An IRL Story About Internet Friends

Source: Jacob Reed Photography

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m back in my London flat, about to pour myself a cup of tea (I haven’t had one in two weeks!). I’ve been in California during that whole time and I opted for strong coffee and bagels instead. Oh and I’m now fully addicted to iced lattes, btw. So the tea is my welcome home treat. Let’s hope it will diminish my holiday-blues for one hot second. After this tea and writing this blog post, I will then continue to cry into my Instagram feed and fall over into a Leaning-Tower-Of-Pisa-style laundry pile. The dream is officially over.

I’ve also been sans laptop for two weeks (which has been good for me) so I’ve got HEAPS of stuff all stashed away and backlogged in my brain to blog about. I’m going to write in full detail soon about all the crazy adventures I’ve had over the past few weeks (my brain is WHIRRING and whizzing like the inside of many clocks, I have so much to digest) and one of the things I wanted to blog post about first, was FRIDAY night.

This is the funny thing about going away travelling – I feel like time stretches out. Some weekends I can just sit in my flat and the time whizzes past, some weekends I can go to Rome or Paris and it feels like I’ve been there for a week. Friday does not feel like two nights ago.

So, Friday: I was on stage at the UCB Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in LA with four girls I’d made friends with over the years on Twitter. The storytelling topic was IRL Stories About Online BFFs. Now I’m on the sofa in England, wondering if it ever happened.

I wanted to write about it, because it’s something I want to look back and remember. And I find that writing strengthens my ability to remember things. Is that a thing? Or am I a #dirty #Millennial with a dwindling attention span?

So, where do I begin? Last year I went to LA for the first time. You might roll your eyes, but I kept waking up in the middle of the night thinking I needed to go there. I’d catch myself getting a little pang — it wasn’t necessarily ~jealousy~ but it was definitely an feeling from my belly whenever I saw anyone’s photos living their life in LA. I have a few friends there now, and I kept thinking, I need to go and just see what this place is all about. I love the arts, theatre, books, bagels, writing in coffee shops, all of the cliché stuff, but more than that, it felt like LA had a sense of excitement around it. (My brain needs to stop thinking it’s OK to start humming “Someone in the crowd”). But srsly, without the LA LA Land gooeyness, it does seem like it’s a concentrated space where everyone wants to do something, be something, find something. I refused to listen to any negative or overly positive comments about it until I went there for myself, because I don’t think it’s fair to judge a book by it’s cover, or a IRL location by it’s Instagram geotag.

The beginning of my blossoming love for LA was when I met up with my Twitter Friend Heather. She writes the blog Terrible Twenties, which I started reading in like 2012/2013. LA of course offers up the good stuff: SUNSHINE, sea and the sense of opportunity in the air, but it was Heather that allowed me to see a real side of LA because I was simply joining in with Heather’s actual LA life. We went to an improv comedy night that her boyfriend stars in, called Bangarang, and my face ached and my throat was dry afterwards from all the laughter.

I was so nervous before meeting Heather, because when you only know someone through their blog, you only know their lovely words and pixels. You could argue don’t really know them all.  In fact, I was most nervous about Heather meeting me, because… what if she was disappointed? What if I’m not as funny as my tweets? Are my tweets even funny? What will she make of my “bad-side”, the one I tend to avoid in photos?

The thing with meeting Internet Friends IRL is there will always be something that jars with the Internet Version. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it just means that when someone lives and breathes and laughs in 4D as opposed to a perfect stationary profile picture, things are bound to be slightly different to how you imagine them. Because that’s what scrolling through Instagram actually is — it is simply imagining things and making up stories. Our brains make up the missing pieces. We add things in. We romanticise someone’s life when all we’re seeing is one photo. A flat photograph isn’t the full story. It never is. Most of the time, when the Internet Person comes alive before me and I’m more in awe. More excited to get to know them. The Internet allows the connection, but for the friendship to really begin, it’s when you are finally face-to-face.

