Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Virtual Horse Friends

by Laura Crum

My blog post last week about a very sad experience I had in the world of horse bloggers (“Is This a Good Idea?”) generated some insightful comments and really got me studying on the whole issue in a more general sense. So today I’d like to pose some questions about “virtual relationships” and see what others think. Because I suppose you all engage in this sort of thing, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

My own experience of virtual horse friends began when I first started writing for this blog. Previous to that all my email correspondence was with people I had actually met, or it was nuts and bolts business type stuff. I had never had a friend that I “met” online. People did write to me to say they liked my books (or didn’t like them), but none of these very brief correspondences ever developed into an online friendship. To tell the truth, I was wary about this. I felt a little uncomfortable writing to people I didn’t really know and kept the notes brief and polite, never shared much about myself. Then came blogging.

I started blogging with the simple idea that I would do it to publicize my books. I don’t do book tours, and it seemed like an easy way to reach new readers. I doubt I would have thought of it on my own, because I wasn’t in the habit of poking around on the internet. I didn’t read blogs, or do facebook or anything like that. But Jami invited me to join Equestrianink, and my publisher begged me to do it. What harm could it do, I reasoned. I could do it from home. Well… I never would have predicted what actually happened.

When I first started blogging, I clicked around on various horse blogs just to see what blogging amounted to. I learned a lot right away. I started commenting on blogs I thought were interesting. In a very short time I was no longer blogging solely as a way to reach new potential readers for my books. I was interested in the horse bloggers I had “met” and enjoyed reading their blogs and discussing things with them. I began corresponding with some of them. And I struck up a pretty regular correspondence with one that I admired immensely. For the very first time in my life I had a “virtual friend”, someone I’d never met in real life, that I only knew through our internet correspondence.

Now if you read my previous post you know that this relationship did not work out, and I don’t want to belabor the details. But I do want to explore the parameters in a general way and think about what is and isn’t possible with virtual horse friends, people we meet through the blogosphere. Because I engaged in my first friendship in a completely well motivated but very na├»ve way. I thought that I had found a “magical friend”, and I guess I sort of believed that we could go beyond the boundaries of “regular” friendship. We weren’t limited by needing to take time to go for coffee. We could talk many times a day while we did the things we needed to do in between. It seemed like our minds were directly in touch. And there was something very seductive about the physical distance. We could share things we would probably never have felt comfortable sharing face to face unless we’d known each other for years. And that’s exactly what we did. We shared a ton of stuff with each other. I thought it was amazing that I’d found such a wonderful thing. Like I said, it was magic.

Without going into the details of why the relationship failed, I want to point out that we never met each other. We never even talked on the phone. I never had the experience of feeling her “energy” in person. I’d never even heard her voice. In the end our communication broke down and I became very confused as to why this was happening. What I think now is that it had a lot to do with the medium. Just how truly close is it possible to be with a virtual friend? Is it necessary in some way to be in a person’s physical presence to know them? When you only connect in cyberspace, even if everyone is being as honest as they can be, isn’t some essential piece of who we are missing?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but after writing last week’s blog post, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about them. I’ve come up with some ideas, which I’d like to share, and hopefully some of you will give me your insights. Because more and more now, virtual friendships are becoming the norm. And I for one think it is very worthwhile to explore what this really amounts to and how it does and doesn’t differ from in-person friendships.

One thing I did learn. After my first internet friend wrote me off, I saw a video she posted that showed her talking and interacting with friends. It was a huge eye-opener for me. Suddenly, in a small way, I could feel her energy (if you will) and I knew right away that if I’d ever met her or talked to her earlier in our relationship I would have been much less trusting. Lets just say that she reminded me very much of another horsewoman I know who is a perfectly nice woman but whom I would never choose for a close friend. The energy I felt on that video made me uncomfortable. It was nothing like the energy I thought I had felt coming from her through typing away on our keyboards.

But….that said, there is a kind of energetic “footprint” that comes across through email and such. I recognize the particular tone that each of my blogging friends has. They wouldn’t have to sign their emails or comments—I know who’s talking. So what is that that I feel? It isn’t the same energy or aura that I feel when I’m in the room with someone. That’s composed of body language, tone of voice, physical appearance, conversation and something indefinable…just the basic energy of that mind/body/spirit. I feel it like I see colors or smell scents. I can’t explain it but I feel it very strongly. What comes across on the internet is different. My first friend had a very different “energy” talking to her real life friends than the “energy” that came across to me through her emails and posts. But the “personality” I felt through cyberspace was a definite thing. So what is that thing?

