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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

From 'riting to reality, part one

The idea of "meeting" someone I already feel like I know has a lot of appeal to me. It lets you skip over a lot of the in-person small-talk get-acquainted awkwardness (well, it lets me skip it - maybe you don't have that problem, you fortunate socially-adept person, you) and get straight into conversation, and I suspect that my being a reader is a big factor in that. After all, when you're getting to know characters in a book, it's nearly all laid out there for you, so learning about a new person via the written word feels like a natural extension of that.

Back when I was in high school, I sent in my name and address for a pen-pal swap that a teen magazine I subscribed to was having with a British magazine for teen girls, and through that, I was introduced to Wendy from Nottingham. We wrote back and forth every month or two over the years, sharing news of marriages (both of us), children (first mine, later hers), divorces (hers), houses, and health...but we fell out of touch several years ago, and it was my fault. If you noticed, I didn't mention my own divorce back there. By the time my first marriage was into its long, slow death spiral, it just felt too complicated to explain to anyone who wasn't around to bear witness, and it really felt like too much to write in a letter (or more than one), back in those pre-blog, pre-MacBook days - so I just didn't do it. I let it fade away. But I thought of Wendy often, and I guess she reciprocated, because a couple of months ago, I had an e-mail from her saying she'd found me...through the blog! We've exchanged the requisite catch-up e-mails, and I hope we'll pick our correspondence back up this way, although blogging has sadly taken a toll on my keep-in-touch e-mail habit (I write so much here that I tend to want to keep it simple and just ask people to read it here too) - so once again, I'll be at fault if it fades away. And that reminds me - Wendy sent the last e-mail, so I owe her one in return.

I've never expected that Wendy and I will ever meet in person, but if that should ever come to pass, I think I would feel pretty well-prepared for it. We wouldn't be strangers at all. Since I'm not the most outgoing person, I really do like being prepared when I meet someone new, and I'm most comfortable when that preparation happens through writing. I think I present myself better - more self-confident, and definitely better-spoken. I usually even finish my sentences...

I know I've mentioned that Tall Paul and I met via an online-dating site, and I love the fact that we corresponded through the site for a week and a half before we met in person for a lunch date. In that case, it was fully intended as preparation for a face-to-face meeting, and when it happened, we already knew so much about each other that the conversation just kept going easily - for five hours. And it hasn't slowed down much in almost three and a half years - we still love talking together. (I suspect some of the people who know us wish we'd shut up sometimes.) And even though we live in the same house, we still enjoy communicating with each other in writing; we'll e-mail each other during the day, he reads my blog (although he makes any comments he has in person), and he's occasionally written for it too. 

I realize that not all instances of meeting someone via writing evolve quite the way mine and Tall Paul's has. My pen-pal relationship with Wendy was never going to evolve that way. But having had some good luck with it, I'm all in favor of friendships that develop without a face-to-face meeting; if and when one happens, you've already got a personal history together.

Have you had the chance to meet in person with someone you've gotten to know through letters or online, and did you feel like you were old friends when you did, even though you'd never spoken before? Where have things gone from there?

15 comments:

  1. Oh dear, where do I start? I've met a ton of people I've know online. Mostly when I was younger. Some I didn't click with at all, others went fabulously well. I'm now married to a man I met on the internet (we emailed and spoke on the phone for a year before we met)and our best friend is someone we both used to speak to in a chatroom. I've been married nearly 8 years and have two beautiful children!

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  2. Fascinating! This would work for Word People, the verbal linguistic types. More visual and active folk might need face to face time sooner.

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  3. Kori and I are hoping to meet next year at BlogHer. At first I liked keeping my RL and blog life separate, but now, I can't wait to combine the two!

    And wow, you met your hubs online?!? For reals?

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  4. Michelle - It seems like relationships that start online can move forward quicker than off-line ones; maybe some things are easier to talk about with the "screen" between us? I'm glad to hear that moving things from on- to off-line has worked so well for you!

    Daisy - Good point; I wouldn't have thought of that. People do process differently. Even if you share pictures online, it's not really "seeing" each other.

    April - If I get to BlogHerCon next year, maybe I'll meet you AND Kori :-)! I actually like the on- and off-line mix. I've loved getting to know people online and like the chance to meet them in person; meanwhile, I wish more of my off-line friends would get online!

    And yes, my husband and I are a documented "eHarmony Success Story." Well, I've sent them the story, but I don't know if they've ever published it.

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  5. As mentioned, BlogHer is the perfect example of this happening. It was extremely surreal actually. But I think lead to folks feeling a bit vulnerable too. We all had our blogs on our sleeves so to speak. "Oh YOU'RE morningside mom!" OMG, what does that mean? What do they know about me?!?! But overall, it was amazing. Like you said, you can skip the formalities and get right to it. Its really a whole new dimension to friendship I think.

    Also, I have been a part of a private mommy message board for over 3 years now. It has been a wonderful support network. I was lucky to meet one of the other members IRL and it was as if we saw each other everyday. But we kind of do. Sometimes those friends of mine know more about me than family. Which seems insane now that I think of it.

    Anyway, online freindships are often wonderful and seem to translate just as well IRL for the most part!

