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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Liminal Friends for Adults

Can I go back to the topic of imaginary friends? Back to Sonly and your Lulu who lives in a tree and your invisible mice who speak in an unusually high voice?

I spend a lot of time wondering what sort of people the Wolvog and ChickieNob will create. Will it be a collective friend they share as they do toys, spoons, and stuffed animals? Or separate friends that are gender-specific? Will their imaginary friend fill the gaps left by their sibling or will they simply not need one? Will a flesh-and-blood constant playmate trump the lure of an invisible one?

What does it say about the fact that I had so many imaginary friends? An inner circle of four, a larger mass of undetectable acquaintances who came with me on road trips or sat with me at the lunch table? Was I lonelier than most? More creative that the average six-year-old?

The New Yorker published an essay about five years ago about Charlie Ravioli, the imaginary friend of Adam Gopnik's daughter, a harried New Yorker who never had time for his creator. Olivia regaled her family with stories of Charlie Ravioli, forever blowing her off to jump into taxis, skip coffee dates, and not return calls. What does she gain from an imaginary friend who is too busy for her? And on that end, I should berate myself for not making poor Sonly suffer from premature ovarian failure so she could keep me company in the waiting room while I wait to be called back for blood work and a wanding.

And then there is the Internet--bulletin boards, chat rooms, and blogs--that have created liminal friends. You're not imaginary because you truly exist. But you're not entirely flesh-and-blood because--with the exception of a few bloggers--I never meet you. You're this liminal friend, somewhere between the real world of people I can hug and the imaginary world of people I create. And stranger still is when the real world and Internet world collide in the case of meeting bloggers or having real friends start writing.

You know that you're not imaginary, but the reality is that unless people meet you and can vouch for you, you could be a creation. Meaning, you could be a 14-year-old boy living in Kansas simply pretending to be an infertile 30-year-old woman living in New Mexico. The choice for creation is built into the medium of blogs--I go into each story with a lot of trust, especially if you are discussing things that I don't think the average 14-year-old boy would know (hormone levels can be looked up on a number of sites, but unless you've had an internal ultrasound, you probably wouldn't know that the sonographer slaps on a little condom-like thing on the wand. Unless you're the 14-year-old son of a sonographer). But I also know there is a chance that you could turn out to be a hairy man hot to discuss FSH with infertile women (ooooh, oooooh, tell me how high it was, Mel. Oooooooh).

Which makes you liminal--that state between two places.

Josh comes home at night and asks me about my day and our ensuing discussion includes the usual--what I did, who I saw, what I ate. Funny stories from the Wolvog and ChickieNob. A grand idea I have to convert the basement into a classroom and hold my own informal preschool in the house. The usual. And then, as I'm chopping vegetables for a salad, I tell him about the real people in our life as well as all of you. What's happening with Julie at work. So-and-so got a positive last week and her betas are doubling. This chickie is miscarrying and I couldn't stop crying when I read the post. That girl bought a camper and it totally made me want one.

On one hand, you are so real that you are lumped in with my discussion of the flesh-and-blood friends who pass through our house. But on the other hand, we don't really know you.

Along with celebrity gawking, is this the grown-up equivalent of the imaginary friend? With celebrities, you read a story about them in People and you think you know what sort of person they are based on twenty paragraphs. In the blogosphere, we have scraps of information about a person and fill out a whole life in the holes and spaces. You look kind in your picture and you say the right things when I'm down and you write so emotionally about your own journey that I fill in the blanks. I think I can imagine how you'd act when placed in certain situations (oh, she'd be so quiet--or--she'd kick his ass twelve ways to Sunday), but the truth is that we can barely predict the actions of close friends.

I think these ideas come to a head when you meet the blogger you've been conversing with for months. Or when I posted my picture last month and suddenly, you have a face to put with the words. Perhaps, I'm not how you imagined me and of course I feared that seeing me would be a disappointment. I've met about twenty bloggers by this point and none of them are how I imagined them either (though it was never a disappointment). What does this universal discrepancy say about the state of these friendships?

And at the same time, why are these liminal friendships easier and more fulfilling sometimes than the ones we have with the face-to-face people in our lives? They are the poor woman's equivalent to the 24/7 therapist. We see therapists not just because they are excellent in pointing out patterns or helping us make sense of our emotions, but because they are the one person that we can speak to without worrying about how our words are affecting them emotionally.

