I used to open up the next ten pages of a fanfic on the computer and hop back offline, because we had dial up, and that reduced the risk of my parents calling home and discovering I'd spent all afternoon reading online XD

        1 agrees
      • DA closed down due to low traffic and the cost of maintaining the archive. 'Twas a sad day. I'm still LJ friends with some of the other mods.

  31. Oh my lord, this post takes me back! I was *so* involved with Harry Potter fanfic and forums when I was about 14/15. Probably around the same time as you!

    I never made any lasting friends in that way (too scared of axe-murderers?), but it really helped me feel like I fit in at a time when I was having trouble with that.

  32. Oh my goodness, I love this post so much. This is so true for me .. after I moved, I had such a hard time making friends locally in high school. If I didn't have my pack of long-time internet friends, I would have been incredibly depressed. There are people I met on the internet when I was eleven that I am STILL close with almost 16 years later. That's more than I can say for anyone I know offline.

    The hard part is getting people to view them as valid friendships. My mother still insists I have no social life because I don't go out (I'm not a bar person or anything..), but in reality I have about sixteen or so people I talk to daily, constantly, and I wouldn't trade them for anything. So what if one of my closest friends lives in Ireland?

    And trust me, homegirl using the alias Finnick understands the importance of finding others who can geek out about your favourite books as hard as you do. ;)

    • (And don't even get me started on all the great people I've met through RP. Including my girlfriend!)

  33. So um… was anyone else on Sheroes?

    I always say I grew up on Sheroes. It was a femminist forum for teengagers who liked Tamora Pierce. We came for fangirling and stayed for discussion. I wouldn't be the person I am today without sheroes. Most of the things I care about now I learnt years ago there.

    Sometimes I go and hover aound still but it is so quiet. Like a new thread a month. We've all grown up… but I wish it was still the strong hold it used to be.

    1 agrees
  34. okay. here goes. i live in a small town on the Ohio River in Indiana. I have my husband, my cats, my puppy and 1 friend at work. i have always be been terrible at making friends. people, as a rule, at least in this area, find me off-putting. i have never learned how to make friends, moving around a lot as a child, i never really learned. i am super open to making friends. my husband is by far my best friend but he only (lovingly) tolerates my fandoms (Doctor Who, Sherlock). i have yet to find anyone who i can discuss, with the enthusiasm i have in spades, for these things. i try.. i can't even talk about my vegetarianism in this area without seeing eyes a-rolling. If anyone is interested in chatting (yes I am using this as friend-matchmaking for myself) or knows how I can meet people in my own area who share my interests let me know. These interest include, gaming (Borderlands, L4D), Doctor Who, Sherlock (massive fan of johnlock fanfiction), some tabletop, movies, animals,… drinking… and being all around as goofy as fuck.

    • "i can't even talk about my vegetarianism in this area without seeing eyes a-rolling."

      That is just part of being in Indiana, I think (I'm in Indiana too!). Unfortunately I'm not familiar with your flavour of nerdiness, but I can sympathize with being extremely geeky and having no one to appreciate your fangirling. :D

    • Hello, fellow Whovian and Johnlock shipper and vegetarian! I am April and I am 33 years old and alas, I live in Portland, Oregon. My LJ is aprilstarchild (if you're on LJ) and my tumblr is april-likes-things (but beware: I post porn).

      1 agrees
  35. This is really well timed considering the thread above this comment, but I met my BFF on Pinterest. I'm in Australia, she lives in Indiana! We talk pretty much daily.
    I'm echoing the rest of the responses with "my life, you just described it, omg"; I still have friends from LJ and living in a city where I know like 6 people, having my extensive online social group (mostly tumblr-based these days!) is just the best. While I would love (LOVE) if my people were nearer to me, I'm pretty used to running my social life through extensive comment discussions and neverending facebook messages :)
    I love my internet people!

    • Ah! Someone else with a cross continent best mate! I'm in England and she's in Australia – and we met via the very first chat feature on OBB (I feel such an empire fangirl now!) maybe in late 07/early 08. We chat most days and I can't think of anyone who knows more of my secrets or feelings. I'm so glad the world sent her to me as she's regularly saved my sanity, in the same way my oldest net friend did – I met him when the internet was still young in about 97, and though our lives have both changed massively we still email regularly.

      In my experience, mates formed via the net fall away less because you like each others brains, thoughts and feelings, rather than bonding over shared circumstances. When those change sometimes it turns out you don't actually have anything left in common to talk about – whereas friendship based on nothing concrete is more about the two people. For me, anyway!

    • Indiana folks errwhere on this comment thread.

      1 agrees
  36. Ohmygosh, this totally describes my adolescence! Hahaha. The main difference being that, for me, it was a roleplaying chatroom dedicated to Les Miserables. ;-) It was a group of 5-10 pre-teen/teenage girls who got together, pretended to be characters from the musical/book, and chatted about our lives. We sent each other letters, chatted all night, and I eventually met two of them in real life later on.

    For a while in college I had a similar group of ladies who I chatted with on the regular in a roleplaying/fan group devoted to dragons. It was awesome.

    I'm not particularly close to any of the girls from either of those groups these days, but they got me through some rough social patches in my life and helped me feel less alone when I didn't fit in or was going through kind of depressed periods. So important.

    Thank you for making me feel less like a total weirdo. ;-)

  37. I wanna know how you managed to crawl into my life and write exactly what my internet buddies mean to me?

    Bravo! Well done, insightful and dead on.

  38. I met a ton of friends through the Lord of the Rings fandom 10+ years ago, including the friend who ended up introducing me to my husband. I also met one of my best friends who lives in Belgium, and we spent a great weekend together when I lived in London.

