It started out very innocently. I was poking around the links of a website when I found a different site geared toward "quasi-adults" with articles about decorating, cooking and crafts for someone who was living on their own for the first time. I was in my mid-20s, and fit the demographic. I poked around and saw that they had a message board. I checked out a thread on cats and one on holiday crafting, and was impressed by all the great ideas I found, and how funny the posters were. Slowly I was lured in until I started posting myself.
It wasn't the first time I'd made net-friends...I'd posted in other chat rooms before. Something about this was special. I got to "know" the other women posting, and we became an anonymous support system for each other. Smart and funny, with a slew of inside jokes, I would often go to the board instead of google for any question I had, whether it was about world politics or what I should cook that night. I met some of the local girls and they were just as charming in real life, and although we didn't meet up that often, when we did there was a lot of laughing. These days when I travel to a different state, or even a different country, I have a couch to crash on.
It's been six years since I discovered the boards, and activity has slowed down. The site's creator hasn't updated in a couple years since having kids. Most of us have grown out of the "quasi-adult" demographic, and the threads on pregnancy and child-rearing get the most action these days. A lot of us have splintered off into blogs and keep in touch that way, or through facebook. Yet when some of us got the idea to have a meet up in Chicago, it was like a silent cry was sounded throughout the world, and people who hadn't posted on the boards in years came out of nowhere asking, "Meet? There's a meet? When should I book tickets and whose house do I crash at?" Two of us local gals hosted. One visitor came from Ireland, two from Canada, more from the east coast and a caravan drove up from Missouri. I took off work for a long weekend, and we were on.
Holy crap. There was dancing till 5AM, lounging at the beach all day, sightseeing, and just plain hanging out and cracking each other up. We were long lost girlfriends meeting for the first time, yet having known each other for years. You have to love being greeted with a big hug and a, "You exist in real life!" We all worked just as well in three dimensions as we did in two.
It felt like such a unique experience, but I know it wasn't really. Trench met his online community at a wedding a year before we got together, and we've crashed on some of their couches as well. I've seen some marriages spring from online friendships-turned-romances. Hell, there was even that scene from "Julie and Julia" where Julia Child visits her best friend and it's revealed that the best friend is a pen pal and this is the first time they're meeting.
We kept discussing future mini-meets and a possible big meet in 2012 because the sooner we could all hang out again, the better. Eventually everyone went home to their spouses, their kids and their own beds. We turned on our computers for the first time in a week...we hadn't needed to log in because our online friends were right there. And we waved a virtual hello to each other because it wasn't really goodbye...the connection was still there.