We are all perfectly imperfect IRL. But online, I edit my Tweets, Instagram captions if they have typos. I share the exciting things in my life. We have the ability to curate ourselves. Even the people who believe they are “really authentic and totally themselves” online, the minute you move your knife and fork in a picture of your food, you’re not 100% authentic anymore. Every time you even use a hashtag, you’ve got an tiny mini agenda. Social media has a performance mode to it — and I can safely say I’m different on stage to IRL. I’m still me. Just different.

But you can’t “curate” in real life. You just are.

So a work project this month landed me back in LA. I made a holiday of it, and during the last few days of my trip, I co-hosted Friday’s storytelling night with Heather. We both opened the night and introduced the other storytellers who were some of our mutual fave bloggers/Twitterers: Erin Mallory-Long, Sara Benincasa and Jessie Rosen. They all delivered a hilarious (and moving at times) story on the topic of Internet Friendships/Relationships. It was the coolest thing, to have our first meeting backstage at a theatre, drinking and chatting and hugging. It was great to see these women who I’ve followed online for so long and have that magic realisation that the people you follow online can be EVEN BETTER IRL. 

My opening spiel was about something I’d read that morning on Instagram, a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read it out:

“I’ve realised that one of the most unkind things I can do to somebody is to put them on a pedestal because very soon, inevitably, they’re going to do something that’s going to knock them off it, and then I’m going to have a lot of trouble with that because I really needed them to be something else. And that’s inhumane.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

This spoke to me — and kind of ties in with the idea that to be true friends you have to meet offline and hit it off, too. When we’re only ‘friends’ with people online, we’re sort of putting them on a pedestal. We’re expecting them to be the version that we think they are. We think they are in some way perfect because they exist solely through our screen. We don’t see them pass out, get ill, get sad, get things wrong, snort when they laugh, forget their wallet, fall over, frown. It can’t be 100% real.

When I first met Heather we were standing in a queue to a popular LA bar with my sister and my best friend. I don’t know whether it was the humidity in the air or the jet lag or my anxiety, but I started getting really light-headed in the queue and I had to sit on the pavement and Heather ran to her car to get me a bottle of water. I remember thinking: ‘Oh god Heather’s going to think I’m so lame. I’m passing out in a line to a bar. She must think I never go out. Omg this huge Smart Water bottle was probably so expensive. I’m a drama queen. I don’t feel very well. And now I’m drinking all her expensive water.”

HEATHER! Source: Jacob Reed Photography

Of course, Heather didn’t think any of these things. We went somewhere quieter, Bar Marmont, and ended up having a lovelier time because the four of us got to hang out in a more chilled out place. I didn’t feel embarrassed about my dizzy spell anymore. We had entered IRL friendship and there were no pedestals to be seen. Plus, the true test of someone being a Good Egg: when my 1) sister 2) best friend 3) boyfriend all like them too. All three of them loved Heather straight away, just as much as me.

I’ve had people (Internet Friends) who have entered my Real Life before and if any of them (boyf/bf/sister) get even a small whiff of  a weird vibe they normally tell me. Then I normally ignore them and say “hey! Don’t be mean. They’re really great.” Cut to a few days/weeks later, and surprise surprise! They’ve royally a) fucked me over in some way b) seemed to have an overnight personality transplant or c) both! The people who know you the best in your life will be able to know if someone new is a good or bag egg. Trust their judgement.

And lastly, the other honest thread that came out of the storytelling night is the fact that sometimes, Internet Friends don’t work out. Sometimes, they aren’t who you think they are. Or they don’t gel with you, either. They might be different online. You might prefer them online. You might want them to stay just an online friend. That’s OK too. Sometimes it can just be that you might retweet each other occasionally and that might be enough, but you kind of know you’ll never be Friends. Sometimes, you follow them for some online inspiration and that is where it ends and where it stays. 

But then, there are those other times, like with Heather and so many others, where Internet Friendship was just the sowed seed and the IRL Friendship is now the planted tree.

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