shutterstock_140043073-[Converted]This past weekend, I was fortunate to spend time with a bunch of friends – some new, some old, and all wonderful. All real. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I have become much better at picking my friends. I no longer have time for toxic or negative people, and I’m usually able to weed those people out of my life very quickly. This holds true not only for my in-person friends (i.e. the people I see all the time) and my online friends (i.e. the people I don’t see in-person, but whom I still consider friends).

I think that these past 6 years or so, as I’ve learned how to be friends with people online, I’ve actually developed an even greater capacity for getting to know people and being able to tell which relationships are worth nurturing and which ones might not turn out to be healthy. This seems sort of counter-intuitive – after all, how can I possibly develop a deep friendship with someone if I’ve never even met them face to face, right?

Wrong.

These days, my friends basically fall into four categories:

  1. People I see in person often, but also who I hang out with online. This includes people like Bob, Stacey, and Dennis.
  2. People I have met in person, but mostly see online. This includes people like Jon, C.C, and Diane.
  3. People I used to see in person all the time, but now only really see online. This includes friends like Nick, Carol, and childhood friends like Leigh-Anne and Lexie.
  4. People I have never met in person, with whom I interact solely online. This includes people like Mark, Becky, and my podcast co-host Stefan.

The one thing I have in common with all of the people I’ve mentioned here is that, regardless of how we met or how we spend most of our time communicating these days, I consider them all friends. Good friends. We’re the kind of friends that, if one of us was stranded somewhere, the other would not hesitate to come to the rescue. We’re the kind of friends that, even though distance and years may separate us, we would be there for each other no matter what. We celebrate each others’ highs and support each other in the lows. I care just as much about the online friends that I’ve never met as I do about the ones that I see every week, or the ones that I maybe haven’t seen in a long time or only see once in a while. And I think (I hope!) that they feel the same about me.

I feel so fortunate that, because of the Internet, I’ve not only have I been able to make and nurture new friendships with people that I would otherwise have never had the opportunity to meet, but also that I’ve been able to maintain friendships with people that I thought I’d never connect with again.

I’ve been thinking about what it is about social media that allows us to keep these deep connections with others going. It used to be that the only way you could really stay in touch with a friend was direct contact – through meeting up with them, talking on the phone or sending letters. But life is busy, and finding the time to keep in touch with friends through these methods was a challenge. Often we’d lose touch with all but our closest pals.

Not only have social networks like Facebook and Twitter enabled us to connect more instantly with friends near and far, but they allow us to do something unprecedented – I call it “passive interaction”. You see, not only can I reach out and talk to my friends directly and have a conversation with them through the Web, but I can also passively watch their lives happen right in front of me. I can see when a friend posts something new to their blog. I can look at their Facebook page and see photos of their kids or their last gig or their wedding. I can see status updates that let me know that all is well in their corner of the world and I can take comfort in knowing that they are happy and healthy. And if they need me, I can be there in an instant.

We now live in a world that allows friendships to blossom on so many different levels. There’s nothing more exciting to me than meeting an online friend in person for the first time, or how thrilling it is that I’ve been able to watch my best friends from childhood as they have thrived and grown beautiful families. Or how nice it is to know that, even if I don’t see someone every day, or even every week, month or year, that the love that we share with one another as friends is continually blossoming and that our friendship is ever-deepening.

Indeed, what a remarkable world we live in.

What about you? Do you have any special friendships that have been made more special because of social media?