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The dearest friends I have never met
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When I was single, a friend suggested I sign up for an online dating service.

I adamantly refused.

"No, thanks," I replied. "I can meet enough crazies in real life; I don't need the World Wide Web bringing more my way."

Given some of the folks I had encountered just in my daily goings about, I could only imagine who I would end up on a date with. I shuddered at the thought.

During my week-long employment at the Piggly Wiggly one summer, a ruggedly handsome young man asked for my phone number.

The next day, I had a collect call from the work release program, which I accepted, not knowing what that was. The dude wanted to know if I would be of legal age to date when he got out. I don't even think I responded.

I wasn't even too sure about Lamar on our first date.

He wanted to take me to Atlanta and it occurred to me, I didn't know him - all I knew was his mother sold Estee Lauder and left me Tootsie Rolls and Reese's in my work locker.

Sure, she seemed like a good person, but this could be a perfect ploy, hiding behind candy.

Flash forward a few months later and I was watching, of all things, "The Bachelor."

Don't judge me. I am guilty of watching some pretty trashy reality T.V. in my time.

But there I was, angry about the girl who got the final rose, so I had to find a group of like-minded people to vent my outrage to.

Eventually, we created a private group where we could share more personal happenings besides just who we thought should be picked for the fake happy ever after.

A few of us even got together, which involved two flying in to Georgia, one from Canada (she had a kayaking event at Lake Lanier) and another from Texas. The rest of us were from Georgia. We met for lunch in Helen. I didn't tell Mama.

Lamar wasn't so sure about it when he dropped me and a year-old Cole off for the get together.

He suggested staying with me, just in case, then reconsidered when he realized he was out-estrogened.

"What if they had been crazy people?" Mama said when I confessed where I had been.

"They weren't," I replied.

Again, I get it. Really, I do. My track record has brought some whackadoodles across my path.

"Was it awkward?"
How could it be awkward?

"Mama, I have known these women for years - several years. We've been like...pen pals for three years or more."

That's what we essentially were. Pen pals, online, except instead of waiting for the mail to bring us a letter, we can send an email or post a private message or even start a thread and find out how they are doing, share something with them and let them know we're thinking of them.

Over the years, some of my dearest, closest friendships have been nurtured online, with wonderful, incredible people I haven't had the privilege of meeting - yet.

My friend, Paula and I met when I entered a writing contest on her website. She and I started corresponding via email and have been friends ever since. That was close to 10 years ago.

Another dear friend is here in Dawsonville.

While I haven't had the chance to meet him in person yet, it was a chat conversation between us that made me realize, a lot of the friendships I hold dear, are with people I have never met.

"Do you know them, like know them in real life and not just on the computer?" Lamar used to ask when I would tell him about someone. He no longer does because he realized, you don't have to necessarily have that flesh and blood meeting to know someone.

I would venture to say many of my online friends have been just as meaningful as those in person friends.

We've prayed for one another and supported each other. We've laughed and celebrated together. We've shared and created memories together. The same things we do with those friends we see "in real life."

The irony of it is, the friends I know "in real life," I seldom see and when I do get to talk to them, it's usually on Facebook. Our schedules are so different and our lives are so busy, it's hard sometimes to find a window of time to get together.

Usually, if one of my friends here needs me, they message me on Facebook. Or as my real life friend Yolande does, tweets me.

The Twitterverse knows she is still, two years later, waiting for me to clean my house so she can come visit.

A friend - one I have known online for 10 years - messaged me one day. Her job was going to have her possibly coming through Georgia this year. She knew as soon as she heard she wanted to tell me.

"Somehow, some way - we are meeting. I am hugging you in person. We've been through too much together for me to be this close and not come squeeze you!"

I hope I do get to meet her. I hope one day I get to meet all of my online friends - as she put it, we've all been through too much together not to meet. And it won't be awkward at all.

If anything it will be just old friends, getting together.

Just this time, it will be in person.

Sudie Crouch is an award winning humor columnist and author of the recently e-published novel, "The Dahlman Files: A Tony Dahlman Paranormal Mystery."