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Stories of digital relationships

Today I want to share with you a couple of personal anectodes from my past – instead of the usual bite-sized food for thought and questionable questions.

Why so?

Well, Manu is hosting the IndieWeb Carnival for this month.

And I think that’s great for many reasons, among which:

Once upon a time

I was an unconventional child, as pretty much all children are. But I kinda sensed something wrong with being different and wanted to be more like others.

Except I couldn’t. I had a vivid imagination and a keen intelligence. But I just did not feel understood by other kids and adults, nor could I understand them.

Even so, for many years I considered my childhood the happiest time of my life. I think I had a pretty great time, but sensitivity is a double-edged sword.

And boy, was that little kid sensitive!

What I struggled the most with were social relationships. So much so that, during the messy years of preadolescence, I had almost given up.

At some point, I was acting straight-out weird. I’d keep my thoughts to myself, and sometimes I wouldn’t bother to reply even when directly addressed.

Even after that period passed, in my early teens I wasn’t able to maintain eye contact, and I would always look down when talking with other people.

Eventually, I have become quite talkative and sociable. But self-esteem, conficence, and social skills are something I truly had to teach myself.

That’s a story for another time, though.

Digital relationships

You see, in such conditions it wasn’t easy for me to express myself socially! But what the so-called “real life” lacked, the digital world easily made up for.

I quickly understood (and felt) that the divide between “virtual” and “real” was not nearly as wide as people perceived it, and definitely less scary.

I grew up in such a time when there was no Facebook, and you were not supposed to reveal your name or identity to random strangers on the internet.

Still, online I found out the meaning and the value of deep human connections.

I met my first true friends, with whom I could laugh and talk and trust and confide in, sharing our deepest secrets and teen angst.

Many people don’t get to have that. Either online or offline. I was lucky.

These “virtual relationships” lasted several years, and when we grew up we even had a few chances to meet in person, by the way. It was awesome.

Tinder ante litteram

I’ve got another story for you.

My first girlfriend? You guessed it: I met her online.

Now, remember how I said there was no Facebook? Let me tell you another thing: meeting people on the web was considered to be pretty much for losers.

I think I’ve been one of the first people in my generation to ever use MSN (oh please) and online forums, although I have no data to back up this claim.

Anyhow, I still remember how we often said that we met each other thanks to a common friend, which was partly true, rather than telling the whole truth.

Basically, we were both on the same forum about a Finnish band. And at some point, there finally was a meetup in a city close enough to where we lived.

I was thrilled to attend it, and meet like-minded young people.

(Or maybe meet other “black sheeps”, I might even say – but that’s an inside joke I have no time to explain in details, lest this post becomes book-sized.)

So, anyway, that’s how we first met. After that, we kept on chatting for some time, before we decided to meet again. This time with no folk.

She had made a mix CD for me. I remember the bench we sit on when we first kissed, how nervous I was, and how sweet she was. I cherish this memory.

And none of this would’ve ever happened, if I hadn’t trusted that the “virtual” people beyond the screen can be even realer than the “real” ones.

Moral of the stories?

To be honest, I don’t know what you can make of all this.

If there even is a bottom line, you tell me what it could be.

I just wanted to share my experience. Because someday, somewhere, another real person might read these digital words – and feel they’re not alone.

And let me reassure you: you are not alone!