The Bones fandom was dumbfounded yesterday to learn that we’ve been lied to/duped/betrayed. (Offering a choice of words there is deliberate, because there’s been a range of responses, from people merely shocked to those who were most deeply betrayed.)
There’s much I could say about the situation, including musings on the whys and wherefores. I’m not going to, because the individual at the heart of it really isn’t worth spending more time on. (Though if you’re utterly baffled by what I’m talking about, you can catch up here.)
But there are important questions arising out of it: ‘Is it worthwhile to form friendships online?’ ‘How do I know whether the person I’m interacting with is trustworthy?’ ‘How do I convince others of my legitimacy?’ And, for those most wounded right now, ‘how much should I let this change me?’
It’s not my place to answer those questions for anyone else, but I think it’s a good time to remember some things which are just as true as the cruelty behind what happened here.
First, it’s an unfortunate reality that betrayals of this nature aren’t limited to the internet. People have been treating each other this way for as long as we’ve been forming relationships. (“Et tu, Brute?”)
There’s a knee-jerk reaction to think, ‘yeah, but this kind of lie is easier when it’s online. The person I’m talking to could be anyone!’ But I’m not sure that’s true, though I get why we want so badly to believe that when we’re face to face with someone, they’re telling us the truth about themselves. But knowing someone’s real name doesn’t mean we know them (and in fact, even in this situation, the real name of the person isn’t in question), and doesn’t mean they’re not lying to us.
Anyone can lie, and true knowledge of another person goes deeper than the name, or the face.
That’s the bad news, though I’m not saying anything that most of us didn’t learn (probably the hard way) in elementary school.
Here’s the good news: love is real. Friendships are real, and both are worth the risks we take when we open our hearts and let someone in.
Even online ones.
Friendships formed online start at a different place than face-to-face, but they can be just as deep, just as intimate. We meet someone, discover shared interests, similar values or ways of looking at life, and something just clicks.
In our 3-D lives (I don’t like the term ‘real life’ as opposed to ‘online’ because my online life is very real to me), we occasionally meet people we connect with for a time, and then something changes in our lives and we move on. That happens online as well. There are people I enjoy interacting with now who I’ll gradually lose touch with after Bones ends, because that’s the primary connection between us.
And that’s okay. Some people are only in our lives for a season, and that doesn’t mean they matter less for that having been so.
But some people stick. They’re there for the long haul, whether what brought us together changes or not. And you know what? It doesn’t matter whether we met them through work or while discussing a TV show online. To quote a famous chef-psychiatrist, ‘the heart chooses what it chooses’ – in friendship as well as romantic love.
I know this because it’s been my great privilege to call friends a number of women who I first met online in 1997. We started meeting face-to-face the following year, and we still get together whenever time allows. We’re spread all over the world, from Australia and New Zealand to Canada, so most often the meet-ups involve only a few at once, crashing at each other’s houses, with the plans for the next get together beginning when we’re saying goodbye at the last one. Right now, I’m going to Texas in January, and I’m hoping either for Canada or England next year.
Our original connection was through a TV show that stopped airing new episodes over six years ago, and yet, we’re still here, still in one another’s lives. We’ve celebrated marriages and the birth of children, and we’ve faced the deaths of parents and siblings, job losses, health crises and parenting difficulties.
We’re in and out of each other’s lives through Twitter, Facebook, Skype, email, and the occasional phone call. Today, as I’m typing this, we’re marking a milestone in the life of one son in London, keeping track of a garage sale in Georgia, and discussing the baking of Christmas cakes. Ordinary life stuff, in other words.
So, yes. I give an unequivocal ‘absolutely’ to the question of whether forming friendships online is worthwhile.
The next two questions, of knowing whether or not to trust someone, and how to convince them of our legitimacy, are really two sides of the same coin. And the answer to both is, we can’t. Not completely. That’s the risk we take. We might open our hearts, trust someone, only to have them not be worthy of the gift we gave them; we might do our best to be worthy of another person’s trust, only to have them be unable to give it to us due to their own scars.
With the current situation, some people suspected something was off in the story we were told, while others, including those hurt most deeply, never questioned it. (From what I’ve seen, I believe this is due in part to the fact that she was working much harder to convince some than others.)
I’m not sure how productive thinking about any of that is, really, and here’s why: those of us who wondered but didn’t say anything, didn’t do so because we’re decent, caring people who wanted to give the benefit of the doubt, right up until we were slapped in the face by the truth.
And the others? Same deal, really. They’re kicking themselves for not seeing it, but she was working very hard to keep them from doing so, and they loved her. That doesn’t say anything at all about them, beyond that they’re loyal, loving friends. It only says that she was never worthy of their love, nor one single tear shed for her.
That’s the key thing here to me, and leads to the answer to the last question, about letting this experience change us. We loved someone, to varying degrees, who didn’t deserve that love. We can let that damage us, let that make us question others in our lives, or we can be glad that we’re capable of such love, and move forward.
We are so much more than her, and others like her, precisely because we’re capable of loving deeply and truly – and discovering that it wasn’t warranted doesn’t change that being able to love is a great gift..
This week, while we first grieved for what we believed was her life, and then later, grieved for the loss of the relationships that never were, we’ve had something she will never have: the support of an incredible, amazing group of people. All week, we’ve been checking on each other in a variety of ways, reaching out to say, ‘you okay? Anything I can do? What do you need from me?’
That’s love. That’s friendship. And that’s worth the risk of being wrong about someone.
I said I wasn’t going to comment on Mary, specifically, but I will say this. It’s not that she will never know the kind of friendship I’m talking about here. It’s that she had it, and threw it away.
And for that, I truly pity her.