This is the mystery I’m interested in. If the persona we connect with online is not the “real” person, it is still a definite persona. I think at times it may be VERY different to the real in-person person. And maybe sometimes its pretty similar. But either way, what the heck goes on? What is it I’m connecting with when I connect with someone online? Is it just the pure mind, divorced from the energy of body and spirit?

I got very curious about this after my first online friendship ended. I had several other horse bloggers I corresponded with and I became quite a bit closer to one of them due to sharing some similar family issues we were having. This time I was much more careful in what I said, having learned a lesson from ex-friend (with whom I was very open and unguarded), and this second connection was a very different person. Not touchy at all. Truly kind and unaffected. No conflict ever arose between us. It was an entirely positive relationship. But my curiosity really went to what it would be like to meet her in person. Would she be anything like I imagined her? Would she seem like or unlike the energetic footprint I felt when I corresponded with her?

Eventually the opportunity arose, and I took my courage in hand and made the effort. She and I had talked about how different people were in person from what they’d appeared to be online, and she had had this experience before. I wondered if she’d be disappointed in what I was like in “real life”. I wondered if she’d be anything like the way I sort of imagined her to be. I’d seen her photos online so I knew what she looked like. I have to admit I was pretty nervous. I think she was a little nervous, too. But we went ahead and met. And it was good.

Her home and critters were exactly as I had envisioned them from reading her blog. And she was different. Prettier, younger looking, with a lighter, sweeter voice and energy than I had somehow imagined. And at the same time I could feel that she was my same online friend. Nonetheless, her energy in real life, though I found it very pleasant, was not exactly the same persona I felt through blogs and email. I’ve got to admit, I was fascinated. I felt like I was exploring a whole new dimension to human interactions.

Anyway, our visit was short due to time constraints, and when we were both safely home and facing our computers, I asked her what she had felt and asked her to be frank. I’d gotten comfortable enough with her (online anyway) to trust we could be frank and it would be OK.

Turns out she had felt that I, too, was both different and the same as I was online. My voice was lower, she said. For me, the voice thing was big. She said she felt a little uncomfortable, thinking of all those intimate things we shared, and here I was, and in person, so to speak, we were strangers. But overall she was comfortable with me and sensed that I was an OK person. We both agreed that a brief hour-long visit was not enough time to loosen up and really get to know each other face to face.

The whole encounter was interesting and pleasant and our online friendship continues. I learned that you can meet people online and they can be consistently who they seem to be and be very nice in real life, too. But I didn’t have enough time with her to sense whether we could have become “real life” friends. And she felt this, too. So, interesting, a positive experience, but inconclusive.

Then I turned it around. I took my real life best friend, who is a lovely person, and tried chatting with her online. I’ve got to admit, I didn’t like it. The things I love so much about her did not come through online at all. You could tell she was a nice, upbeat person, but she sounded sort of superficial. Which she isn’t. So that was enlightening, too.

So far I’m still concluding that the persona we connect with online, though “it” has a distinct personal flavor, is not the same thing as our true human personality. And I’m still wondering what it is we connect with online if its not the real, complete person. Can we change this phenomena? I’m thinking not. I think it’s a function of the medium. I’m guessing that the more straight forward someone is in real life, the more they will be who they seem to be online. People who are withdrawn and who somewhat hide their thoughts/feelings in reality, will be very hard to “know” online.

I’ve valued many of the people I’ve met online and would like to believe that we can become true friends “virtually”, just as we can in person. I love chatting about horses with my blogging friends. I love hearing about their adventures. And they’ve offered so much kindness and support. And yet I remain puzzled, no stymied, when I try to work out what is and isn’t possible when it comes to forming real, lasting friendships (such as I have with quite a few people in “real life”) with folks I’ve only met online. Perhaps my one very bad experience has made me unduly careful. I don’t know. Does anybody else have any thoughts on this subject? Can one truly know another online? Or is that impossible? Did anybody else besides me ever try to forge a close friendship online? Did it work out? And do some of you think that making friends online is no different to making friends face to face—the same problems and pitfalls apply? Or are there unspoken rules that apply especially to virtual friendships? If so, does anybody know what they are?

20 comments:

Breanna said...

First off I would say it is very difficult to really know someone without spending time with them in person. Body language tells you so much about who someone really is.

