According to the old song, the best things in life are free. While that's a lovely sentiment, and an attitude to aspire to, it's also a load of road apples. The best things in life are neither free nor even reasonably- priced.
However, the good news is that, in the 21st century, the best things in life, while not free, are available on the Internet.
Other than my children, who considerably predate my use of the Internet, I found all of the best things in my life
there. I found my beloved truck online, my house online and, best of all, I found my husband online.
Just the shock value alone of being able to answer the question "Where did you two meet?" with "We met on the Internet." is
worth its weight in facial expressions, which range from curiously surprised to absolutely horrified. Even in a world where
it seems as though almost everyone has at least one email address and oftentimes three or four, it has simply not occurred
to most people that one can, indeed, meet kindred spirits in an electronic medium.
I suppose a great deal of the public's negative attitude toward online relationships can be blamed on the media's
insistence that only Internet horror stories are worthy of news coverage. As always, "good news", no matter how much more
common than bad news, simply does not sell newspapers. As a result, people who are unfamiliar with computers or with chat
rooms and other online means of meeting people, receive a skewed view of what an online relationship is like. They picture
ax murderers lurking at the keyboard, cruising the net for innocent victims.
The reality, of course, is that there are hundreds of millions of Internet users nowadays. While the average user is still
probably a young man between the ages of 12 and 30, there are grandmothers, ditch diggers, corporate CEOs and waitresses
from Denny's all frequenting the net on a regular basis. If you are reading this, you are one of them.
Those not familiar with the dynamics of "chatting" seem to misunderstand the power of text in the forming of a
relationship. And yet, in the era before telephones were common in most households, the art of the letter was a normal
way to bond one person to another. Internet chatting is an interactive, real-time form of that same art. The only real
difference between them is that the Internet is faster and usually letter writers have met one another in real life, if
only briefly, at least once.
One friend of mine whom I met online, but have subsequently met several times in person, describes it thusly, "Making a
friend in chat is like getting to know someone from the inside out." Without the barriers of knowing the person's physical
appearance, voice, or social presentation, what is left is the person's ability to express him or herself in a written
medium. In online social interaction, this ability, or inability, is rife with clues regarding the person doing the
writing, if the reader learns to tune into them.
One of the most frequent complaints I hear from people who are suspicious of online relationships is that the person you
are talking to could be lying about whom they are. To that I say that the person you are talking to in real life could
also be lying about who they are. I maintain that the visual and auditory cues you receive in real life interaction can
serve better to distract you from an untruth than to clue you in. It's a sleight of hand which is impossible in online
communication. In chat, the only thing you have to judge is what is actually said. You don't even have vocal inflection
to guide you.
There are other advantages to online socializing. One of those is that, because you are not in a social situation which
requires you to go to a physical gathering place or to participate in an activity such as bowling or dancing, the primary
focus of the social event is the discussion. As a result, you get to know people better, their opinions, their sense of
humor, their personal history. In my circle of physical life friends, I actually know very little about the people I
socialize with. In my circle of Internet friends, I know a great deal about even mere acquaintances, because I have had
many discussions with them.
Another advantage to online communication is that because there are no distance barriers, you can become friends with
people all over the world. Not only can this broaden your horizons by learning about people living in different cultures,
it also gives rise to travel opportunities you might not have ordinarily considered. Since I began chatting on the
Internet over eight years ago, I have met nearly a hundred people in person from places are far away as Tasmania. I've
been to Nashville, New Orleans, Toronto, Chicago and Philadelphia (among other places) to meet online friends, and I plan
many more such trips in the future.
Meeting an online friend for the first time in person is not as daunting as it first seems. If you focus on realizing that
you already know this person much better than most people you know from your physical life, it makes it fairly simple.
Oddly enough, in some people's experience, you can often recognize the person before there is an introduction.
There are always surprises when meeting someone in person. You will usually have to make a mental adjustment from what you
imagined them to be like physically, such as mannerisms, body type and voice, but the adjustment period is generally
brief. Before you know it, you will be chatting away in person the same way you did online. The initial awkwardness
fades away as you realize that you really do already know your friend and that the relationship which inspired you to
meet does truly exist.
If you've been hesitant to try out chatting or meeting someone you already chat with, go ahead and give it a try. It's
best to try to find a chat room which caters to your interests rather than a more general topic chat room. You might have
to shop around a little before you find an online home, but the rewards can be plentiful. Friends, and even lovers, await
you in cyberspace.
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