Three simple words that introduced me to Kristina G., someone that would be my one of my closest friends for over 7 years, but that I had never met in real life, only chatted with over AOL Instant Messenger.
We were both 13 years old and lived about an hour from one another, She lived in Frederick, Maryland and I lived in Great Falls, Virginia. Pictures were our only way of knowing what each other looked like.
At first our conversations were a routine, everyday after summer camps we’d log onto our AIM Accounts and spend hours chatting with each other about anything and everything. Over the years our conversations slowed, and soon changed into emails instead of the instant communication of chat programs.
We called each other best friends, but unlike the more commonplace best friend being someone at school, my friendship was built from openness towards a stranger. But as I came to find out after taking a Communication course at Longwood University, there is much more to this friendship than meets the eye.
In such a technological age, this interaction between strangers online is becoming more and more common, ranging from popular online dating sites and personals ads to meeting someone new because of interactions in chartrooms. In fact MTV has created a television show that documents peoples first time meeting someone they have been communicating with over the internet for years. The show is a spin off of a documentary called “CatFish” which follows Yaniv ‘Nev’ Schulman online relationship with a woman to finally meeting her in real life; only to find out she wasn’t who she said she was. If one is to look up CatFish on urbandictionary.com the top two results best describe what one is when it comes to technology. “
A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.”
When it comes to sustaining a relationship with someone that one isn’t physically able to be with, some of the simplest things can really mean the most to someone. One Interpersonal Communication theory I’ve learned about from Julia T. Wood’s is called “The listening Process.” There are a few steps to effective listening but one of the most crucial with online interactions would be “remembering.” During my interactions with Kristina, she would tell me personal facts like what her favorite bands were or favorite colors or who her friends were at the time. I would take time to let these facts sink into my brain, only to bring them up again later when we would talk. It could have been a month since we would send an email back and forth, but I’d still include a question that would be about something she had told me prior. By this follow up question from me, it showed her that I was paying attention to what she was saying and reinforced that I genuinely cared about what she told me, which helped keep our friendship strong.
Another theory I learned about was “Openness/Closedness.” This theory is about how individuals will either be open and express feelings, emotions, and facts to another person, or be more secretive and keep things to themselves. In a situation where one can’t read someone else physical body language or facial expressions, one has to trust their judgment when they want to be open about something because of fear of how the other might react. This could most likely drive someone to be more closed with personal information but in order for a relationship whether friendship or romantically, there needs to be that certain level of trust and openness to flourish.
The theory of self-disclosure is also one that is used during online interactions. The idea that since people are not meeting face to face will often times make them more likely to share information since they are not as worried about how the other person will react; after all it only takes a couple clicks to close that chat window but a lot more effort to walk away from a conversation.
With the growing number of online dating sites and places for people to converse, strangers from around the world are becoming friends if not more. For me, my friendship with Kristina was an extremely special one to me because it’s the only one I’ve had where I’ve never heard the persons voice, seen them in person, or made physical contact. One day I hope to meet Kristina G., and I hope that on that day she turns out to be who she truly says she is.
Wood, J. T. (2011). Interpersonal communication, everyday encounters. (6 ed.). Wadsworth Pub Co.
Trailer for MTV’s “CatFish”
Catfish Movie information