online friendships

My daughter has a veritable menagerie of imaginary friends. Since she lives much of her life as though she were Julie Andrews on Broadway, I hear her warbling about their exploits from all over the house. She is quite frank about these friends however.

“They are just imaginary, Mom.”

How refreshing to be so realistic about the limitations of those you chose to call companions.

My husband is always reminding me not take the blogosphere so seriously. While we meet a lot of wonderful and interesting people, some of whom go on to become real friends, most people we meet are really just strangers.

In a way, cyber friends can be somewhat like the imaginary friends a person had when they were young. I had imaginary friends when I was young and even not so young. It is probably part of being a writer. I have a crowd of characters in my head all the time that can I move about, put words in their mouths and give purpose to. I tend to flesh out those I meet via blogs and message boards that way as well. Perhaps that is why I am a bit more invested in the people I meet who don’t seem real to the real people I know?

My family roll their eyes but don’t have much to say when I talk about my “imaginary friends” though they are a bit less condescending in light of the fact that one of these people actually materialized one day and I married him. But mostly they find it odd even if it is in keeping with my character.

When I was Katy’s age, I had to hide when I played. My parents found my habit of talking to the thin air too cute and entertaining not to point out to family and friends. I try not to comment on my own child’s imaginative play as a result. I don’t even let her see me watching if I can help it. I would prefer she develop free of self-consciousness as she is inhibited enough by nature. I don’t want her to be as introverted as I am when she is grown. Some of it is just who I am, but there is a part of my reticence that could only have come from being made the butt of adult amusement when I was small. The way to draw out a shy child is not by shining a spotlight on their inner world for the entertainment of your friends.

Some of my “imaginary” friends today have had a big enough impact on my life that I reference them with my live version of friends. In the beginning I would explain how I knew them, but now I do that only if asked, and it invokes the same feeling as when I was little and my parents would interrupt my play by pointing out its quirky nature. I know now that I wasn’t odd. Most kids have unseen playmates, but to my recollection I was the only kid I knew who engaged in this kind of play openly and even preferred it to real children. This probably marked the start of my cocooning myself because I found other people’s reactions to things I said or did in all innocence hard to predict or even understand. I don’t think I am retarded, but my settings are hardwired a bit differently. It is times like these that set me to wondering about the nurture/nature thing and how much of me is a result of the chaos of my upbringing and how much I simply brought to the table with me from my unknown birthparents.

My mother was very unpredictable moodwise when I was growing up. She still is but I guess I am just used to it now and living far away has helped by blunting much of the direct impact on me. As a result, I tend to shun highly emotional people or events. Imaginary friends were an intregal part of my buffering system long ago; today I find myself need a bit of shelter from the imaginations of some of the “imaginary” people I know online. It was that way during the last months I spent on the widow board and I am finding that a few of my continued ties are wearying and even grating. I think when a person reaches a point where words must be weighed and measured in simple conversation that friendships must be reevaluated. It’s sad to grow away or past someone, even imaginary someones, but it happens.