Friends in Real Life

Friends in Real Life

We've never met in person. Is Dan my real life friend?

He sent a note in Facebook, to let me know about his “massive shift” using social media.

He said he was winnowing down to “IRL” friends and he wished me the best. We’re still connected on Twitter and LinkedIn, so he hasn’t disappeared completely.

I felt grateful for the note. Even though I didn’t regularly comment on his Facebook posts, I paid attention. We share a love for running, a home state, and a deep faith. I would have noticed the sudden cessation of his posts in my News Feed. I would have felt bewildered if I looked and found myself suddenly unfriended. (It’s happened before; I try, sometimes unsuccessfully, not to take it personally.)

I can’t begin to guess his reason for the shift, but I can understand, on some levels.

Navigating social media channels and maintaining balance between work life, family life, and online life can be challenging. Maintaining connections to a large number of online friends is time consuming.

Not everyone wants to share their lives and thoughts with a virtual room full of people. Can you really call them all friends? Would you call them strangers?

Of my 891 (now 890), only a few are friends that I see every week. A few are family, many are friends from various stages of my life: high school, college, grad school, former coworkers.

Many are friends I’ve met online through Twitter and blogging. Some are collaborators, some are clients, some — although not many — are people I don’t know very well at all.

Are they real life friends?

When does an online contact become a real life friend? Does it happen when you meet face to face for the first time? Or when you have a Skype call? When you exchange emails or talk on the phone? When their face is familiar and you can tick off a list of their likes and dislikes?

Where is the line for you?

Does it shift?

Can you identify the moment when someone moves from being an online contact (fan, friend, follower, or connection) to being a friend in real life?

Does it matter? 

What would you gain if you decided to limit Facebook to real life friends only? What would you lose?

Tell me something! Are we real life friends? How do you define real life friends? How do you know when someone shifts from being an online contact to a real life friend?

Pictured to the right is Dan Rockwell, who writes the popular Leadership Freak blog. Even though we have never met, I consider him a real friend. 

Filed As:  online, followers

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • Our friendship was sealed over pancakes, waffles and little girl crayons and that’s a bond that can’t be broken. Don’t mess with IHOP!

    • Lisa…
      If only we could get together again. Someday..
      Becky

  • Hey, Becky, my friend. Though we have not met, I consider you a friend. But I also consider many of my FB friends to be real friends because they are staff around the world. Because my main assignment in our ministry is to love and encourage our staff, FB is a perfect way to do that. There’s no way I can get everywhere they are, though I have met many. But this way I am connected.

    • JeeDoo,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment here. I definitely consider you a friend and I love the way you use the internet to connect to friends around the world.

      Becky

  • I have never met you Becky, but I really know you.

    Your heart is kind.
    Your soul is filled with beauty.
    Your mind is brilliant.
    and Your being is generous.

    I have never met you in real life. but I know you and I will continue to learn more and more each day.

    LOVE YOU MORE than yesterday

    Lolly

    L

    • Lolly,

      Thank you! I am honored by your words. You are a real friend to me and I am touched by the ways you make a difference in my life.

      Becky

  • Becky, In a way, we all get what we want.

    I feel blessed and provided for, even fortunate, to have hundreds of real life friends who I have never met in person. Social Media is a wonderful tool and I’m grateful for you and those other people. They are all real life friends in my book. As someone who feels blessed by the interaction with others, I don’t want to limit my sphere of friends to simply those who happen to be in the same physical location.

    Some people don’t want that. I can’t speak for them because I don’t understand them. That’s OK. They are who they are.

    When I’m “friends” with someone, I don’t lose anything. There is no magic number of friends over which I’m not a good friend. There are some practical limits, but I’m grateful that geography isn’t one of those. Having moved a lot, it never was. I have great friends all over the place from moving and from Social Media. How great is that?

    Grateful for my real-life friends.

    Mike…

    • Mike,
      I couldn’t have said it better myself.
      Grateful for you!
      Becky

  • Hi Becky! Some of the connection I share with you is one that I share with a lot of my FB friends. We’ve done theatre together! Common experiences and interests are what define my friendships, I guess, both on-line and IRL. Most of the FB friends that I’ve not met came from my 10-year relationship with them that started because we all subscribed to the same cooking magazine and got on-line to talk about it. Many of my other friends I’ve only been able to know IRL for a brief period because we’ve done a show together. I still enjoy having all these people in my life even though it’s in such a small way.

    • Angela,
      Your comment brought back memories. Thank you!

      Thanks for your insights re: online vs. real life friendships.
      Becky

  • Becky, we’ve met in person, but I considered you a friend long before that. We talked on the phone, but you were a friend before that too. I remember being amazed that we found each other in Twitter, only to be surprised that we had SO much in common. How the heck does that happen 140 characters at a time? Hard to believe, but it does.