I think that some of the difficulty you are experiencing does not apply in some ways to those of us who have "grown up" with this technology. This is a whole different way of communicating, and for someone over the age of about 25 or 30 it may be very hard to adjust to. (Here comes my theory) It's like learning a new language in some ways. You can learn to speak it, but if you didn't grow up with it then there are nuances you will miss and even "cultural" aspects to it. For the younger generation growing up right now this is their "native" language.

BUT!! I also think that this way of communication is socially stunting the younger generation. Their interactions are much more shallow, and also friendships are much less stable (this is all from my own observation, and obviously does not apply to everyone).

I guess I'm trying to say this is something that will probably always feel awkward or not quite right to you, and you will probably never build a true close friendship with someone you mostly talk to online, even if you do meet in person now and then, but you can "meet" people who are fun and enjoyable and helpful all the same.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever cringed when you hear of a woman who married a man she "met" while he was I prison? Guess what, that's what "virtual" friendships can be if we all are not careful. My advice-enjoy the interactions and information but look for emotional support from people who are actually part of your life. Btw, this comment will be posted anonymously, simply because I do not look to the web for relationships. My apologies in advance if that offends.

AareneX said...

I think Breanna's theory is very interesting...and I see support for it in some (not all) of my kids' friendships. One difference I notice is that older people can tell when their friendships are superficial, but a lot of kids I talk to seem oblivious. I'm not sure how much of that is technology and how much is "being 17 years old"!

It's one of the reasons we are so adament that Will (and this year, Lisa) spend 6 weeks (!!!) away from civilization working for the Northwest Youth Corps. They spend 6+ weeks in the wilderness, away from technology (and electricity) building trails for the state and national parks. It's good, needful work AND keeps the kids in touch with real life. We also, as a family, spend at least a week (or more) in the wilderness doing the same kind of work with our friends for basically the same reason: to spend REAL time with REAL people.

As for meeting virtual people IRL...I think the first thing you'd notice about me is that my spoken grammar isn't so good as my written grammar >g<

OTOH, I laugh more in real life. I think you probably do, also.

Horse blogging has kept me in touch with a good friend (lytha, at the horsecrazyamerican) who moved far away. Via our blogs, we can still chatter about horses the way we used to over red wine and soup in my little apartment. I miss those days, but I'm glad to keep up with her current horse hunting and cultural explorations.

I love meeting other bloggers, and have only had good experiences so far. Maybe someday you will visit the Swamplands, and we can go for a ride!

Laura Crum said...

Breanna--Thank you! I never thought of it as being an age related thing, but it makes perfect sense, Thanks for a great insight.

Anon--Of course I'm not offended. I get your point exactly. And I cringe when I hear of someone who has met someone else online and is determined to marry them--without much real time interaction. In my limited experience, that sort of thing mostly doesn't work out.

Aarene--I find you very inspiring. Call me relentlessly naive, but I still tend to believe I can "feel" the good people through the internet. I like your energy and ideas. Unfortunately, I am quite sure Fiddle would leave Sunny in the dust on any trail ride. But we could still have a drink together afterwards (!)

Angelia Almos/Angie Derek said...

As I was reading I kept thinking, my worst betrayals and friendship breakups have all been people I've known face to face. I can't think of a single virtual friendship that's gone bad. I've had friendships drift away, but not end badly. Perhaps I don't invest as much when it is online? Though as a teen I had several intense online friendships which eventually petered out to nothing (no contact whatsoever), but there was no fights or break-ups just a gradual decline of correspondence.

I don't think there is an answer to your question. Each person has to find their comfort level and boundaries - just like you have to with real people.

Funder said...

Ooh this is so interesting! Been waiting for this post, Laura.

Breanna - you're wrong wrong wrong. ;) At least for the earliest adopters - I'm 34. I was a super shy kid, really a fish out of water at my grade school. In 91 or 92 I got a computer (a Tandy! with a 1200 baud modem!) and started dialing in to local BBS's, and I met my first core group of friends. We were almost all shy nerds. We'd meet up once a month at a Pizza Hut, and man we were different IRL. It's just two halves of the same person, though. I am still friends, on Facebook, with almost all of those BBS kids - so initially-online friendships can last over decades.

I still feel like I'm awkward IRL. That makes me quiet, which apparently makes me easy to talk to, cause people I meet (both internet friends and people I meet IRL first) usually really like to talk to me. But I feel like I can't say as much as I'm thinking, and I can't say it as coherently, if I'm talking IRL. I always feel like I could've said it better if I'd been writing it down.

