The Internet Is Where We Form Our Social Circles

When the internet was closer to its infancy, and “social networking” hadn’t yet been conceived, the idea of meeting people in real life that you’d first met online had all sorts of creepy connotations. I know several happily married couples who originally met on internet dating sites, but at the time they were viewed as a little crazy to have put themselves out there on the web and then met someone who was essentially a stranger.

Times have definitely changed. These days we seem to form the majority of our social connections initially through cyberspace. And actually, it makes sense. By the time I meet “in real life” people who I’ve first come to know online, I usually know quite a bit about them. Certainly enough to know that we have interests and beliefs in common and I’d like to pursue a friendship.

As I approach motherhood, I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship. Many of my closest friends now are no longer geographically close. Divided by the impracticalities of distance, and the all too apparent fact that many of them are yet to become mothers themselves, it’s no wonder that at times I can feel isolated. I don’t want to find myself alone, indoors each day with a new baby, no one to share the joys and triumphs with . No one to share the frustrations and difficulties with. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of a local, supportive, friendship group.

No matter that’s it’s an expensive way of doing it, it’s something that I do hope to get out of our NCT sessions, which start next week. But I need more than that, because I can’t guarantee that I’ll have anything in common with them, or that they will have the same desired outcomes from the course. Perhaps they will already be surrounded by mummy friends and whilst it may be true to a degree that you can’t have too many friends, there is a limit to how many people you can divide your time between without spreading yourself too thinly.

So I’ve also turned to the internet and specifically to one of the UK’s largest parenting websites and forums. In and of itself, it’s a support network. Physical distance does not matter on the web. We’re woven together by a few mouse clicks, someone available to chat with or ask questions of at all hours of the day and night. I’ve made “friends” before, through other interests in my life, with women who I’ve never met and I’m comfortable doing that again.

But amongst the many women who’ve also looked to the internet, I’ve also completely randomly found a new neighbour, who lives literally around the corner having recently moved in. Her baby is due in January. I’ve also come in to contact with a group of women due to give birth at the same hospital as me, at around the same time. Today, that group met in real life for the first time.

Sure, it was strange and awkward arriving at a familiar gastro-pub, looking for unfamiliar faces and spotting women with bumps about the size of my own. But at the same time it felt quite normal. After all, these days the internet is where we form many of our social connections. Without the aid of an internet forum, I’d never have had the courage to try to start a relationship with someone whose bump I spotted in public. I’d happily exchange pleasantries, but that’s as far as it almost certainly would go. I had a ten minute chat about maternity jeans with a lady on the train last week, but it would have seemed creepy if either one of us had started asking more personal questions or said “Hey, shall we meet for a drink?” Ten minutes is not enough. Ten days or weeks online is plenty.

These days, people who meet their life’s partner in bars or cafes, or at social events are surely declining. The internet is the place where these things often happen. I’m building a real life group of mummy mates out of the either, and I’m not ashamed of that at all.


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