Lonely girl wearing a long-sleeve looking at her phone.

As children we crave companionship; we strive to get to know the kids of our next-door neighbours. We walk home from school together with our classmates, we attend karate classes, and choirs, and play football.

It’s not only the wish of our parents (to provide us with a quality upbringing), but it’s also about the bonds we lack that may not be fulfilled by our familiar or academic circle.

Nevertheless, the 21st century has seen a lot of digital advancements that even though make our lives easier and more convenient, they distance us from true, real-life connections. Sadly, one might experience the struggle of finding friends in real life due to introversion or anxiety that fills up the life of a great part of the world.

According to the World Health Organization, the global pandemic has increased the level of anxiety by at least 25 percent. But a person without the ability to socialize and fulfil rudimentary social needs is like a dying plant. So, what is left then? That’s right—turning to the virtual world. But is it the key to happy relationships? Let’s dive deeper into the topic of online friends and how they can help our virtual relationships flourish.

The harsh reality of social isolation

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social isolation and loneliness can be linked to several complex illnesses and disorders:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Suicidality and self-harm
  • Dementia
  • Earlier death

As it is seen, the risks associated with social neglect are quite threatening and can cause irreversible damage. It’s important to note that different helplines exist around the globe, therefore, no one should stay alone with the feeling of sadness, sorrow, or grief.

Even though the Internet can be seen as a dark and oversaturated place, it can provide comfort or offer relevant information regarding depressive thoughts. Support groups, as well as various online platforms and mobile apps, can help you connect with those of your kind.

How to find online companionship?

The question then arises, where to look for online friends? Here are some tips:

  • Search for online circles that are interested in the topics that ignite your passion. May it be fantasy literature, archery, or constructing airplanes, people with whom you share mutual interests will be able to understand you on a deeper level and offer valuable advice or honest company.
  • Social media groups can be beneficial if you’re not fond of anonymity. You will be able to see what the person looks like, what is their name, and maybe a few details that they’ve shared publicly. As an amateur sewer, recently I got hooked up on a group where people share their vintage sewing patterns. Don’t be scared to complete the cracks in your soul.
  • Mobile applications can also help you find online friends. Be it social media, game communities, or mental health apps, connecting lost souls, as long as you feel heard, that’s the most important part.
Photo: Unsplash.com

The benefits of having online friends

Online friendships can be highly beneficial if you want to learn more about the world and different cultures without spending a large amount of money. While sitting in front of your tablet, or having curled up with a tablet or your smartphone, you can build eye-opening and transformative relationships. Online communities can offer you the space to express yourself fully and share your passions about niche or obscure subjects without the fear of humiliation.

In addition, online groups and forums can work as a space for self-expression. Thus, being in an anonymous position can strengthen your autonomy and improve your sense of self. You can share your writings, drawings, or even music freely and get relevant feedback from fellow creatives.

Another advantage is mental health support. Many online communities offer the opportunity to vent and tell your stories without fear. Community guidelines are usually very strict which is why the moderators are assigned to look after the order and ban possibly harmful individuals. This helps to make online communities healthy and safe, regardless of your economic or geographical situation.

The difficulties we face online

Even though it might seem that I praise virtual relationships, I want to pay attention to several possible unpleasantries that might occur online. I would like to enumerate these:

  • Lack of intimacy. Even though online friends can help you fill the void with a deep conversation, the need for intimacy still persists. One might even suffer from touch deprivation. To learn more about this phenomenon, I suggest you read an article on the subject that was published on LifeBonder quite recently. This will help you get acquainted with the matter of “skin hunger”.
  • “Lost in translation”. Have you ever heard of “Chinese Whispers”? It’s a game where children whisper one message which travels through the ears of the others. Each kid has to tightly listen to the message and transfer it as accurately as possible. The last one in line shouts the message out loud. The same can happen when you’re chatting with someone online, as you cannot feel the person’s mood. You can’t hear the intonation in the voice, or feel the overall demeanour. Therefore, you might misinterpret the original intention of the text. This can lead to arguments, emotional damage, or make you think that the other person wants to hurt you on purpose.
  • Personal space breaches. As we don’t know, who is lurking online, we have to be prudent with our personal details, such as phone number, and address, and I’m not even talking about social security numbers or birthdates. Be careful and cautious about sharing your personal information, an online friend can swiftly become a creepy stalker.

Final Remarks

As I have mentioned before, social isolation can be a tough obstacle to overcome. Yet the digital opportunities we are surrounded by help us create virtual bonds. Online connections can help us feel seen and heard and we can find like-minded people to share our passions with.

Even though the Internet can be a scary place, we should embrace our online personas and diver deeper into creating friendships that might be intangible but would fill us to the brim with interesting discussions, useful advice, and sincere, happy emotions.

Avatar photo

Greta holds a BA in English Literature and is currently working as a Copywriter for a tech company in Vilnius, Lithuania.