Aarene - I think discerning the depth of a friendship just takes experience, which takes time. How are you going to tell that you're going to drift apart from Amy, but not from Bob, until it happens and you analyze why?

Now I'm thinking pretty hard about the attributes of friendship when I should be thinking about fixing the kitchen window I took apart yesterday. Gee, thanks. ;)

battleshipdestroyer said...

I think the people you meet online are aspects of the same person they are in real life, but since there is time for them to word their posts or emails more, it is a sort of adjusted/contrived version of their personality.

I'm good with people in real life, but tend to get stressed in situations where there are a lot of people who are only acquaintances. If I really know you, or don;t know you at all, I am fine, great, awesome! But if you kind of know me through someone else, and it is an awkward work christmas party or something, aieee... My boyfriend says I "hummingbird", my energy just starts to vibrate at a higher level. LOL. He is such a sweetheart, though, he tends to come and find me and usually he'll stroke my back and it centers me again. I guess it is a form of social anxiety?

But since we had only talked online, I don't have to deal with that anxiety, and my posts would perhaps come across as that of someone more confident or self-assured. Then when you met me I would probably laugh a lot and do some weird hand-movement or something that would drive you crazy because I am nervous. LOL.

If I were to meet someone I had met online and really liked, I would be so nervous. Not in the way that I think they'd actually turn out to be a crazy axe-murderer (although that would definitely make things more exciting), but more just that I would worry that I am not the person they've created for themselves to represent me.

It is a whole new realm of social etiquette, really.

Alison said...

interesting extension of your earlier post. After pondering your thoughts and other's comments, it does seem that there are so many variations of virtual relationships that it defies coming up with one answer/response!

Laura Crum said...

Angie--I appreciate what you're saying. Everybody (and every relationship) is different.

Funder--It is a fascinating subject (to me, anyway). In real life I'm apt to be MORE talkative than I feel, especially when trying to fill an "awkward" gap. Then, later, I feel stupid, and wish I had been quiet.

battleship destroyer--What you say makes perfect sense. Our online personas are "adjusted versions" of who we are. And I'm like you. I'm good with people I don't know (teaching a class, giving a book talk...everybody loves me) and with people I know well (I have quite a few friends who go back thirty years). But that huge group of people I kind of know? I talk too much, trying to fill in awkward gaps (see above). I like your concept of "hummingbird". I can feel myself revving up (blood pressure rising), just like you say. And I felt very nervous meeting someone who had only known me online. I was sure she would be disappointed with the real life version.

Alison--Yes, that's one answer. That there is no answer. Virtual relationships are wide open--no rules, endless possibilities. Unfortunately that's what got me in trouble, believing in the magic of it all. So now I'm kind of looking for workable forms.

Funder said...

Ok, I fixed the window.

What's your definition of a friend? Like, what level of friendship are we talking about?

Laura Crum said...

Oh Funder, that's a tough one. I guess the question I was asking concerned whether one can have a "close" friendship with a solely virtual friend. I totally believe I can have a casual friendship in this venue. For me a close friend is one that I can speak truthfully to, rather than limiting myself solely to supportive comments (ie always "making nice"), and also trust that we can show the less "easy" parts of ourselves and still stay friends. A close friend for me is one I can be friends with over the long haul ( many years). Its a relationship that can survive a little conflict. There's a start. Not an easy question to answer.

Once Upon an Equine said...

I'm sorry you had a disappointing and hurtful experience. I think you learned a lot and have some new insights. I think it is wise to be cautious with social networking and set boundaries as Alison commented on your previous post. I think friendships can be made online, but they need more real-life care and feeding to be dear friendships that can weather misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

You asked whether we are connecting with the real person or an online persona amongst our blog friends. I think there is a part of our "real-person" in our online personas...if we are honest, genuine people to begin with. But like you found out, I think we need to hear and see the other person's energy to form a trustworthy and close friendship.

I met one of my closest friends online. We became international email pen-pals about 15 years ago. We were born and raised in different countries and living in those separate countries when we began corresponding. Although we became friends right away, we are both fairly reserved people and our friendship grew gradually. We have very different likes and dislikes, and different talents, but share some strong core values and experiences and respect one-another's talents and hobbies, even though we can't fully relate to each other in those areas. We email frequently, exchange birthday gifts, like to find humor in life, we share books (although I love to read fiction and she will only read non-fiction), we talk on the phone occasionally, and have met in person only twice. She moved to the U.S. and got married. The first time we met was when she and her husband flew to Colorado to attend my wedding. After the ceremony, she came up to me, shook my hand and said, "Hello, I'm so-and-so. I don't believe we've met before." We laughed and only got to visit briefly at my wedding reception. I have flown to her state once and spent a weekend at her home. We're good friends and I think we will remain good friends via email and in real-life because we have some things in common, yet we respect each other's differences, and genuinely care about each other and want the other to be happy and successful. So, I think it is possible to have a good friend online, but it helps to talk on the phone and meet in person. I'm hoping to visit my friend this summer.

