By Katie Bull
From a young age, we’re told not to talk to strangers. Our parents warned us of the dangers of talking to people we don’t know, and our teachers told us all about the horrors of internet predators, never to trust people we don’t know online. As members of the first generation to grow up pretty plugged into the online world, though, it was easy for us to experiment, to find people from other parts of the world with similar interests. At least, I know I did.
And the thing is that talking to strangers is the only way we ever meet someone new. Talking to strangers on the internet can mean talking to someone who will one day be your best friend. The internet opened up opportunities for us to network with like-minded people and easily stay in touch with them. I’ve made a number of friends online over the years, and I value those friendships all so much. From AIM to tumblr to collective blogs like this one, the internet makes it possible to bring people into your life who you likely otherwise never would. At least, I know for me it did.
When I was 12 years old, I joined the message board on my favourite band’s website… sorry, Mom. I thought it would be a fun way to keep up to date about what they were doing. At the time, their music wasn’t everywhere, their shows were still small and intimate, and the community of fans seemed really cool, something I wanted to feel a part of. Eventually, I began to form a bond with a few of the girls within that forum, and one of them in particular has continued to be a constant in my life. We got each other’s MSN addresses, we added one another on Facebook, and we continued our never-ending conversation about our favourite band whenever we could. Something began to happen though, and suddenly we weren’t just talking about the music anymore (though it was always there). Suddenly, there was someone out there, across the country, who knew me as well as any of the friends I saw every day.
We turned to each other when there were deaths in the family and we needed to talk. We knew all about every single one of one another’s middle and high school crushes and boyfriends, and gushed over them via MSN. We stayed up late helping each other decide where we might want to apply to university, or just sending each other videos on YouTube that no one else would find funny. We heard all about each other’s nights of partying when we weren’t at our best, and we always laughed it out when one of us was feeling down. We had the same fourth-year university struggle of trying to figure out what comes next. We celebrated each other’s successes and when the world got tough, we felt each other’s losses. We dreamed about the day when we could give one another a hug. We talked on MSN, we messaged each other on Facebook. In the days before Skype, we would record quick videos of us talking to one another and e-mail them back and forth. We texted, we called, and then, finally, one day we met.
At 22, I moved across the country. And conveniently, I moved pretty close to her. Moving away alone was scary, but knowing that I would have someone in my corner made it easier. When I tell people about finally getting to meet her that night, they usually say something along the lines of “that must have been so fun, once you got past the first few minutes of awkward silence,” but the thing is, there was never a moment of awkward (and I never thought there would be). Like something out of a movie, we ran to each other in the street and fell into the greatest hug of all time, and I will never forget it. We talked and we laughed and it somehow felt like we had never really been apart in the first place.
I’ve been blessed with good friends all my life, and for that I am so thankful. This friendship is one that I treasure in an entirely different way though, because it was something we had to work a little harder to maintain. Not that it was ever a chore to do, but when you don’t get to see each other ever (and you never have, and you don’t know when you ever will), building a friendship to a point where you can genuinely consider a person you’ve never met to be one of your best friends requires keeping in touch pretty regularly. It amazes me that we did it for ten years… and yes, we tell everyone all about it every time we’re together now.
So maybe talking to strangers isn’t the worst thing. I’m not saying don’t be careful, but friendships can happen in surprising places. I love my favourite band, and I treasure the music they’ve made and the memories I’ve had with them, but I treasure her most of all. Last week, we got to see our favourite band together, something we’ve talked about for years, and it surpassed all of my expectations. I’ll always remember how cool it felt to be standing in the crowd at their show with her by my side, knowing that if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have her in my life. Nothing has ever felt better than belting out their song “Don’t Talk to Strangers” together, laughing the whole way through it.