    Caroline

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  6. Morningside Mom - Stick around for part 2 of this post (coming on Thursday), and I will be talking more directly about bloggers meeting each other IRL.

    It's true: Sometimes it seems like we see our online friends much more regularly than our offline friends and extended-family members, and we may even start feeling like we know them (and they know us) better. I suspect that's why we can pick up so easily when we meet face to face.

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  7. I haven't, but I'm very knew at this, as you know. I think I'd be a little nervous. Mostly because I'd be afraid to cone if like a dork or something. But, that's just how I am. :)

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  8. Mike - A little nervous is pretty normal, but it helps to remember that you're talking about someone who has read your blog and STILL is happy to meet you in person, so how bad could it be :-)? Seriously, if I get to the Chicago area, I will be looking you up.

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  9. I haven't met anyone in person that I knew online first, but my sister in law met her boyfriend of 3 years online. I think I'd be too nervous to meet an internet friend face to face.

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  10. You said, "blogging has sadly taken a toll on my keep-in-touch e-mail habit" and "Sometimes it seems like we see our online friends much more regularly than our offline friends and extended-family members, and we may even start feeling like we know them (and they know us) better."

    This could describe me as well. I get so bad about replying to emails to my real-life friends and family sometimes. Instead I seem to head to my blog email first and then often run out of time and put off replying to friends for another day. In some ways they're just as bad and we do always pick up whereever/whenever we left off but I do feel guilty about it sometimes.

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  11. LisaMM - I think that's understandable. I'd be wondering whether they'd turn out to be very different from the way they seemed in their writing, and I'd also be afraid they'd consider me a let-down in person. But so far, it's been a good experience for me to take that step.

    Tanabata - I feel better now, knowing it's not just me :-). Sometimes I feel like my blog is the place where I do most of my communicating these days, so why can't people just visit me there and leave comments? I always respond :-).

    But I really do need to re-commit to the e-mail habit too. I'm afraid snail-mail correspondence is done for me, though...

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  12. I've met (wait a sec ... counting) 10 people in person now after reading their blogs for years. Two live close by and we have "transcended" in the kind of regular-contact girlfriendship that makes it hard to remember I actually met them THROUGH blogging. The others are farther away and we met when they visited Baltimore or I came to their neck of the woods for work-travel or vacation, and the meetings were much like you describe - we already knew each other, in some ways MORE details about each other than friends or co-workers or family who saw us in person a lot but didn't read our daily rambles. It felt like meeting up with very old friends. Meeting these friends in person add another dimension to our blog-friendship, too - a shared memory and hopes of futre get-togethers.

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  13. Pam - You have totally nailed it, and I think it's wonderful that you've made so many online connections that have crossed over into "real life" (I wish there were a better way to describe it - it's not like our online lives aren't real. In some ways, some of us may be our most "real" selves on our blogs - but I digress, as usual).

    Sometimes I barely remember that I met my husband online, three years ago :-).

    Since my son lives in your general vicinity (DC), I hope to make it out that way in the not-too-far future, and when I do, I just might look you up. Be warned :-).

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  14. The idea of meeting anyone I have gotten to know through letters or online unnerves me a bit. I think I worry too much about whether the person will like me or not. A basic and most likely silly fear, but it's one that does come up.

    The experiences I have had meeting pen pals have all been positive--some better than others. Although there still a bit of small talk in getting started, it's easy to find the rhythm we shared in our letters. We aren't strangers, after all. I think the best experience I had was when I met my pen pal in New York. She joined my husband and I in Niagara Falls for the day while we were on vacation. She and I hit it off like we were the best of friends. I had another pen pal visit Southern California--she was from Connecticut. She was really nice. I've met six of my pen pals all together. One pen pal's mother lived in town here and when she was visiting from Texas, she dropped in unannounced. It was a very pleasant visit, fortunately. I could go on and on. :-)

    Thank you for sharing your pen pal story! I wrote to a girl in Nottingham too at one time, but her name wasn't Wendy. :-) I recently received a letter from a woman in Croatia I had began writing to in high school. We wrote to each other for years but lost touch a few years ago. Like you, I hope she and I can pick up where we left off. I didn't realize how much I missed our correspondence until I received her letter.

    Do you remember when meeting people on online dating sites was looked down upon? I suppose it still is by some, but it is much more prevalent now. In many ways, I think it's safer than meeting someone in a bar. Marty and I didn't meet each other online or through letters, but written communication was a big part of our early relationship. Summers apart during the college years meant lots of letters flying back and forth. Like you and your husband, we e-mail each other regularly every work day.

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  15. Literary Feline - Now that's one for the small-world file: you also had a pen pal in Nottingham?! I think it's great that you've met several of your pen pals in person, and that it's gone so well.

    Yes, I remember when meeting someone via online dating was not viewed well - I'm certainly glad that's changed, although I still feel a little strange sometimes telling people that Paul and I met online. I do know a few other (married) couples who met that way, though, and I don't think Paul and I would have met any other way. Neither of us drinks much or goes to bars, he has the kids part-time, and we didn't even live in the same town. Then again, we might have met at Target...in fact, we almost did, the day before our first date. I'll have to tell that story here sometime :-).

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