Finding friends is easy, but keeping them is not. Over the years, I’ve learned this the hard way. Throughout elementary and middle school, I’ve made friends only to have them abandon me a few months later. It’s always been difficult for me to reach out and make friends, as I’m naturally shy and introverted, but this recurring pattern has made it worse. Last year I lost my best friend of almost ten years, and I don’t know if I’ll ever fully get over that.
In many schools, friend groups are formed early, and by the time high school comes, most friendships are set in stone. There typically isn’t room or desire to expand a friend group, although sometimes there are exceptions. This can make it especially difficult for new students, who are thrust into a social setting and left to fend for themselves.
At the start of my freshman year of high school, I transferred to a new school district, and for much of the year I was alone. People came and went, and when sophomore year started I was in a similar place. A couple of months in, though, I was lucky enough to meet a girl, and she invited me to her lunch table. Lunch is perhaps the most daunting part of high school, because people tend to stake out their tables and if you don’t know anyone, you also don’t know where you can sit. Finding a lunch group is often the first step in finding your place, as odd as it may sound.
But on those days before I found my place, I wasn’t really alone. I would open Twitter every day while I ate, and I would talk with online friends. Those online friends are the ones that got me through the months of being alone, and in general, they’re not given enough credit by the adults in our generation. Teens are said to always be on their phones, socializing less and less, when really there might be more to it.
In a 2015 study, it was said that 72% of teens spend time with friends through social media, and 23% of them do so daily. The same study conducted an experiment that showed 57% of teens, 13-17 years old, have made at least one new friend online.
For me and many others, online friendships have real value. In some ways, they’re also better than traditional friendships, especially for quieter, more introverted people. Making friends in real life often requires putting yourself out there and approaching a person, which doesn’t always end well. It’s hard for me to simply walk up to someone and start a conversation, much less hold one. I worry about being judged because of what I say, what I wear, what I like. Imagine how hard it must be for those that have social anxiety. We might be quiet, but that doesn’t mean we want to be alone. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to talk. It means we have to build up the courage to do those things.
On the other hand, reaching out to someone online doesn’t require as much. They won’t catch sight of you as you approach and have you worrying about judgement. You can take time to type out your responses in a conversation, rather than possibly stumbling through one with another person and embarrassing yourself. And as silly as it may sound, messaging on a phone also allows the use of emojis, which can help convey the tone of your words.
It’s also easier to make connections online, because the majority of social media users list interests and passions in their about section, so you know what they like. If you find someone that likes what you like, you have a topic to discuss, a way to start a conversation, and that can be immensely helpful.
I’m not saying real life friends aren’t worth it, because if you find the right people they definitely are. But there are also benefits to connecting with people online, and my internet friends are some of my closest.