Building Positive Friendships: Modern Tools and Old-Fashioned Self-Understanding

positive friendships

“How can someone you’ve never met possibly be considered a friend?”

This challenge was posed to an old friend of mine, one who has “been there” for me in person in years past and now stays in touch via the internet. But can it actually work the other way round? Can we make “real friends” through technology, meeting them in person only later, if at all? Are the friends we make through non-traditional means actually “real friends”?

Modern technology has changed almost every aspect of life, and so it’s no small thing to consider: What exactly is a friend? What types of friends do I want? Who are my real friends? The answers deserve careful thought and reflection. No two people are going to come up with exactly the same definitions, filters and requirements. Whether we consciously know it or not, we all have a set of rules and definitions for friendship.

These rules are so much a part of us that we may get knocked for a loop when our “friends” do things that violate our rules—which may or may not be *their* rules. So how do you sort out it all out? In building a positive life, friendship can be one of the best parts of our world. It’s worth taking the time to understand our own minds and hearts. The best place to start is by taking the time to get to know what the terms “friend” and “friendship” mean to each of us.


While there are no right or wrong answer to these questions, knowing your answers will help you build the friendships and the kind of life you want:

  • What makes a good and true friend?
  • How should they treat me?
  • How should I treat them?
  • What do they need to do or be before I trust them with my time, my possessions, and my private business?
  • Are they a friend if we don’t meet or spend time in the old-fashioned way?

Many friendships grow over time in terms of trust and intimacy. You can wind up being friends with someone that may not register when you first meet them. Friendship can sneak up on you, surprise you after years of acquaintance, and become much more than you ever expected.  Others are almost instantaneous bond. There’s no set pattern, but if take the time to learn what you need to get and give in friendships, your chances of cultivating positive and lasting ones are all the stronger.


There are many different types of friends that we might have in the course of a lifetime. Each holds the potential to enhance our lives and allow us to enhance theirs. Above all else, friends of every sort and level are cultivated with communication of some kind.

Within our world of technological marvels, there are more and better tools for meeting people, sharing interests, and making friends of all sorts than ever before. Whatever shape our friendships take, they’re brought to life and sustained with communication.

It may take only a few words, a good deed, or single shared grimace to bring a friendship into being that will last a lifetime. Or it may be the work of many years and conversations, and countless hours over equally countless cups of coffee. The method is much less important than the quality of that communication. There are as many ways to make friends and keep them as there are people in this world. Your mileage will vary.

We do take a risk when we trust, whether it’s in person or via technology. There are always going to be those who would take advantage of our generosity and capacity for friendship. Still, it’s a risk that I consider well worth the gamble. There are basic precautions to be taken with any new relationship—or even existing ones. A good dose of sensibility goes a long way, but that being said—there’s a whole world of people to discover.  And you never can tell where the friends you just haven’t met yet are going to be found.

Are Internet Friends ‘Real’ Friends?

So to answer the challenge posed earlier: I would have to say—- speaking for me and my definitions—absolutely! Someone that I have never once looked upon with my own eyes can be a good and true friend. I can and do have wonderful friends that I’ve never met in person and might never in this life. The joy that they bring is just as special as the joy that I get from the friends that live across town.

Can it be rightly said “That it’s not the same thing?” Of course it can—but then I don’t expect every friendship to be a carbon copy of every other. Everybody who has earned the title of “friend” in my life had earned it for unique reasons, under unique circumstances, each as individual as the person involved. Every relationship that deserves the crowning title of “friendship” is going to have its own particulars. So if the method of meeting and communication isn’t one my grandmother had at her disposal, then it’s just one more really cool thing about living when we do.

So, sit down by the fire some night, brew a hot cup of tea, and treat yourself to the positive experience of defining your own terms and kicking around a few questions on the nature of friendship for yourself. And who knows, maybe a friend will want in on the conversation — and whether they join you in person, by phone or other techno-marvel, revel in their  company.

