Online friendships can foster something more

Rebekah Devorak | Asst. Opinions Editor

When the first Internet browser was created in 1992, the World Wide Web was confined to a clunky desktop computer whose use had to share limelight with the telephone. Twenty three years later, we carry the Internet around with us in our pockets and wear it on our wrists. It’s no surprise that the Web has infiltrated its way into becoming a major player in even the most basic and intimate parts of our lives.
To the chagrin of some and the delight of others, that includes relationships. People have long debated the validity of online relationships. Are the affairs forged of binary zeroes and ones as valuable or rewarding as those cultivated face-to-face? There’s no definitive answer.
From social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to apps such as Snapchat and Tinder, meeting a complete stranger (and then becoming friends) is now easier and more common than ever. According to an eMarketer report, nearly one in four people worldwide had a social media presence online in 2013. That’s 1.73 billion people mingling together in cyber space, and at least two of those users are bound to hit it off.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having relationships that are strictly online. Given our media consumption in this day and age, that could be considered completely normal. But how strong can said relationships be when the only true interaction, at the end of the day, is between one person and words or pictures on a blinking screen?
Any kind of relationship is built off of a variety of elements, among those being trust, common ground and general compassion for one another.
It is true that these can be achieved solely through cyber contact. We find Pinterest buddies who share our obsession with home decor projects or spill our guts over Tumblr to anyone willing to read and reblog. It’s an undeniable rush, though a shallow one, when a follower favorites our tweet.
But those wholly amazing relationships that the majority of us strive to have (such as inseparable best friends or soul mates) possess those elements so intensely that it can be almost impossible to spark the same feeling only online. Anyone can surely open up to an internet friend over Facebook about breaking up with a significant other. But isn’t it more emotionally satisfying to sob in the arms of a real, physical friend and actually see their facial expressions instead of an emoji representation?
That being said, I’m not advocating we shun all social media or technology. It’s an incomparable way to stay in touch with anyone: family across the country, long-distance significant others, friends away to college and even total strangers. What I am saying, though, is that all relationships need some IRL one-on-one time in order to flourish into the best they can possibly be.
The Internet should be a tool to help us find new people to meet later in real life, not a crutch that keeps us glued to the screen. We as humans tend to crawl into our smartphone turtle shells and stay there. We are comfortable with the control of an online relationship, where alone time is a log off button away if the conversation becomes too involved or intimate. That’s why the thought of meeting an online friend in real life for the first time can be purely terrifying: What if our relationship isn’t as great in person as it is online? There’s no logging off in reality.
There’s also no dividing humanity from interacting with each other online now that technology has become so ingrained in our lifestyles. After all, The Wall Street Journal stated that one in four Americans now make initial contact with their spouse online. This is evident in my own family, when my aunt met her now-husband through a dating website. However, their relationship only grew into marriage because they took it beyond the emails and met up for real-life dates.
Even if you aren’t hunting for marriage proposals on Facebook, there are advantages to safely meeting and maintaining off-screen time together. However scary it may seen at first, bond and make memories on real turf, then use the internet to chat and reminisce. A true relationship, one that is worth having, will work in person and online if both sides put in a little bit of effort. It may not be as simple or as comfortable at first, but it will be worth it.