“There she is!” I whisper to my cat who has taken up residence next to my laptop.
I’m about to give an online presentation from my home in Maine to a writing group in St. Louis. My best friend helped arrange the event. I recognize her immediately as she stands to address the women in the crowd.
“We’ve never met in person, but we rarely go a day without talking,” she says in her introduction.
I gush. She’s my closest friend, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen her. I’ve seen pictures, of course, but not a living, breathing, fully animated Angela.
We met in 2011 during a Skype job interview and instantly hit it off. She’s right: In the five years we’ve known each other, hardly a day goes by without us communicating. We share the ups and downs, successes and failures, and even the latest gossip all through email. Even though she lives thousands of miles across the country, she’s the closest friend I have — and she’s only a click away.
Our relationship bridged a gap between the two hemispheres of my social life: pre-family and after-family, as I call them. Before starting a family — I have five kids — I had an abundance of friends. There was never a shortage of something to do or someone to do something with.
Now that I have a family, life has become an endless to-do list. Along the way, I lost the ability to maintain “real-world” friendships — the kind where you meet in person for coffee, catch a movie on a Sunday afternoon, or just call to vent about the latest episode of a popular sitcom. Who can hear over five kids fighting?
Despite my best intentions and endless Post-it notes reminding me to visit or call my friends, I did nothing. I was stretched too thin. Being a wife and mother didn’t allow much room for the upkeep of additional human companionship.
It hurt to have old friends slip away. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it also came with relief. Traditional friendships are a lot of work — requiring availability, constant interaction and, most of the time, pants. So much was already expected of me at home that the real-world friendships I had once cherished started to stress me out. I didn’t want to say no, but I also didn’t want to make plans I knew would be broken. My friends deserved a better friend than I could be.
So for years I was the friendless Annie who celebrated, and cried, in solitude. It wasn’t like I didn’t have someone to fill the void. Kids, husband, FedEx delivery people. Or so I thought.
Then one day, I had a defining moment. I had some big news I wanted to tell someone. But I had no one — except the cat. In many ways, I had been alone.
It wasn’t long after that I met Angela and realized I could have the best of both worlds. I could be a good, evergreen friend without the stress of a traditional friendship. Online friends are always present, but there are no huge expectations or broken promises. You don’t have to return a call at midnight. Or try to fit cocktails in after work when there are kids to pick up from day care. There’s no pressure to get dressed and go somewhere. No one can see if you’re still wearing pajamas at 3 p.m. or if you haven’t had a moment to wash your hair. Online, friendships are easier.
Today, I have no traditional friends. But I’m okay with that, because I have an abundance of online friends. And in my opinion, those are the best kind of friends to have.