On June 26th, 2013, I met my best friend in person for the first time. Her flight, from Detroit, Michigan to Newark, New Jersey, was an hour late, and I was stuck using the WiFi at the airport Dunkin Donuts to blog about my excitement to all of my wildly jealous internet friends. At this point in our friendship, Haley and I had been talking online for three years, and we were finally getting the chance to meet up and hang out — she was going to stay at my house for an entire week over the summer.
I was only slightly worried about things being awkward. Haley and I had met on Tumblr, an online blogging website where the majority of users are 16-24 years old. Many users on Tumblr have a unique loyalty to the website, and enjoy the freedom to post just about anything you could ever imagine. Though there are many blogs on Tumblr with no overarching theme to them at all, there are a lot of people who maintain active ‘Fandom’ blogs on the site — so many, in fact, that a Tumblr account has been created solely to promote other people’s fandom blogs.
A ‘Fandom’ is a group of people who are all fans of the same television series, movie franchise, selection of books, type of music, or any other subculture you could possibly think of. Fandom blogs are blogs specifically dedicated to posting about one particular type of thing. Since fandom bloggers specialize in a certain type of posting, they tend to have a lot of followers, since just about anyone who is also a fan will be interested in what they’re posting. In a sea of Sherlock and Doctor Who fandom blogs on Tumblr, I started following Haley by chance — something she posted just popped up on my dashboard one day. Haley runs a blog dedicated to Harry Styles, of One Direction fame.
When I first came into contact with her, three years ago, I was still in high school, and liking boy bands definitely wasn’t considered ‘cool.’ I liked a lot of things that weren’t considered ‘cool’ in high school, such as the Harry Potter series, the Star Trek reboot, Alternative music, and just about any bad supernatural teen drama that was running on television. One Direction was just forming on the British version of the X-Factor, that I would watch illegally online to keep up with, and not a single other person my age shared this interest with me. While most people can acknowledge the Harry Potter films were ‘alright,’ or that the new Captain Kirk is ‘pretty hot,’ I found I couldn’t truly connect with a single person in my high school regarding all these interests I had.
So I started blogging. After only a week of posting on Tumblr, I found myself inundated with tons of new online friends, who liked the same things that I liked, and never made me feel weird for being excited about them. As you might imagine, I was absolutely thrilled. Finally, people who wouldn’t roll their eyes when I wanted to gush about the so-called ‘weird’ music I liked (labelled as such by everyone from my closest friends to my parents and sister), people I found myself up all night talking to in chat rooms because we were all on different time zones and I was too excited to finally have a shared interest with someone for once that I couldn’t fathom the idea of being tired or going to bed. I wasn’t weird for liking the things that I did. There were other people out there, my age, that enjoyed the music and movies and books that I did, and they actually wanted to talk about these things with me. We formed a community, and we bonded, and we belonged.
Many people believe that online friends cannot compare to ‘real life’ friends, or, more specifically, people you interact with face-to-face on a day-to-day basis. It’s a pretty popular view that the internet and technology are making us more alone than ever. But if you ask me, I’ve never heard anything more ridiculous in my life.
“I dislike the phrase ‘Internet friends,’ because it implies that people you know online aren’t really your friends, that somehow the friendship is less real or meaningful to you because it happens through Skype or text messages. The measure of a friendship is not its physicality but its significance. Good friendships, online or off, urge us toward empathy; they give us comfort and also pull us out of the prisons of our selves.”
It pretty much captures the way anyone who’s ever made a friend online feels. Even now, when I tell the story of how Haley had a vacation at my house over the summer, people reply with strange looks and more ridiculous questions than I even know how to begin to answer. What did we do? We hung out in my basement. She brought her laptop and I had mine. We watched movies and gossiped about our other Internet friends, we went to a One Direction concert… She had never been to New York City before so I took her there and I brought her to Times Square even though it was crowded and ninety degrees outside and I didn’t want to go.
Wasn’t it awkward?
Well, we’ve been friends for three years, so… no. It wasn’t.
I wanted to go to that One Direction concert more badly than I’ve ever wanted to go to anything in my life. Not a single person I knew shared my fanaticism for that band (except maybe Paul Rudd, but he wasn’t available to accompany me that day). Luckily enough, Haley and I had followed One Direction’s path ever since the moment we met each other, and we were smart enough to plan her trip at the perfect time so that she would be able to come with me.
Having a shared experience like that with someone who values the ‘fandom’ just as much as you do, and understands it (and therefore all of your insanity surrounding it) is pretty much one of the most incredible things in the world. I had more fun in one week with Haley than I’ve had with just about all of my ‘real life’ friends combined, and I cried when she had to leave. For once, it was nice to be understood, to be able to be passionate and frenzied and over-the-top and… simply myself. It was nice to not be judged.
There are a lot of merits to participating in a fandom. The sense of community is incredible. You start off talking about one thing, like One Direction, or Harry Potter, or whatever your ‘crazy obsession’ is, but over time, you develop long lasting friendships and deep personal bonds, so that when you’re not online for a day or two, your friends legitimately worry that you’ve died. The nice thing about these people is that you may never meet them. They’re removed from your life, so they can give you impartial advice, they can listen to you complain about your friends from school, and they will always be on your side.
Sitting in my basement with Haley, the both of us on our separate laptops, quiet mostly except for the occasional giggle and tilt of the screen to share something that we thought was hysterical, I realized how nice it is to sit and be with someone who understands you. I realized I’d never had a shared, quiet moment like that before.
Haley and I, circa 3 am after a day of doing absolutely nothing but eating McDonald’s and marathoning MTV’s Teen Wolf
Maybe I’m speaking impartially, because I’ve only ever had a good experience, but fandom friends are kind of the way to go, for me. In high school, everyone wants to like what’s popular, or cool. People who simply aren’t interested in any of those things fall to the wayside. You don’t get to have any friends, you don’t get to participate in movie marathons or long discussions involving way too much logic about which boy band member you would rather marry and why. You simply do not get to have that level of passionately composed freak-outs where you repeat, “I’m calm, I’m calm, I swear,” but wind up screaming to each other over the phone anyway.
When you blog about your interests, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will find like-minded people who want to bond with you over something you’re both fans of. In fact, interest-specific blogging is listed under ‘7 ways to Instantly meet Like-Minded People’ and ‘How to Combat Loneliness.’ Interest-specific is just a nicer way of saying ‘fandom,’ even if your ‘fandom’ is baking or baby clothes or movie reviews. Whether you form an in-person relationship with the people you meet is up to you, but you don’t need that kind of contact to make friends that care about you and are interested in what you have to say. You’re not lonely if you’d rather blog than head outside and socialize, and you’re not crazy if you’d rather talk to people who share the same obscure interests that you do. You are simply finding and exploring your passion with people who believe in and agree with you, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who sees that as a bad thing.