I honestly haven't been on the Internet very long. Ten, eleven, twelve years max. I signed up for my first email address back in 1998 or 1999. For the sake of argument, let's just say 1998. It's an even number and I'm slow when it comes to math.
I moved from DC to Florida in 1996. I was turning 20 that year and had left my friends and my life as a military dependent. Having been thrust into the world of civilians who don't give a crap that you're moving in except that your Mayflower Movers truck is blocking their driveway, I became acutely aware of how socially inept I really was and made a conscious decision to blow every penny of my nearly $6,000 savings. I had no friends and nothing better to do. I couldn't even get a job.
Over the next few years, not much changed. I did get a job and I managed to stay there for almost six years. But during those years, I had a hard time making friends with people from work, mainly because they were people from work. My job required me to be friendly and helpful. This exhausted me. I stayed friendly and helpful well enough to be promoted. This exhausted me even more. My somewhat-friendly relationships with the people from work cooled as I began acting like their boss. Suddenly, those employees who'd already earned my trust could no longer be trusted. There were no friendships, only Shhhh! Here comes the boss! After a year, I quit that position.
During that year as the Boss, I had gained access to the Internet. I could email my oldest and dearest friends whenever I felt like it. And they would email me back whenever they felt like it. And it was great! I loved clicking that "inbox" and seeing (4) New Messages off to the side. It was always a confirmation to me that someone, anyone, cared enough to think of me that day. I didn't care if it was an ad for a penis enlargement or my best friend emailing me pictures of her son's birthday party, someone was thinking of me! I was encouraged to join a Yahoo! Chat room, so I did. And I was welcomed every single time I logged in. I was celebrated, people laughed at my jokes, fellow chatters (whose personalities and lifestyles couldn't be any more different yet they embraced each other regardless) invited me to join them at their next Chat Party. Exhale! I'd finally found a social life on the Internet.
Of course, I know that some people just troll the Internet with such heinous intentions that my skin crawls. But I also know that some people on the Internet are honest, hard-working, friendly, give-a-stranger-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of people who suffer from the same detrimental personality disorder as I do: social ineptitude. Aaaah, relief. I'd found my kind. And I've been kind of attached to this here Internet thingy ever since.
Those two kinds of Internet people have made their way into my life. Nothing horribly criminal or even newsworthy to report from the Troll Encounter, but just knowing they're out there and that I've actually exchanged words with one of them makes me think twice about who I talk to now. And I did happen to meet a few of the non-Troll kind during a well-planned trip to DC for an aforementioned Chat Party in Crystal City. It was so nice to finally put a face to a (screen)name and enjoy each other's company based solely on personality, not on appearances. Another chatter had planned a trip to DC from her native Madrid. I can't tell you how exciting it was to meet her in our nation's capital and be a part of her first trip to the United States. I'll always remember her and, while she and I are no longer in touch with each other, I know she'll always remember me, the girl who drove all the way from Florida to meet her. And, of course, the others. A once-in-a-lifetime adventure is what that was.
The nightly chatroom socials ended almost as abruptly as they'd started. For me, at least. Life came at me, unexpectedly, and I made real friends. They actually lived less than five miles away (as opposed to the 600 miles to DC). And away I went, into the real world. I was armed with a social facade and it seemed to get me far enough. I wasn't exuberant and giddy, but I was less lonely and happier than I'd been in years. I was invited over, I was invited out to dinner, I was invited to the movies, I was invited on road trips. Then life came at me again and I had a baby and all those friends left me. I wasn't invited anywhere anymore.
I started this blog nearly a year ago. Since that first blog post, I've developed a sort of rapport with some of my own readers and fellow bloggers that I follow. My daughter and I have been invited to playtime at the beach in Pensacola and dinner in Knoxville by some very talented individuals who enjoy what I write and know that I enjoy what they write. I don't think online relationships are really any different from those that developed between pen pals so many decades ago. And at this point in my life as a full-time working mom and student, I don't have much time to worry about how socially awkward I am. There's homework to check and expired orange juice to return and laundry from two days ago that needs to get pulled from the dryer and blogs to write and blogs to read and...and...and...there's always something. Because life comes at you.
So, to Becca, Dawn, and Chris: Thank you for the invitations. I will show up one day, hungry and ready to be entertained. Don't worry - I'll give you ample warning.
And to Henry: I'm still waiting to hear about your adventures in Asheville. Mine sucked. Except for the bookstore. We must dish.
P.S. Each time I read this post back to myself, I worry that it makes me sound like have no friends...like real friends. I cannot fix this. But the good news is that I obviously have the time to worry about such a frivolous misconception and that means there is no homework to check or expired orange juice to return or laundry from two days ago that needs to get pulled from the dryer. Sure, it's sitting in a basket next to me waiting to be folded, but whatever. I'm going to bed.