What makes a good and true friend? Are the friends you make through non-traditional means actually “real friends”? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

16 thoughts on “Building Positive Friendships: Modern Tools and Old-Fashioned Self-Understanding”

  1. Great article Ruth, I’m happy to have read (and written) several other articles on the subject of friends lately, it’s a topic so important to us all, yet often overlooked. I like how you outline that we each need to know our own model for friendships, that’s the cool thing about them, they are each so personal.

    I too have many people I’ve never met in life yet I would definitely consider them friends and I’d be happy to meet with them in person should the opportunity be there. One thing I’ve used to define a friend is if you are willing to spend your own time with that person, in whatever form, simply for the sake of spending time with them, no alterior motive or personal gain. If I can say that about person, I’d certainly consider them my friend. It’s simply about enjoying time spent together and doing whatever fits that friendship, to each there own.

    Thanks for the great article!

  2. I think people can have internet friends just as people have surely had friends via snail mail before the invention of the internet.

    I agree with Mike. As long as you enjoy spending time with a person without obligation or personal gain, you should consider them a friend. I would go a step further. People that I consider friends, I have no problems doing favors for them. In fact, I enjoy doing things for people I consider to be friends and family.

    Friends are the family you choose. I think I saw that quote on a candle holder at a Hallmark store. It feels a bit cheesy coming from a Hallmark store, but I like the quote.

  3. Thanks for this post. I like the theme of consciously choosing how you define friendship, rather than worrying about whether you have “enough” friends or the “right” friends by other people’s definition, which is a recipe for suffering it seems many people buy into.

  4. A great article and something that I have pondered over myself over they years. Although I used to say you could not be friends with online buddies, I now know that this is not the case at all. Just like anything in life it is all about change, and technology has now allowed us the opportunity of so many new friends to be had.

  5. I agree that being friends is a state of mind rather that bearing particular attributes. I would like to pay attention what attributes may describe somebody as a e-friend.
    I think that if somebody may share beliefs, interests, strugles or any other intersections and willing to communicate in an open and positive way may be considered as a friend. What do you think?

  6. Hi Ruth,

    The internet makes it easier for us to know more people and maybe more friends but the people online only become our friends when we make regular contact and feel good about them. I am also really grateful as the internet has helped me to meet people that is located at halfway around the world.

    Personal Development Blogger

  7. Hi Ruth .. that’s a good post – I like the way I’ve connected with people .. whom I’d describe as friends .. who offer me support at a difficult time, come back and see how I’m doing .. as they’re online .. & they’re probably more in touch with me than my ‘old’ friends .. & perhaps have experienced similar challenges to my own: & so understand.

    It is common sense and finding like minded people .. as we communicate on line – we can get a ‘feel’ of the contact .. we can befriend a number, but almost certainly will only relate to ‘a few’ who actually become proper friends over the years, we’ll know the others over the years as we’ll be following them & keeping in touch but probably not as friends.

    Good post .. Thanks – Hilary: Be Positive Be Happy

  8. Great article Ruth!

    Friendship is a topic that has been on my mind the past year or so. Moving from a Australia to Canada has meant two things for me: 1) communication with old friends is now almost solely online; and 2) I have had to form new “in the flesh” friends. In regards to the former, I’m very appreciate of the tools of modern technology (email, facebook, etc). In regards to the latter, it hasn’t been that easy to be honest, mainly because I’m fairly introverted and don’t have a lot of free time. But I’m working on it :)

    Lastly, in regards to the question “are internet ‘real’ friends?” I think you’ve nailed the answer. I think in the past there was a certain stigma associated with having friends online that you had never met in the flesh. These days everyone is online, and imo only the closed minded would try to argue that internet friends can’t be ‘real’ friends.

  9. Hi Ruth,

    I agree with Vincent, I’m very grateful for many friendships I’ve made with people I completely resonate with. Most of them down south or overseas.

