I have online friends.
Normally when I say that, it elicits one of two responses. People either do that weird sucking-air-through-their-teeth reaction (‘Online friends? But they could be an axe murderer/sexual predator/loner living in his mum’s basement!’), or they snort and smirk and write you off as a weirdo who makes online friends because they don’t have any in real life.
With the advent of social media, and everyone pretty much living their entire lives through the internet, you’d have thought these attitudes would die out a little. Unfortunately not. Despite the internet providing us with seemingly-endless ways to meet people from all corners of the globe, it’s still looked down upon to have online friends.
Fair enough, I suppose. After all, they’re just pixels and words on a screen, right? They’re not real friends.
I have two groups of online friends – not that I call them that. I refer to them as my ‘postnatal groups’, my ‘mum friends’. You could be forgiven for thinking I met them through the NCT or at the school gates, rather than on a parenting forum called Mumsnet.
When I found out I was pregnant in 2013, I didn’t have any “mum friends”. At 19, my friends had no plans to get pregnant any time soon, and I needed company and reassurance. I joined two antenatal threads on Mumsnet, and now I was surrounded by women who were experiencing the same as me. We were from all across the UK and beyond, of all ages and lifestyles. I was the youngest, but didn’t feel patronised or pushed out. At that point, they were just names and words on a screen.
As our pregnancies progressed, some of the women I’d spent the previous six weeks talking to; sharing details of sore boobs and sickness and spotting, unfortunately suffered miscarriages. I found myself crying for women I’d never met before. I was crying for pixels on a screen. As a group we celebrated every good scan; supported each other through morning sickness and commiserated over a sober Christmas. How was it possible to develop such a camaraderie…