    The beauty is I'm still making new friends through blogging and Twitter and other fan communities. The internet is for friends!

  39. How is it so uncannily fitting that I read this post now?

    I first got into making internet friends about ten years ago in the Harry Potter fanfiction…fan…dom. But things never got to extend past just online interaction – I was in my early teens when the first Harry Potter films came out (I remember writing a gazillion haikus to celebrate the release of the fifth book) and it wouldn't have been appropriate or even possible at the time to meet any of my online friends. And things fell apart rather quickly, as well – it was hard to make friends and write fanfiction with AP classes and college applications, over time.

    Fast forward ten years: I am involved in a few tumblr fandom families. Last summer I got to go to LeakyCon for the first time, and I roomed with three people I became friends with from the internet. One of these friends is coming with me to vacation for a bit next week, as well as the fact that we're going to be roomies at LeakyCon Portland this summer as well. I am so incredibly excited for both times, it has been FAR too long since we've seen each other already!

    What still completely floors me is the camaraderie and affection we all have for each other – especially in our little tumblr family. We love each other, send each other letters in the mail – on Valentine's day a few friends and I are going to dress up and have a candlelit dinner via Google+ (I'm super excited because it's going to be so ridiculous). I am just so incredibly glad to be part of such a group, even if some of us have never met before.

    Last – to Ella, specifically: reading this was like reading my autobiography. I think I know the website/forums you were talking about. It's still on my bucket list to become a Master one day.

  40. I'm so happy I found this post. As a suicidal pre-teen, who was known as the weirdest in the class, being into videogames and all, I loved chatrooms.
    The people who were my age were so lovely and wonderful.I felt less suicidal in just 2 months.
    My mother never liked me going on chat-rooms. She didn't even know I was suicidal. She made me quit, and I became suicidal again.
    But, everyday, I would sneak back on, and began to smile and laugh everyday.
    I loved my "Interneg Friends" and still talk to them today.

  41. You're less odd than you think!

    I think I'm older than alot of your readers, for me it was when I moved home after graduate school.

    Today I'm married to one of the nice boys I met online, and half our bridal party was "from the internet".

    Just last month we went to the wedding of one of my bridesmaids. She had three family pictures taken at the wedding, his side of the family, her side of the family, and the internet side of the family!

  42. The most important question I have about this whole article (which is amazing, by the way) is whether or not you knew about the Cassandra Claire plagiarism debacle/MsScribe scandal and despise them as much as I do.

  43. most of my friends live in my computer. sadly, of all my internet friends, i've only met one "IRL". but these are the people i interact with every day, and despite us never having met face-to-face, they know me better than my own family in some ways. if i ever win the lottery, we're all meeting up for a nice long vacation somewhere.

    i also met my FI on the internet, and plan to invite all the internet friends to the wedding. i'm pretty sure that only a few (if any) will come because of travel constraints, but they're all more than welcome if they can make it.

  44. I'M SORRY THIS MIGHT BE A REALLY WEIRD QUESTION BUT I'M WONDERING IF WE'RE FROM THE SAME BOARD. I grew up on the AOL Kids HP message board – we still have a private group on Facebook with 34 members (at least 20 of who still interact on it almost every single day) and we mostly all met on Goblet of Fire. It's where I got the nickname Pixy which I use to this day. I was an E-Marauder. DO I KNOW YOU, CAUSE THAT WILL BE SO DAMN INTERESTING!!!

  45. Seeing you guys talk so happily is making me even more sad :(
    I'm a 13 year old who has stumbled upon this site while searching for material to convince my parents but I'm sure they will NOT get convinced.
    I started having online friends about 1 year ago,when I entered fandoms.
    I live in a town in India,so almost no one gets my references of ALMOST EVERYTHING because well,I'm caught up in book and TV fandoms,and YouTube and English music and stuff which is not understood by my friends bc in India its completely different.
    So when I found online friends,it was just….I was so happy.Finally,people who UNDERSTOOD me.Who got my references and with whom I could talk and rant about stuff I loved.
    Even better than that,I found online friends who live in India and understood how it was bc they too had friends who didn't get it.
    I had been hiding this from my parents for about a year when they found out.
    I had been hiding this because,well,this is India where parents are much more conservative.
    My brother ratted me out and I got a huge lecture even though I tried to tell them and now I'm not allowed to talk to them anymore.
    They viewed the people I loved the most as not real,virtual and people who had the potential to harm me and cut me off from them,WHICH BROKE ME.
    I said goodbye to them and it was tearful and everyone was crying and they even offered to call and talk to my parents.
    Its been a few weeks and I'm just dying without them.
    I cry and my parents notice that but dismiss it as "social networking withdrawal symptoms".
    THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND. It feels like part of me has been ripped off and my real friends don't understand too. It hurts so much even now,thinking about them.
    The memories we had,of discussing videos and music and fanfiction and this and that and just EVERYTHING.
    The jokes we cracked,and promises and plans to somehow meet.
    We shared everything and well, they were my best friends, sisters. One of them is my parabatai and I miss her so much :'(
    The hours we spent talking and teasing and mock fighting.
    The fandoms I introduced them into and the fandoms they introduced me to.
    The puns we cracked,the references,the long rants we had over authors who killed our favorite characters and over badly made movies of books.
    But more than the fandom stuff,the way we understood and loved each other.The way we comforted each other and cursed idiots who had insulted the other. The time I panicked when she had taken up the blade and how I talked my friend out of it.
    The time I cried about how my real BFF had insulted me and they all cursed at her and told me I was perfect.
    Gods,I miss them so,so damn much.
    I envy you all :(

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