    I always allow my intuition to guide me towards meeting the right people online and off!


    1. Ryan –

      I like the idea of allowing your intuition to guide you as to what feels right with
      making new friends.

      I have had to use my intuition to get me out of some friendships in the end. I will now always ask myself, “Does this connection feel right in general or is something off here that makes me uncomfortable?” And then what I do about it is the most important thing after that.


  10. This is a great article. I have thought about this a lot lately. I have found that the people I have met online are sometimes more supportive than my friends/family in real life. This scares me. I do not want to lose sight of having real contact. I often wonder how to build the relationships in real life like the ‘supporter’ or ‘followers’ that I have online.

    I just wrote a post on my blog about this and am curious how other writer’s feel about who supports them the most.

    Love this blog BTW!!

    p.s. my mom’s name is Ruth. :)

  11. “There are no strangers, only people whose ear I haven’t talked off yet.”

    Internet friendships are as easy to create as they are to prevent. A total stranger who makes a ‘friend’ request by promising unrequited love (MySpace is usually where I get these) is obviously not serious about friendship. On the other hand, offering helpful suggestions and advice does open the door to friendship. At the very least there’s nothing wrong with random acts of kindness.

  12. Thank you for this blog article. It both gave me hope in regards to making new friends and also the idea to really sit down and define what friendship means to me.

    I am 46 years young, single, and suffer from depression and fibromyalgia. This past year has been difficult as I have had to get certain friends out of my life who sort of snuck in under the radar during times when I was not doing so well (so I welcomed the distraction and/or hope of quality friendship) – or who I kept around long past the time when many betrayals and much dishonesty had poisoned the well.

    It all seemed to come to a head this past year or two. I got rid of about four with personality disorders (as far as I could tell) and I’m in the process of backing away from one with a serious drug problem who always needs help and another one who flakes all the time and puts me down in front of others in subtle ways – and gossips a lot.

    I had no idea the toll that these bad friendships were having on my life until I got away to my family home in Montana for a month and spent time around old friends there who I always felt more at ease around.

    I do not know what my experiences mean, but I am sure they had to do with the fact that I was not doing well or felt well about myself a lot and so I picked others who were not totally balanced or healthy or who took advantage of me or wanted power over me.

    I have a couple of friends I can trust I think (in the town I live in,) but the majority of them are not worth bothering with anymore.

    I certainly hope it is not too late at my age to make new good friends, but for now I am looking more for casual friendships and to associate with people in groups and where the activity is the main focus, not the interaction between two people. I figure that will protect me a bit more from letting others too close in who turn out to not be good for me.

    I certain am going to do this exercise tonight that you suggest – and also try and figure out what went wrong with some of my experiences in the friendship department. I certainly think I can do better than I have, though I want to be sure that I can be a good friend to the right people as well and just not waste my time and energy and have to deal with loss in the end because I can’t take anymore b.s..

    I think I will start with the idea of being a friend to myself first and foremost and see how that goes as well! I am sure I could use some improvement in how I treat myself and how I talk to myself – especially when a low mood hits me.

    I wanted to say that I enjoy this whole blog. It is on my top 3 list of great blogs that I find useful and very intelligently written, insightful, and inspiring.

    1. Wow, Cat, thanks for sharing your story. You’ve been through a lot in your life, but you’re still taking charge of it! Your story was very inspirational to read about. You wrote your comment on struggling to make good-quality friendships over a year ago, so I can’t help but wonder how you’re doing now. After defining friendship, did you find what you were looking for?

      My sister is a young woman with depression and has had a difficult time making friends her entire life. They always seem to abandon her or like in your experiences betray her. Luckily she met some nice online friends and even eventually became face-to-face friends with them. She’s slowly getting better at this whole friendship thing, but I still worry about her sometimes. Any advice you have for her?

      Thanks, Cat. Take care!

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