This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
My son does this thing where he covers himself completely with his blanket to watch videos on his iPhone. I call it his fortress of solitude. But if you sit on the same couch as he is, or he’s in another spot and notices you sitting there, he’ll slide over so that he is up against your side, and you can feel his warmth, and he can feel yours. Cuddles, we call it. But cuddles that are not active, necessarily, but passive. We are doing our own things, close to one another, not saying anything, but also not needed to.
Last week, I got to see, really see, three friends. Two of those friends are people that I met online, through Twitter, and one of them I’ve never actually “met” before despite knowing each other well through our writing, our online presence, and shared experience. The other is an old friend, with whom a bond forged quickly, in a moment where we both needed a friend, desperately. I am constantly in touch with my two friends from Twitter, seeing how their days are going, reaching out through DM’s when necessary and needed. My other friend doesn’t use social media, and we text occasionally, but the bond is still there when we get together, regardless of how much news we have of each other.
This isn’t about wadding into the (non) debate of whether or not “Internet” friends are real friends. My friends online and the bonds some of us have developed over the years are as real and any connection I’ve had with a friend I’ve made face-to-face, and are often deeper because of how and what we share on social media, through our words. But that intimacy, at least any kind that is reciprocal, needs to be active – you have to be typing, reading, scrolling, rinse, repeat. Sometimes, you want the passive intimacy of just being in comfortable close physical proximity to someone.
I am, admittedly, what I like to call an intimacy junky. What do I mean? I relish the opportunity to get to know people and for them to get to know me – my intensity when meeting new people can be REALLY off-putting. But that connection, that bond, is something I am always on the lookout for, to build, to make, to nurture. And sometimes the intimacy is fleeting, but no less meaningful. Other times, when I’m lucky, it turns into something more long-lasting.
(Swimming, admittedly, also gets in the way of understanding boundaries and intimacy; you spend that much time with people in swim suits, in vulnerable and intense situations, it really moves the bar.)
I don’t think, for me, there is anything that will ever replace physical proximity. The ability to look someone in the eyes, smile at them, hug them (with permission!), be close with them. Social media helps, no doubt, with this process, as there is already a familiarity borne from the intimacy that can come from 140 characters, years in the making. It’s one of the reasons I still love academic conferences – it’s the online time I get to see, really see, my friends.
A tweet reminded me of a pact that a bunch of us made in college that we would re-create our living-in-residence experience when we retired (complete with a campus bar). We spent five years living together first in residence, then in an apartment complex. Our own rooms, but living in a loose, yet intimate, community. I loved being close to them, and wanted to recapture that when life would finally allow for that kind of arrangement that it reserves for the young and the old.
But instead, I think it should be a plan for the apocalypse. I want to find all of my friends from twitter (I have 87 people on my private “people I love” list, but that’s just the start of it) and take over a Costco or farm or both somewhere and just be close to each other in the end of days. If we make it to old age, then, maybe an old residence hall of the universities that shutter due to lack of funding.
That sounds more…fatalistic than I mean it to. I’ve spent my life feeling like I don’t fit in and looking for those connections that say, even for a fleeting moment, you belong. The academic nomadic lifestyle means that I keep moving around, stretching these connections, sometimes breaking them. I’m getting to the point in my life, like my son on the couch, that I just want to be closer to those I’ve connected with. I miss my community.