One day two years ago, I had this conversation with my mom over the phone.
Erika: Hey, Ma. I’m heading to Indy next week and I’m going to meet my friend, Laura.
Ma: That’s nice.
E (pushing because I deep down I told her for the reaction): It’s my friend I met through Flickr…
M: Really? You’ve never met her before? You are going to met her in public? How do you know she isn’t a crazy person?
E: Well, my other friend thinks you can probably read Crazy in her photos. And her photos seem normal.
M: Is this other friend also an online friend?
M: Text me when you’re done. And don’t do anything crazy. Promise?
I had the same conversation again with her but the city changed to Marietta. And then it changed to Atlanta. By the time I picked up my Toronto friend from the airport and put her up at my house, my mother had gotten used to my Stranger Meeting phone calls.
My mother was not the only person wary of me meeting online friends. Mark was worried, but knew he had no authority to stop me. My friends in Columbus probably also thought it was odd. But I usually cut them off with: “I know. It’s weird. I know this.” It isn’t normal to make friends online if you aren’t dating or into video games. I’m supposed to make friends at work or through my kids’. After a certain age, you stop trying to strike up conversations at the grocery. You stop hoping you’ll make a great friend over a head of Bib lettuce. You take a class and maybe you’ll find someone with common interest. I wasn’t taking classes. I was working and raising a young family. Personally, I didn’t want to make the effort. I have a small group of close friends and I figured I was good friend-wise.
But Flickr was different. I met women with the same interest: photography. We learned about each others’ lives one frame at a time. So instead of playing it safe or being normal, I typed Laura and email and said, “I’m coming to Indy. Wanna meet for a drink?” And we did. That meeting made it easier to have others. Through different photos, Suzanne and I realized we both lived in Columbus. Becky (IRL friend made stronger through photography) and I made plans to meet her in a local spot. I found a work trip that would put in Atlanta and talked with Jessica while the golden light faded to blackness (a no-no for Photog friends). And that Fall, Carmen hopped off a plane and into my car. Recently, I pushed for another work trip but this time to Maine. Kristin showed me her city and I hugged her in person. Come October, I’m hoping to meet the rest of the O+U ladies in Toronto.
We took a different route towards friendship. No book club or dinner parties. We swam around the Internet, brought it into real life and took a chance. When I have a personal problem, I take it to the O+U group. They aren’t caught up in a personal drama, so their unbiased opinion is respected and appreciated. If I have a creative problem, my computer is a bucket of solutions. Some people complain that the Internet is forcing us to not connect with our friends and family. Throw a rock, find that article. Maybe some people’s friendships have suffered because of the Internet. But some have flourished because of it. Some were born and nurtured because of it.
Life is hard. And I want mine filled with as many good friends as I can make. On Thursday, Carmen brought her boys to Columbus. Years from now, my kids won’t think it’s crazy that they spent two days with Mom’s Internet friend. Because I have a feeling this will be the norm a decade from now. One day, I’ll be old and saucy when the phone rings.
Coop: Ma! Remember that guy I told you about who was helping me with that song?*
Me: Yay. In England?
Coop: No. Gawd, listen would ya? In Turkey.
Me: Oh, yay. Turkey.
Coop: He’s coming over to the states and we’re going to meet in person to discuss the second verse.
Me: Have fun and meet in public, would ya?
*I picked music but I have no idea what he’d be meeting a stranger over. He’s seven, people.