I'm not talking about being thoughtless in your speech (saying, for instance, "I just hate all blond-haired people" to a light-haired therapist); but when I went to a therapist, one of the first things she told me was that her office was the space to discuss everything that I felt too guilty to lay on Josh or my friends or my family. She didn't take my words home with her as my friends did and beyond that, she didn't take my feelings personally as a friend is liable to do. If you say to a friend, "I'm lonely" it is also a statement about their performance as a friend. Or, they take it that way. But a therapist can hear "I'm lonely" and keep it simply as a statement of loneliness.

And that is what the liminal friends of the blogosphere absorb--the words and thoughts that are too large, too messy, too emotional to share with those actually around us. They're not more valuable than face-to-face friends any more than therapists are more valuable than family. But they serve a different role. At least, until you meet them and they become a weekly coffee date (as well as someone you drag vacuum shopping) and then end up on a strange new plane between reality and the ether.

It is this constantly moving spectrum from imaginary friends to partner/spouse, with the
internal blocks--the real-life friends, the blogosphere friends, the ones you meet, the ones who remain faceless--constantly shifting in status, moving closer or farther away from the ethereal quality of imagination to the solidification of the well-known partner/spouse.

I talk about wishing that Sonly was in the waiting room with me, but the reality is that you are that circle I will carry with me into the office next week, the ones who will sit with me in the waiting room, sigh with me as the feet goes into the stirrups, tsk at my unshaven legs (seriously, Melissa, it's winter but still...), remind me to jot down my hormone levels. And I hope when you are sitting in the waiting room, that I can sit beside you--at least in imaginary form, at least in a liminal state between imaginary friend and someone that you can email when you get home. I hope I can be good company.


Samantha said...

I'm happy to keep you company in the waiting room. I don't shave my legs either in the winter, so I won't judge that.

I do appreciate having a blog as a place to list all of the feelings and things that sometimes seem too difficult to say to people IRL. Usually with a blog, you also know that if you do offend someone, they'll simply hold their tongue (or keyboard, as the case may be), and move on from it, since they don't actually know you or see you all the time.

You are also on the money with therapists. I actually had a conversation with mine where I just verified that she was okay discussing infertility week after week. It's tough to really feel completely free to unburden your feelings.

Fertilize Me said...

What an amazing post. My blog for me are hte things my IRL friends and family do not want to hear because they are not that understanding.

I would be honored to keep you company in that waiting rooom.

AS for a quick story about my imaginary friend - I had an imaginary friend named Rebecca and she and I used to get in so much trouble that my mother made Rebecca move to California - she "packed her bags and took her to the airport" AND I BELIVED HER ...

Leah said...

I will most definitely keep you company in the waiting room next week. Hell, I could even be there in the flesh to hold your hand or tell you silly jokes if you want me to.

And I can 100% guarantee you that my legs won't be shaven. Hell, they haven't seen a razor since August. (One of the joys of being fair-haired.) :-)

A said...

Now I can't speak for my male twin half, but I had imaginary friends. Many of them. Mostly they took animal forms, though. And trust me, I didn't share my imaginary friends with him. I don't think there were any gaps left by my brother, though. They might have arisen by my inablity to make any friends. I was pretty stunted as far as social skills went. Who needs to learn to make friends when you're born with one?

My blog friends are easier to talk to and less judgmental. (or if they're judging, they're not typing it to me) And of course, being that my buddies have been-there-done-that, they won't tell me to "relax". They get it.

I'm thinking of you as you prepare to hop back into the stirrups. <3

Lori said...

Now I'm even more excited for next month, as if that were even possible.

I'll be there in the waiting room with you. I might even loan you my epilator -- which I LOVE! I'm sending you the liminal version.


christina(apronstrings) said...

i can't wait to be in the waiting room avec tu.

i talk and think about my blog friends a lot. the timing of this post is perfect for me.

last weekend i hosted the first ever annual "Infertile Cookie Bake, We Can't Make Babies But We Can Make Cookies!" All twenty something women were women that i met on line. We had such a good time. I loved it.

Also, i told jess at the The Problem with Hope, who i've been friends with for two years, that i loved her! not in a creepy way, of course, but i was surprised that i said it. after all she *could* be a 12 year old from Kansas who was stealing a story and pictures from a infertile twenty something who finally gave birth and who likes mustangs.

i say all this to say, that if my blogger friends were evr imaginary, so many have crossed the line and luckily, for me, waltzed into my life.

