Are We Becoming Over-Reliant On Online Friends?
Making friends is hard enough when your not the most outgoing person, making friends as a mum, that's a new ball game all together. After falling victim to anxiety and taking a big knock in confidence after having my son, putting myself out there and making new friends has been difficult, or rather, it just hasn't happened. When I fell pregnant, I imagined maternity leave spent at Baby Sensory, on play dates or out for coffee: needless to say, I hadn't taken into account that this can be fairly difficult if you don't have the friends to do it with. My antenatal classes were fully booked when I discovered my pregnancy late on, and I'm yet to buck up the courage to walk into a Mothers and Toddlers class. Instead, I've relied heavily on the friends I've met online. My online friends.
When I was five years old, I moved to a different primary school in a new town. I was forced to find an entire group of new buddies, but that wasn't exactly a daunting task for a loud-mouth child. I now feel like I'm five years old again, minus the brash approach to life. I feel like I've moved to a brand new school, in a brand new place, where I don't have anyone to lean on, no one to share my snacks with. I could go back and see my old friends, my favorite friends, but it's different now, because they don't know the teachers I'm talking about, we're not complaining about the same school dinners and we can no longer copy each others homework. Now, I'm not five years old anymore, and instead of looking to copy my little friends sums, I'm looking to moan about night feeds, compare the color of shitty nappies and face the scary world of Baby Sensory. My friends can sympathize, but they can't empathize and although the difference may seem sparse, when someone is trying to tell me an honest truth that I don't want to hear, it falls upon deaf ears if they've never been in a similar situation.
It sounds sad, but it's true.
I have two groups of friends. My best friends in real life, and my online friends, who I probably have to rely on more these days. My best friends are still my best friends, but often they won't understand, they can't possibly understand, as they've never experienced my situation or anything similar. We are at completely different stages right now, so I've found myself becoming increasingly reliant on the girls I've met on the internet.
It's hard to be the first to do anything. Neil Armstrong was probably shitting it a little first time he walked on the moon; and I'd like to think being the first parent in your group of friends is much the same. At 22, I wasn't extremely young, I wasn't a teenager, I was no special case. But I was by no means ready for a baby, and it would have taken more than the three months I had left of my pregnancy when I found out to get my head around the idea of one. I didn't have any friends who were parents, I had no friends who were pregnant, and I couldn't help but feel completely alone whilst surrounded by crowds of people. I don't think I've ever been so lonely as I was in the first few weeks after finding out I was pregnant. For every person that claimed to understand what I was going through, I'd come up with five reasons to make their attempt to comfort me null and void. No one understood, and I was alone. After giving birth, your life stops. Even for just a few weeks, everything seems to be at a standstill; but everyone else's continues as it always had. The novelty of my newborn wore off for my friends, and they simply became my good old friends again. They'd meet up at night after work, after college, at the weekends at the pub, while I sat at home with a baby pondering the life of a mum I seemed almost doomed to have. It's sad to say that, doomed to be a mum, but at times it felt that way. Although the mum part was great (at times), I was confined to the house, detached from everyone and everything I once knew, and it wasn't as simple as just getting out a little bit more.
I met my online friends on twitter. Georgina created a Facebook group for those of us who were pregnant around the same time; and we quickly found ourselves on WhatsApp, comparing everything from cravings, to bumps, to the ever changing vaginas. There were never any boundaries in place, there were no 'no-go' areas, and I've never been frightened to speak my mind in that group. What started as a group of strangers, turned into a group of friends. These girls who I've never met, but have never had to meet to feel as though I've known them forever. I've experienced eight labour's relayed through this WhatsApp chat - I've told them more than I have shared with most, and I've shared because they understand. In a world that is completely new and terrifying, having someone to talk to in your time of need - and there will be many of those - is so key. Despite being all consumed by my phone and the online world, I still believe that had I not had my online friends, I'd have been in a much worse place than if I had been alone.
I may have found the perfect group of supplementary friends online, but at times, I can't help but wish I had them in reality also. Having someone who doesn't think I'm being irrational for crying when I burn my toast after the third hell on earth night in the row, someone who can comfortably compare the nappy contents of our children, someone who understands where I'm coming from when I call my child a dick. I'm not a perfect mum, but sometimes it takes someone who knows where you are coming from to tell you that that is alright.
There is something therapeutic about knowing that everyone is being completely transparent. There is no need to 'come out of your shell' online, often, your already out. I'm a strong believer of the 'keyboard warrior' and I do believe part of the pre-tense behind it applies entirely to online friendships also. The keyboard allows individuals to say what they could never say or do in real life; my anxiety and lack of confidence has prevented me from putting myself out there, from walking into an NCT class or to making new friends, but having the ability to exist on a virtual level has allowed me to be myself again, to gain confidence and to truly want to put myself back in a position to meet other people. My online friends are great. But there is something extremely worrying about becoming so heavily reliant on those who I can only reach via my phone. As an addition yes, these girls are now a part of my life and of Harrison's, and meeting them in real life is inevitable. But continuing to live my life online, without pushing myself to venture back into reality at some point can only be detrimental in the long run. Leaving the house can be daunting, in the two hours it can often take for me to get us both ready, I'll talk myself down and retreat to the couch. What if Harrison cries in front of everyone? What if everyone thinks I'm a bad mum? What if they laugh?
Babies cry, I'm not a bad mum and I'd probably laugh too if I saw someone with their sick stained t-shirt on backwards. I'm human, and it's about time this human stopped kicking herself for not having made some mum mates. I won't be putting my phone down anytime soon; but I will be joining a class or two. It's a positive step for me, and it's a positive step for my son too. At four months old, his interaction with other babies has been nonexistent, and while at this stage that is not a problem, in a few more months time it may well be. Eventually, I'll have real life mum friends, but I'll do it in my own time, so for now, I'll continue to rely on my online ones. They say it takes a village to raise a child; but there's nothing to say this village can't be a virtual one. I have confidence in every piece of advice these girls give me, I can tell them anything and will continue to do so. So yes, I am becoming over-reliant on my online friends. But not any more reliant than you may be on your normal friends. My online mums may not exist in my real life, but that does not mean they are not real friends.
Thankyou to all of the ladies who provided insights into their own experiences with online friends; feeling like you are not entirely alone can make a substantial difference to your outlook.