Prompt 132-Digital Relationships

Have you ever made a friend with, or fallen in love with, someone you met online?

Once upon a time, the internet was a quieter place with several niche communities. We weren’t connected 24/7 like we are now. In the early days, you had a “family computer” that you had to share with parents and siblings. Never mind the slow internet. “Online” wasn’t yet the beast of today.

You had to be more cautious. If someone tried to talk to you, they were probably not who they said they were. People who tried to make friends on the internet were weird and not to be trusted. What was wrong with them? Why didn’t they just get out of their home and meet people the old fashioned way?

But we all developed our own online personas after a while. Were any of us truly who we said we were? Anonymity allowed us to be whoever we wanted to be. I choose to believe that these version were innocent exaggerations more often than not. We wanted to be braver, smarter, prettier, wittier, the best versions of ourselves that we could imagine. We didn’t set out to malign other netizens.

And then we met in forums. In chat rooms. Instant messenger. I never used my real name, of course. If the person on the other end of the web was a stalker, they could find me and kidnap me. I clung to that ideology even through college. Only now that I am trying to develop, for lack of a better term, “my brand,” have I gotten comfortable using my real name on the internet.

Networking has exploded with the advent of social media. We make friends all over the world now. We find jobs and lovers and pets and homes, all through the wireless connections on our phones. It’s commonplace now. So commonplace we hardly think about it at all.

I’ve been really bad in recent years though. I used to have so many online friends when I was a teenager. A lot of them through forum sites. But as I got older and busier, I stopped going to those sites. I stopped talking to those friends.

I think about them once in a while. I wonder how they’re doing. I wonder how their kids are doing. (At least one was a young mother, who gosh, the kid is probably graduating high school now.) I wonder if they ever found themselves, if they got past the bullshit of puberty and young adulthood. One of my earliest crushes was a guy in my Neopets RP guild (yes, I was THAT nerd, I told you I’ve been telling stories all my life) whose character was Ali’s first ever love interest outside of her story. They had some intense adventures with the rest of the guild members, but I really resonated with the way “Brent” wrote his character, Raven. After all, back then, Ali was much closer to a reflection of myself than her own person.

I made a picture of this person in my head based on our role-playing with our characters. I have no way of knowing if there was any accuracy to my vision. And that was kind of the point of the online anonymity of those days. You were whoever you wanted to be, and they were whoever you wanted them to be. “Brent” probably never had any feelings toward “Ali” one way or the other, was just there for some RP fun, but the idea of him was the first time I had a crush on someone I didn’t know and never would.

It was this thought that gave me a story idea for a digital love story told through IMs and emails. A misconception based on a username leads a young boy to believe he has found a new best friend on a local server of an online game. He creates this image in his head of what this other boy is like and obsesses over it until they can finally meet in person. The other boy runs track and cross country at a rival school, so the MC goes to a meet to surprise him. Except the other boy is not at all what he expects and he has to come to terms with his shock and perceptions. The shock, of course, being that the other “boy” is not a boy at all.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve rambled enough for one night. I was going to attempt to write the above story, but Personal Things distracted me and I want to write that one to the best of my ability, not as a throwaway post. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing some “Remix” posts where I go back and edit/revise/rewrite some prompts, of which this would be a contender, but I’ll probably save that for after I’ve done all 300 prompts.

Just one more day until we’re home free for the weekend. And it’s payday! For me anyway. Huzzah! Money lets me keep doing what I love, which is spending my evenings banging my head against a proverbial wall as I smash words out of a keyboard. I like to think that someday it will get easier, but I know that’s a lie. A lie I will tell myself until the end times. For now, I look towards tomorrow, and the weekend! Have a great night and a wonderful Friday!

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