making friends online
part 1 of a series on friendship
Egon Schiele, Landscape at Krumau, 1915
When I started tweeting, I had 192 followers. Every tweet was mortifying. One of the first online friends I made was someone who loved books. We were fast friends until they abruptly decided to stop talking to me and I was left wondering whether the friendship was “real.” I was 23 then. I no longer wonder about these things. I have learned since then that people do things that are inexplicable to us because of their attachment styles, personal paranoias and relationship histories. It’s best to not read into it too much. People can leave whenever they want to. People can, and do stay.
I continued meeting people on Twitter. I met A online March 2020 because I was bored and wanted someone to distract me. Once we started messaging we never stopped. I started talking to P without knowing anything about her and now we have matching tattoos. I DM’d L even though I didn’t really “get” his tweets. Many of my closest friends are now people I collected online like Pokemon. There were further casualties, of course, friendships that burned and fizzled. I’ve accepted since that that’s always the case. The important thing is that certain relationships kept blooming.
I’ve always wanted to do “well” at relationships. I am the kind of person who always believes love should continue, transmuted but maintained. But I realize now that my perpetual instinct towards civility and preservation can be more harmful than helpful.
The point of rambling into the void is to attract people who like the way you think. The point of talking to them, hanging out with them, is to make sure you guys actually get along. As you get to know someone, lots of things can happen. Both of you might fall in love. One of you might fall in love. Very possibly neither of you fall in love. One person might like hanging out with the other more. One person might get a new job and become very busy. Someone might move to your city, or move away from it to another continent. You guys might have a fight. An infinite number of things can happen between two people who start off by liking each other’s tweets.
Your job is not to fight the branching possibilities, it’s to follow them. The best relationships that have come out of meeting people online are so natural, warm, fluid. They have been awkward and difficult at parts, but they have fought for their own continuation.
I first started meeting people online when I was 16 years old. I would go on Omegle trying to talk about Nabokov. Only text, no video, because I had read about how otherwise you would see random people masturbating. (I know—I was way ahead of the coquette trend.) I met a Berkeley grad student and kissed him many summers later in the Bay Area. I met other people, whose names and personalities blur in my mind now. All my life I’ve been looking for other people who wanted to consume at the obsessive pace I do and talk about it. Of course I was only ever going to find them online.
I met my first serious boyfriend on the Internet when I was 17. He was the one who I first watched Porco Rosso with. He had old-fashioned values and liked James Salter and knew about the history of Brooks Brothers. I don’t think he would’ve approved of Substack. We loved each other a lot for a while and then it stopped working. That’s what being very young is like—you’re changing so fast, you can’t even articulate how you’re changing. It’s taken me up until now to realize that I don’t always have to produce justifications for everything.
Sometimes you feel yourself drifting from someone, or you feel them drifting from you, and it’s not what you want, you’re sad about it, but there’s nothing you can do. Your job is just to respond to what is happening in front of you.
Writing on the Internet is good for you. J was the one who first convinced me of that. He said: it’ll be good for your career, it’ll change your life. I didn’t like Twitter before I started tweeting, but all the same it did change my life.
We’re often not the best at describing who we are. We are often also not the best at knowing what we’re looking for. That’s what makes dating apps so unfulfilling—how can you judge someone accurately off a few pictures, a few sentences? What makes someone simpatico with you is not their face or height or job. It’s something subtler than that, deeper.
I’ve written thousands and thousands of words about myself on the Internet. I rarely reread what I write—I don’t even want to think about it once it’s out in the world. But having so much of my brain accessible to others has been incredibly helpful. If someone wants to be friends with me after knowing that much about how I think, we’re probably going to get along.
When I was a kid I used to think about how there were probably people in the world who were just like me, searching for me the same way I was searching for them. That seemed like such an abstract concept back then. But I’ve since met several of those people. (When you meet someone like that you think: I wish I’d known you when you were a child. I wish I’d known you all the years of your life.) In the intervening years I’ve realized that the most important thing you can do is to actively look for the people you love, and make yourself easy to find.
Reminder: Rishi and I are hosting an in-person friendship workshop later this month. Please sign up here if you’re interested!!!