Caro said...

Interesting post. I definitely think of my blog friends as real friends and tell my husband about them. I also have a few who I try to always check in on even if I don't have time to read all my bloglines.

I don't know how I'd have got through the last year without my liminal friends.

BethH6703 said...

Amazing post, as always!

I can relate to the strangeness of a "computer" friend morphing into an "IRL" friend. I am part of a group of girls that all met on a message board many moons ago. We share our deepest darkest secrets with each other on a daily basis, are always there to support each other. But, I've never even talked to many of them on the phone. I've been blessed to meet a handful of them, and yet, that first phone call, or first meeting, is... bizarre.

I will gladly keep you company in the waiting room, and wouldn't dare chide you for hairy legs. We can even plan a liminal vacation in the camper, if you'd like!

Tracy said...

What a good post.

I laughed to myself about you sharing updates with your husband about people he (or even you) don't really know. Fortunately my husband humors me as well. In fact, I gave him an update just this morning. He always says things like, "Oh, that's too bad," or, "That's great news!" And I almost believe he means it. I guess after going through all this IF crap, he recognizes the importance of having people "out there" who get it, too.

loribeth said...

Great post. I honestly don't know how I would have gotten through the past nine years without my online friends from various forums -- at first in the loss/ttc after a loss communities, then infertility & childless/free. Dh & I were fortunate to have a "real life" pg loss group to help us after the stillbirth of our daughter (& we've made some excellent friends there), but meetings are only twice a month -- it was the daily visits with my online friends & posting-as-therapy that really saved my sanity, I think. I've met a couple of them in "real life," and that first meeting can definitely be a bizarre experience! I've drifted away from some of my online friends over time (and some of them from me), but I will always think of them fondly & wonder how they're doing.

calliope said...

totally perfect post. You SO nailed it.

Sometimes I feel like my blog & internet friends are like those Verizon ads- you know you the ones where the woman has the one phone but that phone gives her the access to thousands of people.

I feel stronger just knowing that there is so much support & been there, done that, in the virtual world.

& meeting people in real life is just cake.

thanks again for always being so in tune. You are amazing!

noswimmers said...

I don't know what I would do without all my bloggy buddies! I don't have to worry about being judged...and I know that they "get it", which is tough to find IRL.

You don't mind that I accompany you to your appointment, even though I'm actually a zit-faced 12-year-old boy named Bubba from the sticks? :)

Tigger said...

My husband often encourages me to "go tell the girls" when something happens. He knows I can share with y'all, that you're real to me. He's come home and had me say "Remember so-and-so, the girl I told you about who (whatever)? Well... X". He'll remember, he'll nod...and he knows how much y'all are important to me, and how drawn in I get.

I get Christmas cards from some of the girls. Last year I organized a secret santa for a board I used to belong to, but was not comfortable doing so this year. I have contemplated doing a Christmas Card exchange amongst bloggers, but there are others out there who are far more qualified. Maybe next year.

Kathy V said...

When I first told my husband about the blogging community, he asked how do I know that they are girls. I showed him some of the people that post pictures of themselves but I guess somewhere deep down you have to trust that people only come to this page because they go through it. Most people from the fertile world don't want to face IF in real life so why would they want to face it here. They just can't relate to what we go through but the people in the computer can. They have been through it, and they know about it, and they know what to say or what not to say to make you feel better.

I am happy to be your friend even if only on the computer. I Like the Verizon commercial analogy. It's like even if not everybody knows you personally, there are still a bunch of people out there that have your back. I have found that many of the people in the fertile world will back away when you start mentioning any of your experience so online is the way I have friends who know what I am talking about. Good luck in the waiting room. We will all be here waiting with you for progress updates and good news.

By the way, My legs aren't shaved either. Besides I don't make time for it when I know they will be covered up by some form of heavy fabric pants because it is cold here afterall.

SarahSews said...

This post was perfect Mel! And I'll totally sit in the waiting room with you. We can make fun of the crappy magazines together.

And I love that you tell Josh about your bloggy friends. I tell my DH about them too. He knows that emails from you help calm me down when I freak out about stuff like weird betas. :) And he totally encourages me to share any and all news with my pals online. I haven't met any other bloggers but do get together a few times a year with a great group of newlyweds in my area that found each other via wedding prep websites eons ago. Turns out a few of them are infertile too and the whole group is so supportive of our long long roads to parenthood.

sltbee69 said...

