One of the glib phrases people toss out in times of stress goes something like, “Don’t worry: your real friends will be the ones who are there for you.”
Which is no solace when they aren’t.
Our safety nets in life are designed in layers: while you’re up there, teetering on that thin wire and juggling some flaming sticks, you have several layers of protection you’ve built up. You have your friends; your family; maybe another tier of friends–coworkers, maybe?; people who helped bring you up but you don’t confide in; and so on and so on, all the way down to strangers.
The number of nets you’ll have will depend upon much, but most people have more than one.
Aside from my high-wire partner in life, my first tier of netting was built up of my close friends. Yes, they were newer to my life, but we’d celebrated birthdays, trashed-talked bosses, helped each other move.
And then I slipped, and I fell off my balancing act, and…
They weren’t there. They didn’t even drop me; Worse, they just let me fall.
I am lucky that I had farther layers below that net, that I was caught elsewhere, but the pain of the fall was sharp.
Some people have told me “at least I know how my true friends are.” And I worry, because I don’t trust myself to know anything at all.
But then I discovered I have other people, with relationships so tenuous that they couldn’t count as a safety net, but with each faint touch of support, they strengthened this guide rope. They couldn’t be called “real friends” at all, by even a generous interpretation: I’ve never even met them.
These are people I met online, who live several states away. A friend from one quiet corner of the internet used to talk video games with me; lately we’ve been swapping wedding-planning horror stories. A sweet sweet girl on the wedding forum APracticalWedding reached out and, out of her own kindness, made me dozens of paper flowers–just to be nice. Others have offered advice, support, sympathy, and friendship.
Those friends kept me going when I felt bleak about everything. They helped in ways I can’t measure and I can’t thank them enough.
Which calls into question the meaning of “real friends.” What makes something real, anyway?
Though it’s lessoned, people still disparage these internet connections. It isn’t the same, not at all, but those “unreal” internet connections have been far better friends than some of the “real” ones I thought I had. And so I am grateful, and walk steady on my wire toward the big finale.