Black text runs across the screen, reading: “That feeling when you come back to the fandom and there’s a full-fledged war.” There’s a blurry image of a guy standing with a pizza box in hand, face horrified as he sees the carnage, his apartment, on fire, before him. I stifle a giggle in my sweatshirt sleeve and continue scrolling.
A flash of blue catches my eye and my mouse shifts up to click on the smiling chat bubble.
Emerald’s name pops up in bold and I quickly tap on the message.
Emerald360: LOOK AT THIS MEME: [1 file attached]
My fingers fly in response.
GULON77: I LITERALLY JUST SAW THAT
We laugh about how we might be telepathic sisters from midway across the country — she lives in Texas, while I’m stuck in Boston — and plan a role-play session with our other friends later that night. A few more memes are sent through the chat, each throwing me into fits of laughter.
Life is simple now. I make text posts reimagining the conversations between my favorite personalities, play puppeteer to characters who definitely would not be cracking jokes at this time (“You’re so out of character, Gulon!”), and write my own stories about them because gosh darn it, they deserve better.
I get to post about my strange but oddly artistic endeavors with friends who enjoy exactly what I do. There are many an exchange of fan fiction and fan art, and it’s all exciting because I have people to share it with.
My relationships with my online friends aren’t anything like the ones I had with my school friends. They were, oddly, more intimate yet freeing – speaking without remorse and despite never seeing each other’s faces, relating in ways that it seemed I’d never been able to do “IRL.” I suppose that’s why it hurt so much when, one day, we just grew up.
The funny memes sent to my inbox, and ALL-CAPS praise for the latest chapters of fan fictions I wrote faded into background noise. We drifted because of busy schedules, high school transitions, and similar reactions from our parents, all some form of “Stop spending time online and get your homework done early.”
I didn’t do anything to stop it from happening. Sometimes now I wonder if I could have, but then again, I’d always thought that online friendships were a temporary, passing relationship that you made to fill the empty void of friendship that persisted during school when no one seemed to find joy in the same things you did. Looking back at my old blog now and relishing the memories of these happy conversations made me realize just how magical it is to be able to pull up a screen and talk freely with someone who lives miles away.
So, why didn’t I try to salvage the slipping fingers of friendship from the precarious cliff of time? I guess I just didn’t realize how much I would miss it when it was gone.
While my story didn’t have a happy ending (no, we didn’t have a Tumblr family reunion, and no we didn’t meet up in person or ever reconcile the distance between us), that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from it.
I’ve realized that just like in any other relationship, online friendships require effort on both ends to maintain. I might look back to my Tumblr days and regret that I didn’t (virtually) hold my friends a little tighter, but this experience of growth, loss, and letting go has taught me that there aren’t always relationships that are “meant to be.” You need to put effort into the friends that you know deep down are worth savoring. Especially now, when we’re isolated from our friends, it can be too easy for us to live on our own.
Don’t let your worthwhile friendships slip. You’ll look back and realize how much you regret it years down the line when all you have left is the memory of laughter and happy moments you shared.
If you’re reading this piece and your heart is repeating the name of someone you’ve been aching to reach out to — a best friend who you’ve drifted from since the quarantine started or a peer you’ve missed but have only seen the face of in grainy Zoom screens — this is your sign to send that message, make that phone call, or set up a Zoom to rekindle the fire and remember how much they meant to you in the first place.