I have several friends I’ve never met face-to-face. Sometimes one of them will “disappear” for a while. In some cases, I’m connected to them through a variety of means — their book blog, LibraryThing, or Facebook — and I have other ways to keep in touch. If they go quiet in one area they may remain active in others. But sometimes there’s only a single connect point, or a person goes completely quiet. And then I start wondering if they’re OK.
If a “face-to-face friend” is a little quiet, I just assume they’re having a bad day and don’t think too much about it. If something more serious is afoot, that usually becomes known in due course. But Internet-only relationships pose unique etiquette dilemmas. With a few of these friends, I’ve developed a sort of sixth sense about their well-being. I’m attuned to their online comings and goings, and am comfortable reaching out to them if the pattern changes.
But that’s not always the case. For example, take Valerie, a woman who was very active in LibraryThing‘s Virago group in 2009. In 2010, she suddenly stopped posting. At Christmas, several of us sent cards saying we missed her. I gave her my email address, hoping she would get in touch. Just a couple of weeks ago I heard from her son, who informed me dear Valerie was terminally ill. While the news was difficult to accept, it was very kind of him to take the time to contact me, and I was able to tell the other Virago group members.
Today I’m worried about my friend Lee, who is part of another group of women friends on LibraryThing. Lee lives in northern Alabama. Yes, right in the path of last week’s tornadoes. Lee moved to Alabama a few years ago to be closer to her daughter and son-in-law, and their now 3-year-old twins. Sometimes she needs to take a break from the group, and she’s great about letting us know that. But the tornadoes took everyone by surprise. There are widespread power outages, so even if all is well she may be unable to get online. And then, getting online might be the least of her concerns, especially if they have experienced property loss or, god forbid, something worse. I feel pretty helpless, just waiting and hoping.
I have been fortunate to form so many long-lasting friendships via the Internet. But these ways of being in community present a whole new set of challenges. Have you faced these situations before? How have you dealt with them?
Update May 2: I heard from my friend Lee; she and her family are safe. They lost power, but there was no other damage to their home.
Read more from The Sunday Salon here.