what is a real friend?

what is a real friend?

Photo by Praveesh Palakeel / Unsplash

one of my first friends was vicky, a chubby chinese-american girl with pigtails who my mom babysat after school each day. she would ride the bus home with me and spend 1 or 2 hours at my house, eating snacks and playing card games until her mother picked her up after work. i didn't particularly like vicky - i found her loud, disheveled and rude - but she was a reliable companion, and i came to look forward to our afternoon play dates with a special fondness.

now, as i experiment with online pseudonymity, i find myself at a friendship crossroads. unable to share my writing with real-life friends (for fear of giving away my identity), i'm slowly starting to look for new ones on the internet. this appears simple on the surface, as it's easy to find social media accounts whose interests and worldviews i share. it feels both intimate and extremely efficient to stumble across the thoughts of a stranger, 10.000 miles away in a country i've never been to, whose writing speaks to the heart of what matters to me; and then, to be able to connect and immediately exchange messages about those things without playing the getting-to-know-you dance or small-talking about things i don't care about. but is there a tradeoff to this "intimacy-made-efficient" quality of internet friendship? am i missing out on making acquaintances which come with some low-grade social discomfort, the kind which keeps recurring until one day - perhaps out of sheer habit - a real friendship is eventually forged?

my friendship with vicky was like a mirror which showed me what i was not. we had different hobbies and interests at school, i cringed at her jokes (which usually consisted of making fun of other people), and did not enjoy her habit of comparing grades and test scores.

and yet - i haven't seen vicky in over a decade, but if i ran into her today i would give her a big hug and invite her over for coffee. we would catch up and bond over old memories, like the time she got in trouble for ruining a tray of my mother's decorative bath salts by flooding it with water. or the many moments of pure silliness, us sitting on the couch bumping elbows and laughing with our mouths open and overflowing with animal crackers. i have no idea if i would like grown-up vicky, or if i would still find her somewhat obnoxious and rude. but i do know that it would be nice to sit with her for a little while and reminisce over our shared experience of the past, even if we lived it through totally different lenses.

and i guess i just worry that, with the people i meet online, we may easily connect over common interests and opinions - but we won't have the unifying experience of something more solid to stand on, those small irritations and frictions of day-to-day life which eventually breed familiarity and sustain us over time.