Thank you for this post. For the reasons you listed is why I joined IF blogs. Even though I may not talk about it much, it still goes on in my head and it's nice to know there are women that feel the same as me because after all my IRL friends and family just don't get it. Especially since I have achieved one living child. Oh - I will be with you in spirit next week, unshaven legs and all.

chicklet said...

I tell my husband about all of you all the time. I talk more about you all than a lot of my friends IRL. You just get me and a lot of them don't.

Good luck in the waiting room, we'll be here waiting for you, keeping you company.

deanna said...

The most difficult part, for me, of having internet friends is trying to support them when the crap really hits the fan. When something terrible happens, all you want to do is call them, or jump on a plane, or somehow do something that encompasses your compassion. But, sometimes all you can do is sit and wait it out, send an email, check their blog each day, hope. As much as you care for them, there's this bizarre distance that is so hard to grapple with. And, the act of doing nothing conflicts with EVERY part of you, but that is all that you can do. Argh, and it sucks.

Despite my angst, what I'm trying to say is that I really like this post. The nice thing about internet friends is that they're so dang portable. They fit in waiting rooms, cafes, blood draw labs, and even in the back seat of my car. And, they never, ever bitch about the radio station. Which proves how much they rock.

Meghan said...

Fantastic post.

I've laughed and cried with all of my blog friends. And like you, I update Mr H on the big things that happen to all of us. And if we're being honest, at this point, all of you know MUCH more about my life than many of my real friends. I tell you all how I'm really feeling and what I'm thinking. Most people IRL get the "I'm fine". Even if they know about our IF, they aren't privy to the whole thing.

Much love to all my friends!

Michell said...

What a touching post. Sometimes I wonder what my IRL friends think when I talk about my blog friends and their accomplishments etc. But there are times when my blog friends are the only ones I feel I can turn to and the only ones who understand what I'm going through. I feel comforted knowing that if I am having a particularly horrible or fantastic day, my friends from blog land are there to lend a shoulder or a cheer.

Chebbles' Mama said...

You're absolutely right about the imaginary friends angle. I feel like perhaps my ability to create a really satisfying imaginary friend has diminished as I've aged, so having blogging friends really helps fill the void in so many ways. We choose them the same way we choose imaginary friends -- we fit together like Laverne and Shirley, but we never have to live together.

And I think my IRL friends probably consider ya'll to be my imaginary friends. Telling Hub-D or other friends about people's adoptions and pregnancies has gotten a little old -- so sometimes, I'll admit to you, I tell him it's happening to someone I know IRL...

Ms. Infertile said...

Great post. I think of all my blog friends as friends too - they all seem like people I would want for friends. Understanding, good listeners, share a common bond about a topic. I always tell my husband about stories from the blogosphere.

I'll keep you company in that waiting room. And, my legs aren't perfectly shaven either.

TeamWinks said...

Bloggers are often discussed in our home as if they were friends that we ate dinner with once a month. I think you get to "see" and learn things about your fellow bloggers that even their closest friends and family may not know. It's all just kind of out there.

Jess said...

You are good company, Mel. Really.

I think that bloggers seem like "real" people to me. And the more I write to them or they write to me (or really, the more they share even in their blog to the whole world, if I'm reading), the more "real" they are.

I think that it sort of IS like imaginary friends. Blogging offers privacy and support all at the same time, and you can choose for yourself how invested you are in the relationships you make, which is what lots of people love. So in a way, yeah, I do think it's a lot like creating friends...just that here these ARE real people. And it's when people forget or ignore that fact that things sometimes get ugly and hurtful.

Bea said...

I read this post a few days ago now, and it seemed like I should be commenting with something profound.

It certainly is a state between. You have to use your imagination to fill in the details.

At the same time, the stories seem as real as they are, and Mr Bea also gets to hear the blogosphere news every day.

In any case, I'd love to come to your appointments with you - in spirit, as I can't make it in person. Anyway, the dildocam bits might freak everyone out.


LJ said...

Are you insinuating that I am strange? LISTEN, just because I ignore the clear "NOT A TOY" warning on the ornaments makes me ignorant, not strange.

Okay. I am strange. But don't tell Patrick, he may not love me anymore. Oh, wait, did I say that aloud? Ooohnellywhataday.