Making Friends on the Internet (or Not)

I recently heard another person say - for the thousandth time - that they made some of their closest friends on the Internet, through their blog. I've heard this now on podcasts and audiobooks, I've read it on countless blogs, seen evidence of it in conversation threads on twitter and friend selfies on Instagram, and I've listened to cheers about it at BlogHer.

And every time I think I must be doing the Internet wrong.

* * *

I sat on the edge of my twin size bed and looked up at the NKOTB poster on my wall. My mom stood in front of me as I explained the trouble I had with making friends. 11 years old and new to the wide halls and ramped up social structure of middle school, words like cool or confident would never be used to describe me. I was awkward and sensitive, and though I had some notion that perhaps I was interesting and fun, I couldn't figure out how to convey that to people around me.

While snuggled under the crocheted coverlet during a summer vacation at her grandmother's house, my 5th grade best friend told me that she didn't want to be tied down once we made that transition to the big leagues. We spent the rest of the week drinking homemade lemonade in her grandma's kitchen and going to afternoon tennis lessons, but I knew it was the beginning of the end. With the help of her older sister, she had likely realized - long before I did - how these things work when you're 11. She would be one of the popular girls. I would not.

My mom suggested that I just start saying hi to other students in the halls.

I turned my gaze away from the NKOTB poster and stared at her.

"Just say HI?" I balked. I gave an exaggerated wave. "Oh hi! I'm Katie, and I don't know how to make friends!" I shouted cheerfully and then glared at her.

My mom pursed her lips. "Well obviously not like that. You could just give a little wave, like this." With her arm held down by her side, she lifted up her hand slightly, cocked her head to the side and gave a quiet and coquettish "hi."

I burst out laughing.

It was obvious she understood nothing about the 6th grade.

* * *

If I want to make my mom laugh, I can still do it by giving her that flirty little "hi."

I made a few friends, but middle school was hard for me just like it is for lots of kids. It took a while to find my people - band dorks, primarily.

Even now, my inner introvert struggles with friend-making. Adults are so much nicer and more welcoming than 6th graders, but you still have to put yourself out there. You still have to know the rules of the game.

When it comes to internet friendships, it seems like everyone else got the memo while I was in the bathroom. Sure, I've exchanged an email or two with someone, had a twitter exchange, said nice things back and forth about a photo. But it's never gone much beyond that. The person I'd say is my "best" internet friend is someone I already knew from college.

I have wonderful friends in real life, people who I can laugh and cry with and who get me. I'm not friend poor. But I spend a pretty substantial amount of time on the web reading and following and putting myself out there. And I want to have greater connection. I want to be part of a greater online community.

I'm walking down the hall, and I'm just trying to figure out how to say "Hi."

p.s. Three years ago today, I made these whole grain pancakes. And I made them again this past weekend.

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