Friends can come from anywhere, especially the vast expanses of the internet.
"How'd you two meet?"
It's the quintessential question couples and longtime friends always get asked. Today, however, there's one answer that's becoming particularly common: "Actually, we met online."
More and more people, especially from younger generations, are getting to know each other via online avenues first rather than in real life. They might spend an inordinate amount of time on their computers and phones, but at least finding a true friend is one great thing that can come out of it.
Due to its uncanny ability to connect anyone anywhere, the internet has become a healthy petri dish in which friendships often blossom.
According to recent Pew Research poll, 57% of teens have made new friends online. But these friendships don’t just stay online. Many teens decide to set up real-life meetings with their online friends. According to a BBC survey, 1 in 3 teens who have made a friend online will eventually meet that person face-to-face.
Unfortunately this gregariousness isn't universal. Millennials, for example, are often called the loneliest generation because many let technology isolate them rather than connect them to others.
There are some millennials, however, who've overcome the initial awkwardness of meeting online friends in person and created great, long-lasting friendships as a result.
Here are four examples of unique friendships that began online and eventually made it into three dimensions.
Business partners before friends.
Annie P. Ruggles and Jennie Mustafa-Julock met on Twitter over six years ago. "I don't know if I was interviewing people or she was, but we were both new [entrepreneurial] coaches looking for good colleagues," Ruggles explains in a Facebook message. "One of us responded to a tweet."
"We tweeted back and forth and decided to hop on one Skype call to get to know one another," Mustafa-Julock writes, piggy-backing on Ruggles' comment in the same Facebook message.
That was it. The two women realized pretty much immediately they were meant to be friends — and, soon after, business partners.
"Work love at first Skype," Ruggles exclaims.
The two created a company, Hungry Entrepreneurs — a support system for small-business runners looking for coaching and collaboration. They ran the whole thing via Skype and phone. They even wrote two Amazon best-sellers together.
"We ran a business together for two years before we ever met in person," writes Mustafa-Julock.
After two years, the business fizzled out for a number of reasons — Mustafa-Julock's writing career was taking off and Ruggles was about to get married. But the two stayed close, and, thanks to Mustafa-Julock's book tour, they finally got to meet in person.
When they met, "I think we hugged for like 12 minutes," Ruggles recalls. "So now it's been 6 years. We talk everyday. Sometimes all damn day."
High school Rufus Wainwright fans.
Tim Swanger and Maria MaKenna met online 12 years ago when they were in high school, through a slightly older-school technology: an online message board designed to bring fans of Rufus Wainwright together.
"It became, for me, a place to 'meet' like-minded people and negotiate the troubled waters of adolescence when I was surrounded in the physical world by people who didn't seem much like me," Swanger explains in an email.
After meeting on the message board, the two began talking regularly online and on the phone. "We bonded over failed relationships, common politics, and shared nerdiness," Swanger recounts. This went on for years before they met in person at a play in which MaKenna was performing.
"Maria in-the-flesh was not fundamentally different from her online persona. Hanging out together was pretty much just an extension of that."
"I will add that Tim's love of Rufus Wainwright faded, but mine did not," McKenna adds.
Cancer survivor support.
Jason Nellis and Jen Fox both had cancer in their 20s. Five years ago, after Nellis was already in remission, he saw Fox's post on Tumblr about being in the midst of treatment, so he reached out to say hello. They didn't know each other previously, but Nellis felt connected to Jen because of their shared experience.
"I saw someone going through a really shit time in their life and I wanted to offer a friendly voice," Nellis writes in a Facebook message.
They began talking about their respective experiences with cancer, and, over time, less serious stuff. Eventually they became friends. It wasn't until Fox got into George Washington University, years after they first connected online, that the two decided to meet.
"Once Jen and I met in person and had the first few minutes of 'are you a real person or did I get catfished' we both became fast IRL friends," recounts Jason. "We went to Buttercream Bakeshop in D.C. And made it a weekly ritual."
New mom in town.
Carol B. recently moved to Pleasantville, New York, with her husband, and now they have a baby girl. Since she didn't really know anyone who lived in the area, she decided to use Facebook to try to find a few local moms who might be willing to let her and her baby into their circle.
"I searched 'Pleasantville' and 'moms,' and found a Facebook moms group right away," Carol writes in a Facebook message. "I introduced myself on the group page and got a lot of nice responses and welcomes, including an invite to join a separate 'playdate' page."
Soon after she initially reached out, she put herself out there even more. "I saw a post about a 'mom's night out' and I went for it, and met a lot of nice women. After that, I started going to different mom meet-ups with the baby, and before I knew it I suddenly knew a bunch of my neighbors."
Lasting connections can be formed all sorts of ways. In an age when technology is a staple of our lives, its hand in our relationships only makes sense.
Whether you're actively seeking a friend or not, there's no telling what sparks may fly when you put yourself out there in the digital world. It's easier now than it ever has been to strike up a friendship — across countries, cultures, and even political divides.