Terri Rocovich said...

The way I look at it is that any kind of relationship and interaction between humans or animals or a combination of, is all good. This world can be both crowded and lonely all at the time. I feel that all of the species are on this planet to interact and whether it is in person (Which I do think is better) or virtual, it is all positive. As you demonstrated in your last post, virtual relationships can be plaqued with the same complexities as "in-person" interaction but isn't it all a part of the fabric of living? Doesn't all of it shape who we are and help us learn and grow emotionally and intellectually. Laura, your words can touch so many people and the internet gives you a venue to reach so many more than you would otherwise.

I feel that we are all meant to leave a positive footprint wherever we go and to leave this world better than when we came into it. I try to make my mark by the way I work with horses and by mentoring the kids I teach.

Just like when you see a movie after reading a book, the visual does not always match the impression created in your mind but that does not mean you shouldn't enjoy the book or should not enjoy the movie.

Terri Rocovich said...

The way I look at it is that any kind of relationship and interaction between humans or animals or a combination of, is all good. This world can be both crowded and lonely all at the time. I feel that all of the species are on this planet to interact and whether it is in person (Which I do think is better) or virtual, it is all positive. As you demonstrated in your last post, virtual relationships can be plaqued with the same complexities as "in-person" interaction but isn't it all a part of the fabric of living? Doesn't all of it shape who we are and help us learn and grow emotionally and intellectually. Laura, your words can touch so many people and the internet gives you a venue to reach so many more than you would otherwise.

I feel that we are all meant to leave a positive footprint wherever we go and to leave this world better than when we came into it. I try to make my mark by the way I work with horses and by mentoring the kids I teach.

Just like when you see a movie after reading a book, the visual does not always match the impression created in your mind but that does not mean you shouldn't enjoy the book or should not enjoy the movie.

RiderWriter said...

This is a very interesting topic, as you say. I do choose my words carefully while blogging and communicating in the virtual world, BUT I also think that I come across true to my "real" personality. Two sides of the same person, as someone commented above.

I can report that I had the occasion to meet up with a fellow blogger just this October (in KY, I have blogged about it). Perhaps naively, I felt very comfortable meeting her and really had no qualms about it. Maybe because she has posted videos so I knew what her voice sounded like? She was much as I expected, all went well and we had a great time. I think she was happy with our visit, too. I also got to meet her horses and they liked me well enough. :-)

Laura, I haven't been around this blog all that long and I've only read one of your books. However, you have put enough of yourself "out there" for me to tell what kind of person you are. Everything you have said here and in your last post corresponds perfectly with the "version" of you I have in my mind. So I don't think I'd get any rude surprises meeting up with you, either! :-)

I agree that an online vs. real "energy" and personality COULD be totally different, but in my experience (it's not just the example cited above, either) fortunately people have turned out as expected.

If they are aloof and condescending online, I might still read their blog for information, but no, I'm not going to pursue a relationship. If they are warm and friendly but I can still sense there are boundaries, ok, I'll comment back and forth but not take it personal. Only with a couple of fellow bloggers have I gone a step further. That has worked out pretty well so far... we'll see. To be honest, it IS hard to tell and I am slower to jump on that now.

I have a new friend who I met briefly and hit it off with immediately. We Friended each other on FB and really got to know each other a lot better via that medium (photos helped). Turned out we had even more in common than we thought. However, I have learned through bitter experience that I can be too "overwhelming" with new people sometimes, so I have made a conscious effort not to bombard the poor girl with attention. Texts, emails and FB has worked well to grow our friendship slowly (we live 45 minutes apart and only see each other about once a month). So in this case, I have really appreciated the virtual/online world.

Not taking up with any prisoners any time soon, though, haha! :-)

RiderWriter said...

PS: I just did some more thinking about this while in the shower (multi-tasking female, esp. this time of year). I would rather be as I am, open, friendly and trusting of people, than bitter, hostile and suspicious of other's ulterior motives. I know people like that and they are NOT happy people. Frankly, their way sucks. I guess they are pleasant enough to their family members, since they're not alone, but I bet woe betide them if they disappoint or upset.

