Internet friendships

Funny things, aren’t they, those “pen pal” relationships we strike up these days? Well, we have for some years, haven’t we? I have. I remember years ago using a social site called “Firefly.com” (no relation to the late, lamented television series), using ICQ to chat with people I hadn’t met.

Now it’s everywhere. Your parents are probably on Facebook, and maybe your grandparents, even if you wish they weren’t. You can leave comments everywhere, and I’m sure lots of you out there have struck up “e-pal” correspondences with a few people, at least from time to time. I certainly have. After I posted a story called Ghosts of the Forum on StoriesOnline.net, my current beta reader contacted me to say he liked the story despite the many (many, many) errors I’d made about Montreal and Canadian French. That was something like three years ago, and we’re good friends now.

Many of you know that MugsyB (aka Tamara Clarke) and I are good friends. I emailed her regarding her first hockey romance, answering her challenge to readers to identify the team and player she’d been thinking of while writing “The Ice, The Game, The Touch.” (I got it right!) We’ve been emailing for a good four years or so now.

My husband and I met because of one of those “small world” coincidences as the internet was growing in the late 1990s. I had struck up a correspondence with someone over the aforementioned Firefly site (which no longer exists, last I checked), and he had begun writing to someone after seeing a comment she’d left on a board for a SciFi channel show. It turned out that the guy I was writing to and the woman he was writing to were best friends. When they discovered that we both lived in the same state, they said, “Well, those two should be talking to each other!” So I sent him an email, and well, we’ve been married thirteen years and together for fifteen. (Whew.)

So sometimes things work out.

And sometimes not so well. This particular incident comes to mind for me every once in a while, and what can I say? It irks me a bit. When I began writing the hockey romances, I was also emailing another author, who said she wanted a hockey romance “for her,” and she’d write a story for me. We traded info on what we liked in stories, set a few soft limit so neither would feel overwhelmed. I also said at one point that I liked her stories well enough that even if some of what I liked in a story didn’t make it in, I’d probably enjoy it anyway. I ended up writing “Game Misconduct,” which she told me she really liked.

The story she wrote for me was a fantasy story, which is fine — I like my sf/f, as many of you may know — and although I can’t say I was crazy over it, and even though elements I’d hoped to see weren’t there, I enjoyed it well enough and it was fun that someone wrote it for me. She even added a character at the end with my name. However, later I saw some comments she made about the story which, what can I say, kind of hurt.

I believe it was on a forum about getting past writer’s block that she advised someone to write something, even something short or fluffy. She named the story she’d written for me, and said it had been just a quick thing she’d tossed off to get the juices flowing.

Well.

She later pulled the story down from the sites it had been posted on for some reworking, and again I saw comments about changes she’d planned, including renaming the character she’d named for me.

I haven’t named the other author and don’t plan to. It’s really not the point — she’s scored a publishing contract, which was her dream, and I’m pleased for her and that she’s having some success. I know she had a hard time and worked for ages before finding a publisher. This is not about any kind of getting even.

What has always gotten me about this situation is that I was so saddened when I had never met this woman in person. We’d never even talked on the phone. Our emails were friendly and congenial, but not quite regular. She was strictly an e-friend, and not one I’d grown close to like MugsyB or my beta reader. Still, it hurt that I’d put in some serious effort on the story I’d written — I included elements she said she liked, and also some in-jokes (which I gather no one but she and I understood, but that’s okay), and had fun writing it as a few things were a stretch for me. So when she said her story was just something she’d tossed off for no real reason, yeah, that hurt.

And that was what got me, like I said. Why was I so affected by the actions of someone I’d never met? And we run into this all the time, right? I’ve done it myself, gotten angrier or more upset than I meant to about posts on forums, comments on articles, things like that. And I occasionally make the mistake of “confronting” the commenter. Which is just useless, and doesn’t even have the small benefit of making me feel better.

I am frequently advising new writers to take any comments or votes with huge grains of salt. What do you care, I say, if a complete stranger who posts as “anonymous” doesn’t like your story? You’re anonymous, too. It’s two strangers trading insults, and what’s the point when they couldn’t pick each other out of a line up even if they were both in it? This is something I try to practice, not just preach. I have enough going on that to let the barbs of cyber-strangers upset me is just stress I don’t need. So I take a deep breath and remember Bill and Ted’s advice: “Be excellent to each other.”

Even on the internet.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. There’s certainly something strangely unique about the e-friends you make. It has a dichotomy that is truly unique. On the one hand, they are strangers, and there is this level of anonymity that becomes a comforting shield.

    But at the same time, because of that we can be even more open. The conventions that are normal for e-friends are not normal for real life friends. There’s also the idea that these e-friends are often active on the electronic devices that keep them connected a bit more then the real friends. So there’s almost more of an instant access.

    So anonymous strangers makes it so easy to sling barbs at someone else. It is so easy to click the 1 star, or make a snarky comment that belittles the original writer’s words. But I think it’s also just as easy to give people compliments that you might not ever give someone if you were standing in the same room. It allows for freedom, and sometimes people don’t make the best choices when given the ability to do anything they want.

    I really enjoyed this post and can’t want to see what other things are rattling around in your head. Thanks for sharing and putting this out there.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Lady Falcon on April 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Some of my e-friends are closer to me than any of my in-person friends. The e-friendship allows for you to get more honest faster at least for me. Let’s face it…if you embarrass yourself online you can always create a new profile or just not go to that site anymore. 😉

    John is right that we don’t always comment on the good or positive things with people we are in the same room but we are quick to be huffy or have a passive aggressive attitude. Heavy sighs or druming fingers tell someone you are not happy…lol…none of that online.

    It takes a lot more work to have an in-person friend than an e-friend. I guess i’m inherently lazy or super shy…or maybe bits of both.

    I always enjoy your blog posts. Take Care.

    Reply

  3. Posted by estragon on April 22, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    I used to copy edit for some really good authors (even you among them, SA Penn Lady), until a family issue forced me to quit. I really miss the comments we shared, and the collegiality. I even miss the correspondents with whom I disagreed.

    Reply

  4. Posted by buttercup1992 on April 24, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Reblogged this on buttercup1992 and commented:
    Absolutely LOVE this blog by Eve McFadden. It’s something I think about a lot – how people who are online really fit into my life and how. I have a lot of friends online at this point and I’m not sure what I’d be without them (I wouldn’t want to find out) but some people I meet in real life find it really strange.

    I speak to people of all ages, genders, personality types etc through my blog, online gaming, my photography, my editing and my writing and I’ve gotten used it – in fact I love it. To some though it’s something they never have and never will do either because of their feelings or because they think they’re too old for it.

    Either way, I’m glad I have real life friends but, there’s something different about only knowing people through a screen – you have far less to judge them on and in fact far less to be judged about yourself which is a plus. But at the same time you feel like you can ignore certain aspects of each others’ lives and concentrate on the things you actually WANT to talk about.

    Anyway I’m waffling on! Take a look at this blog – especially if you have online friends but also if you don’t and I hope you enjoy it 🙂

    Reply

    • Posted by Lady Falcon on April 24, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      You nailed it, Buttercup.

      “there’s something different about only knowing people through a screen – you have far less to judge them on and in fact far less to be judged about yourself which is a plus. But at the same time you feel like you can ignore certain aspects of each others’ lives and concentrate on the things you actually WANT to talk about.”

      Amen, Sister! lol

      Reply

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