What Really Constitutes an Online Friend?

Definition of Someone You Only Chat With on the Internet

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Friends have really taken on different definitions lately. Most notably, people use the term "online friends" to describe people they only know through Facebook, acquaintances that they have just started getting to know, or folks they have a friendship with online only. So then, is an online friend someone you only interact with on social media or email? Is it someone you've never met in person? 

All of these distinctions are confusing and really don't help to define this term. So let me clarify things. 

What an Online Friend Really Is

A person you know exclusively through the Internet (which includes social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest) or email and will rarely, if ever, meet is considered an online friend.

Online friendships can develop in places like forums, gaming sites, blogs, online groups, Facebook, or even from websites that help you meet friends. 

An online friendship begins when two people bond and have things in common, just like an offline relationship. The friends may share photos, email each other, or chat on the phone eventually. The friendship can become a source of support and provide emotional benefits even though the friends will never meet in person.

Online friendships can be valuable during times when you lack friends or when you've just moved to a new city or country. But in order for a friendship to be truly real, you need to interact face to face. 

That isn't to say that an online can't hold a special place in your heart or give you the kind of acceptance and support you crave. What it means that this type of friendship will be very different. In an online friendship, people can hide their true personality. You'll never see them lose their temper or show you how they act when they're tired or hungry. They have the option to always show their best selves, always say the right thing and even, avoid offending you with subjects they bring up during small talk or a deeper conversation.

An online friendship can feel very real but since you can hide behind the computer it isn't exactly the same as when you have friends you can meet in person. However, many of these friendships have the possibility to turn into real-life relationships. 

Meeting an Online Friend for the First Time

Meeting an online friend for the first couple times can be touch and go, and it's important to always be safe and trust your gut. Just because you've spoken with someone online doesn't mean you know them. In rare instances, people can pretend to be someone else entirely as a way to lure you out. This is especially true if you're younger. If you're a minor, always let your parents know what you're up to online so they can help keep you safe.

If you're an adult, safety is also important. Meeting someone out at a coffee shop is a good option. You can both arrive separately, have a conversation and get a feel for what the other person is like, and decide if you'd like to continue getting to know them in real life or stick with the online world. Either way, online friends can add value to your life if you understand where they fit in with your other relationships.