I try to be nice to everyone, IRL and online. I hate it when others are not nice in return, but that's what you get sometimes and I've learned to (mostly) roll with the punches. I still get my feelings hurt a lot. But on the whole, I'd rather have it this way. I think you agree. :-)

White Horse Pilgrim said...

This is interesting - though I came to the discussion a little late. I had an experience analogous to that which you describe except that rejection came from other end more quickly and before anything too serious had been shared. I have to admit that I deleted links to that person's blog there and then. However she had put up a lengthy post attacking me, a fate that I hope you escaped. Later I saw the funny side in that she had barked long and hard up the wrong tree, making quite a fool of herself.

I think that a couple of things can happen. First, at work and in other social situations, people will apply a persona. That is not necessarily a bad thing: if one is, say, a doctor or a teacher then people expect one to behave in a certain broad kind of way. Online one can drop that persona and become whatever raw, authentic individual one is - though perhaps only after a little provocation.

Secondly, each of us has a dark shadow at our core (here I am thinking in the terms expressed by Carl Jung) encompassing our faults, rough edges and also our creativity. A less mature person will not have recognised and absorbed his or her shadow side, potentially leading to aggressive or hurtful behaviour which may be mixed up with good creative work too.

That said, I am corresponding with two valued and respected individuals whose blogs I read. This has come about, I think, from having elements of common perspective as a result of experiences in our lives. There is an empathy and a desire to see the other move ahead. I feel privileged at the openness and trust. I've received some truly helpful advice that is all the more special because it was willingly and thoughtfully given. Yes, there is a boundary, which comes from discussing the areas of common interest and recognising that advice is there to be accepted or rejected. Were the other person to go wide of the mark, it's probably because we don't know really one-another well at all. Rather we know the terrain with its opportunities and pitfalls. We can be like a guide taking a new horse on a tricky but very familiar trail.

There is something in this analogous to how a psychiatrist operates. The patient knows little or nothing about the therapist's personal life, and the therapist knows only what he or she is told which should pertain to whatever is the problem. It's a powerful relationship, contained within well defined boundaries, with a broad aim in mind. There is a temptation to treat online relationships as a kind of therapy, however the person at the other end may not have the necessary maturity or skills. Also the therapist is paid whilst we blog and correspond in our free time. I'm fortunate to enjoy two mature and constructive conversations, however the emphasis is on offering support within boundaries. The outcome may be the joy of seeing the other person flourish and reading about that on their blog, not having the kind of friend that one can drop by and have a cup of tea with. (Anyway geography would be an issue there.)

A senior engineer told me last week that he'd spoken to a junior engineer immediately after the latter had passed an important examination. he asked "what will you do next?" expecting to hear about career options. The answer was: "I'll stop for a pizza on the way home." We do interpret words in different ways.

Shanster said...

Online is amazing and at the same time can be empty. I've found such good information and life experiences on the web from people I never would have known in real life and for that I love it... and yet, I really enjoy knowing all those body language signals, voice inflections and small endearing habits we all have that make us "real" so when we picture that person in our mind, we can SEE them! :)

Laura Crum said...

Once Upon, Terri, Rider/Writer, White Horse and Shanster--Thanks for the very interesting comments. I can just now reply, as my computer has been repaired.

I am still puzzling over this interesting phenomena and all insights are welcome. Having been so profoundly wrong about my first virtual friend has colored my thinking, I'm sure. I have not yet been able to either a) recognize that she was a genuinely deceptive/hurtful person who hid (and hides) it very well or b) grasp why my completely good intentions toward her produced such a sad result. Thus I remain caught between "I misread her and ignored the obvious signals that she wasn't really kind at all" or "virtual communication (or miscommunication) did us in despite good intentions on both our parts". The whole thing puzzles me, but its small in the big picture of life.

Grey Horse Matters said...

This is an interesting post with lots of good questions. I think it's hard to really know someone without meeting them in person, although I sometimes can get a sense of what someone is really like by just reading their blogs.

I've actually met one of my favorite bloggers in person and we've remained friends for a few years now. It was a surprise to learn that we lived in neighboring towns. Without the internet we wouldn't have known each other existed. She has her horses in her backyard so she wouldn't have been boarding and we couldn't have met at a barn and she rides western, I ride English. There was no way we would have met at shows or events either. We still meet for lunch or ice cream when we can and know we can call on each other in times of crisis. So I've had a good experience.