    I think consistent conversation, connection and communication are key. We really DO get to know someone from watching their tweet stream. When we engage with them, then the real magic starts to happen.

    I’m grateful for you, and even grateful for Twitter because of the friendships that I have developed. What a true gift this social media turned out to be!!

    • Erin,

      I hope we get to spend more face-to-face time soon. I am grateful for your friendship. Thanks for sharing the story of our friendship here.
      Becky

  • Hi, Becky

    As usual, thought-provoking and a razor-like focus on the human side of social media and relationships.

    My “friends” in social media are much like yours, a mixture of real-life and virtual, from long ago and right this instant, of varying degrees of communication, connection, and intimacy.

    A friend is someone who you know enough about to trust.

    I have a relatively small group of trusted advisors (like you:) who I respect for their talent, their knowledge, AND their willingess to share in this very ill-defined medium we spend so much time navigating.

    I have a much large group of people I consider friends at the acquaintance level. We “see” each other regularly or sporadically, we have some knowledge of each other, and our sharing is calculated.

    Then there are all the others. I follow thousands on Twitter, for example, and many are just names. On a somewhat regular basis, I cut the spammers and the inactive folks, but leave the rest there.

    You never know when a name might become an acquaintance or an acquaintance become a friend or an advisor.

    Trust is always the key element in where a person is in my little personal pantheon.

    I tend to offer some level of trust easily and early in a relationship, then let events and actions determine whether that trust is strengthened, weakened, or blasted apart.

    Regarding social media environments, I have had serious discussions with “heathens” (non-social media types) who believe that online relationships cannot be real. I respectfully disagree.

    I have been disappointed and even betrayed by people with whom I have had long, significant, face-to-face relationships and I have received wonderful blessings from people whose breath will never mix with mine over coffee.

    Social media is simply one way to communicate and connect. It has its limitations, but it also has its values. For example, how else would many of us establish warm professional relationships with people somewhere else, especially in this day of reduced travel funds and increasingly busy daily “grinds”?

    An interesting side observation: I trust some online relatively recent relationships more than some relationships which are long-term and on the same turf.

    Bottom line for me: Trust determines the level of relationship and lack of physical proximity is not a deal-breaker.

    BTW, I consider you a trusted advisor and a friend:) you make my brain work …

    John

    • John,

      Thank you for your thoughtful and wise comment.
      I value you!
      Becky

  • Becky-

    I don’t think is a requirement that we meet in real life to make a “real” friendship. I believe our online friendships are determined the same way as the face2face.

    A friend is someone who takes up residence in our hearts and in our minds. By some invisible thread or signal, we can tell when they are not around. It may take us a few days, but we go in search of them. Some may feel this is a tenuous connection, but it is more than most people do for their IRL friends. W
    You and I have never met, and I feel we are friends. Dan and I have spoken when I was having a tough time with an issue.

    What makes a friend? A true connection which has nothing to do with distance.

    At least IMHO 🙂

    Martina
    @martinamcgowan

    • Becky, you nailed it with “maintaining balance between work life, family life, and online life can be challenging. Maintaining connections to a large number of online friends is time consuming.”

      Though I thoroughly enjoyed conversations with many people on Facebook, you and several who commented here in particular, the demands of corporate life, family, church, and physically serving others had exhausted my resources.

      It was not an easy decision to pull back, but God-given priorities in life demanded that I give myself to my family first, my longtime friends, my church, some who I have been personally mentoring, and the disadvantaged both locally and internationally. I miss the interaction I had with you and a number of others and I’m glad we are still connected via other social mediums. Thank you for understanding, for your post seasoned with grace, and keep training for that marathon some day! 🙂

  • Becky,

    I do think that meeting someone IRL can really up the ante in a relationship. It doesn’t mean the people I’ve not met personally aren’t my friends, it’s just a different level of connection.

    That’s why I’m looking forward to (finally!) meeting you IRL next month when we both speak at the Choices Conference.

  • “In real life” has taken a different connotation for me to include “in virtual life.” I’ve been blessed to meet a handful of virtual friends in real life, which has certainly strengthened our connection, yet I still feel a connection to my “virtual life” friends. In many cases, I can tap into my virtual friendships with questions and receive responses much more rapidly than my real-life friends.

    I am a strong advocate that the relationship — real or virtual — is what you make of it. If you desire a stronger connection, then make it happen. Meeting “in real life” is fantastic, yet not realistic for those of us in different parts of the country. As an online graduate school professor, it’s been my experience that a virtual connection can be as strong – if not stronger – than one “in real life.”

    angie

  • You are so, so right…We need more people like you around!

    Down with social media.
    I want socializing, and no media!

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