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In the Company of Women - Online_6398

In the Company of Women - Online

From a young age, girls are drawn to one another. They have an innate need to share who they are; to share their secret selves. Unlike boys who posture and show their camaraderie through challenges of skill and sportsmanship, girls whisper together and divulge secrets that can only be revealed when they feel safe.

That need carries into adulthood, and no matter if a woman is five, 15 or 50, she will still giggle with her girlfriends, and talk about all the things that matter most in their worlds. The topics change over time - discussions of Barbie Dream Houses are replaced with talks of realtors and washing machines. Boys make way for men and children. Dreams of what we'll be when we grow up, move aside to become goals achieved and new dreams imagined.

We know all this to be true offline, but with the advent of the internet, is it also true for online friendships? Ask any woman with an online friend, and she'll probably nod her head profusely, eyes wide and state simply, "Yes!"

Sometimes I am still in awe that I could ever have formed such strong bonds with women I've never gone shopping with, to the movies with, or just hung out with at their homes or mine. We don't borrow each other's clothes or jewelry, or spend a Sunday afternoon at the lake eating sandy sandwiches with our kids. Yet in other ways, we share so much more.

The women I've gotten to know online have changed me in extremely positive ways. They are strong, intelligent women and in subtle and not so subtle means, they've been the driving force behind my own growth. I am not the same person I was a year ago, or five years ago when I first met some of them. I have a newfound respect for myself, the likes of which I'd never experienced before. I cared about myself enough to maintain, as necessary, my little world over the years, and I paid lip service to standing up for myself, but my life was a testament to selling out. I was in an unhappy marriage, working as a secretary since I'd had to give up college at the insistence of his family who saw my education as a "luxury" we couldn't afford. My dreams of being an entrepreneur were just that: dreams. They weren't even close to being goals. I was making unhealthy life choices and I was completely lost.

One day, early in the friendships, I was filled with emptiness and was in the depths of a depression that seemed unending. The anonymity of being online made it possible for me to reach out and ask for the help I had never been able to ask of others in my offline world. My so-called reaching out was tentative as old fears that I wasn't "good enough" swept in and so I pulled back. Yet, one of my online girlfriends didn't "let" me pull away. She didn't draw me out either (which is something I was grateful for - when people try to draw me out, I find it has the reverse effect and I quite nearly disappear). She did tell me that when I was ready, she was there.

Slowly, I began to open up and became the woman I know and love now, but was afraid would meet with rejection, then. I'm one of those people who loves to talk and laugh, always has an opinion, loves to listen and discover new perspectives, and thoroughly enjoys learning about people and all the little nuances that make their worlds work. At least, that was the girl I had been and had the good fortune to rediscover and embrace.

I wasn't rejected and once the amazement over that wore I off, I learned that my authentic self is never something I should be afraid of being. Paradoxically, I learned through the acceptance I received that whether people accept me or not was no longer an issue for me. Once I removed the fear from the friendship equation, and I no longer worried about whether or not people liked me, I was even freer to be myself and found my friendships moved to entirely new and deeper levels. I no longer seek anyone's approval and the ironic thing is, the less I seek it, the more I find it.

The women I've come to know are all so different. We range in age from 18 to 65+ and our lifestyles are as varied as they could possibly be, yet we found our common ground and a strong connection. With the strength we bring to our relationships we have learned we're strong enough to live our lives the way we choose, no matter what our demographic. We don't tell each other, "you can do it, you can do it," on a constant basis, but we do give encouragement when it's needed. We don't have to pump one another up so we're walking away with a false sense of ourselves. As I have learned to do through our union, they too state themselves with simplicity and clarity and I learn as much about them as they do about me. Through conversations of everyday life, spirituality, and sharing our understanding behind why we do what we do, and what we know to be right for ourselves, we grow. They have helped me more than they can ever know.

Maybe because these friendships began online, behind a cloak of seeming distance, it was easier for us to move past superficialities. There was no cause for us to talk about the weather, the price of lettuce or that lovely scarf that matches your eyes. We revealed ourselves by reaching to the core without typical social veneers, and so we more quickly and easily recognized one another.

We don't need to talk to each other every day - not even every week - but the time we do spend together is definitely high quality.

In my offline world, I listen to music that empowers me, I read books on spirituality that fill me up, I am the best mom to my son I know how to be, I try to be as kind to myself as I am to others, I spend time with friends, I edit and I write. These things are my life, and yet, they are the elements that make my life better. I live on my terms now and that takes a lot more courage than I ever had before I met my online girlfriends.

I take that tenacity into the world, making it a better place for me and everyone I know at every opportunity. I truly can't thank them enough and I only hope I am giving as much as I've received. I am grateful for the strength found in the company of women.

If you've been curious about online friendships but feeling wary, I encourage you to at least explore the possibility. Meet women you can connect with in some way. If you love to cook, sign up on a cooking or recipe exchange site. Talk to the people you play against in Texas Hold 'Em or Scrabble. Join a photography group or a writing group, or even try keeping an open journal on a blog site and meet like-minded women. If you have an illness, or care for a loved one with an illness, find a site where you can talk to others about the things you go through. You won't be fast friends with everyone, but you'll begin to find yourself drawn to talking to particular people, and over time, those friendships will grow. Then one day, when someone asks you if women can be as close online as off, your eyes will widen, you'll nod profusely and state with conviction,"Yes!"

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