Friends all-over the world

When I came back from my last short trip to England, a coworker asked me where I’d been. “England”, I replied. “Visiting my cousin and a couple of friends.”
“You have friends everywhere, don’t you? Pretty large network, impressive.”

I get that a lot. “Oh you’re so lucky to have friends in XYZ”1

Am I now? Before we answer that, let’s look at my definition of “friend”. If you read my first blog post you already know that I’m pretty indiscriminate.

If you call me on a random day, at a random time with one of the following:
– “Olli, I’m so sorry, but I’m stranded at the airport/train station, could you come pick me up and could I crash on your couch for a night or two!”
– “Holy shit, I messed up, I need to talk!”
or something similar and I say “Sure, I’ll be there in a bit” then I consider you a friend.
As in: I will actually try and move things around even if it’s a major nuisance for me.

So yes, at the time of writing this, my definition of “friend” contains more of you readers than you might possibly think. And it’s easy to get from acquaintance to friend.

To be fair, I’ll already do quite a few things for acquaintances I like, but I’ll probably be less willing to go out of my way for something insubstantial.

Anyway. Yeah. Friends all-over the world. Lucky. Really?

I am shy. It probably doesn’t look like that when you first meet me over the internet.

<Crystal> are you shy ollie?
<ol> if he is, the rest of us are fucked
– IRC, 2005

I am not the type to go out to a bar, fair, festival and just “make” friends. I’m fine if you approach me, or if I have an actual subject or reason to talk to someone anyway, but if I’ve never talked to someone before, I’ll need a while to get talking.2 Once I get comfortable, or get to know someone and my subconscious realizes “Hey, they like me”, I’m usually good.

That is why my social circle extends much further into the internet than into my actual surroundings. I like most of my coworkers well enough, but most of those I’d actually spend time with live more than an hour away3 and I kinda want to get away from most things workrelated once I’m out of the office.

My friends from school…well, from the 56 people in my class4 I still have actual regular contact to 4 and their girlfriends/wives.
Then there’s another couple, he was a year ahead of me, she’s his girlfriends. And that covers my actual local friends I go out and do stuff with. Every couple of weeks.
The rest are people I might meet at the birthday parties of one of my friends. We have a great time and wont see each other again for a year.

So yeah, I have a lot more friends in various corners of the internet, than around here. I’ve been an internet resident since the late 90s, when we had free internet at school in the time we were just waiting for another class to start. I started getting into webchats and forums, that died down when I left school, went to the military for a year5 but I got back into it when I got internet at home and started working.

I’d go back into the old webchat, joined an internet radio station, discovered IRC and started making friends, at first in Germany exclusively.

The first meet-ups happened, later I got invited to a Italian-American wedding in Italy.

In the first meet-ups I was the quiet, shy guy. Getting used to things and people, sticking to people I already knew pretty well. In the follow ups I came to be one of the regulars, one of the guys who’d always been there.

We had a6 series of three or four meet-ups with the most mixed group you could imagine. Participants ranging in ages from 14 to 50, some bringing their own kids and dogs. We’d rent out a camp ground, put up tents, ate together, sat around the campfire in the evenings, play games, drank quite an amount of beer and wine and enjoyed pure bliss.

Basically we were one big family. Everybody looked out for each other, relationships were started on some of those. And we got depressed when we got back home, to our lives. Imagine a weekend full of bliss, joy, catching up, playing games, socialising with people that are basically a family away from home. Then you get home. Nobody there. You unpack, sit down and just think: “What now? Uh. Lonely. TV boring. Book boring. Video game boring.”

So you log into the chat, the gang is there, you talk about the weekend for an hour or two, log off again. BAM, sad. Of course, you get over it, but it’s never easy.

Meet-up hangover.  Post-Meet-up depression. Whatever you call it, I hate it. Considering I just came back from one a few days ago, I’m holding up remarkably well, probably because it was my first with that particular group.

But that’s not where it stops. I have lots of friends, good friends, people that I love to death, that I only meet in person once a year. If I’m lucky. A few more I’ve met three times in ten years. There’s people in America, the UK, the South Pacific and even Germany that I love to death, and that I’ve met once. Some of them I doubt I’ll ever see again, not in the least because it’s a massive investment in time off work, time and money just to get there.

If I take this further, since I’ve started using twitter about a year and a half ago, I’ve found quite a few people I’d start calling “friends” according to the abovementioned definition. I haven’t met most of those yet. And thinking about maybe never getting to meet some of them is almost physically painful.7

The internet, infinite possibilities to make friends you’ll never see.

On a side note, that also covers the question: “What would you do with an infinite amount of money on the sole condition that you are not allowed to give it away for charity or investment!”
I’d travel. All the time. See all the places, meet all the people, make new friends through them that I meet again the next time I pass through. I’d probably only stop at home long enough to get my passport renewed.

Time to come to an end.

To sum it up:
– I have only a hand ful of local friends that I don’t meet often enough.
– Whenever I meet groups8 of my friends, which doesn’t happen enough, I get sad when I get home.
– I have friends I never met face to face or only once

“You’re lucky to have friends all-over the world, Olli”
“Yes, on average I see them once every 3 years. How lucky is that?”
“Oh.”

Would I want to trade them for local friends?

Not for anything in the world. Oh, and if you happen to be near me, need anything or want me to visit while I’m on vacation in your general area9, let me know. I’ll be there. I’ll be sad when I get home, but it will be worth it.

Footnotes
  1. South Pacific, all corners of the US, England, Austria, South Africa, Canada, all across Germany, etc. []
  2. I work in sales. Hahahahaha []
  3. and I don’t want to be a bother. Ha! []
  4. there were others, from orchestra and such, but I have hardly any contact to those []
  5. I don’t have any contact to the temporary friends I made there. Some where actually nice. []
  6. well, actually several, with different groups, but same difference []
  7. might just be RSI from being on the computer too much in the past few days []
  8. ranging from 1 to 20 []
  9. and we’ve talked before. Don’t be creepy. []

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