The first time I took a trip to stay with my friends in Chicago for Stitched Midwest, my mom was a bit concerned that I was going end up murdered by a serial killer/knitter. Why? Because, as I very excitedly told my mom, I was going to stay in a hotel with 8 women, most of whom I'd never actually met in real life. "Mmmkayyyy, but how do you know they're not murderers?" my mom asked with the same look she used to give me as a child when she felt I wasn't thinking things through. I explained that while I didn't know for sure they were NOT murderers, I assumed that it would likely have come up in previous conversations. My friends had similar conversations with their moms as well.
Through the magic of the internet, the connection of Ravelry, and the intimate (though one sided) conversations of podcasts, I had met some very lovely friends. We started by having a VKN (virtual knit night) using Google Hangouts. From there, we started chatting everyday (again on Google Hangouts). While our knitting brought us together, we found ourselves talking less and less about knitting. We were becoming true friends.
We talked about our parents and our kids. We vented after hard days at work and celebrated the big and tiny victories alike. We wished we were there to give real hugs when times were hard. These women I feel closer to than any other group I've ever been a part of and at the time I'd only met a few in real life.
When we did finally meet, it was odd to have them right in the room speaking. You picture people's height differently when you get to know them online. I always picture people much taller than myself. I think we were all worried that it would be awkward seeing each other for the first time but we all fell into place very quickly.
This weekend I am taking a trip to the Denver area to visit my friend Emily. Not because there is a knitting convention (though coincidentally we will be going to Interweave Yarn Fest on Saturday and having a meetup at Qdoba afterwards) or because I was going to be in town. I just felt like a trip to see a friend was in order.
It's hard to imagine that an introvert like myself can find such good friends in an online community. I am usually overlooked at best by the other moms at school functions and drift towards a quiet corner at family functions. I don't make friends easily because I have a rather stern and grouchy face coupled with my acceptableness of awkward silences. I always say weird things when faced with new people and blurt out who knows what as it pops into my head. But through the anonymity of the internet, I can think about what I want to say and how to say it. I can like and comment on someone's project without having to know them or making them feel weird about it. I can join group of like minded geeks who get my Doctor Who references or join a Harry Potter themed KAL. I can listen to podcasters who talk about their projects and their lives and I reply back them as if they can hear me on the other end of my ear buds.
Having online friends is the modern day version of pen pals. You can share information and pictures with people across the world and never meet, or you can find a great excuse like a fiber retreat to meet up. Just because we met online through our common love of knitting doesn't mean our friendship remain tethered to that fact. It is just a jumping off point to what can be a very deep and meaningful friendship.
The knitting community that we have built is full of amazing people. With over 6 million people on Ravelry, we have people from all walks of life and from all over the world. As a girl from a small town who always felt like she never fit in anywhere, I say to you that with the joy of Ravelry, the friends you have don't need to be limited to the people in your town. The friendships you forge online can be as real as any, even if you never get to meet in real life.