My first unknown Facebook friend.

I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail while snuggling with Ryan and Sahana. Ryan said, after, “I am never watching another romance movie EVER!!!” and Sahana said, “Awwwww, that was so sweeeeet!!!!” But this blog is not about the movie that I LOVE and have watched more than 6 times. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s chat reminded me of my fear and apprehensions of befriending the first unknown friend on Facebook.

“Join this thing called Facebook!! Now!!! There are many friends from our class there, I have reconnected with them, they are asking for you!” My girl friend from college wrote me an emphatic email. I still dragged my feet. What is this unknown cyber world that I have no idea of? AND I have a fear of technology! But memories of sweet youth and college compelled me to listen to her rantings. I tentatively opened an account and swore not to befriend anyone I didn’t know. I was there just to connect with people I have left behind as I moved on in life.

Another girlfriend from college opened a forum called Books and More. I got sucked in, of course – the magical word ‘book’ does that to me every time. But guess what? In that forum there were those feared creatures!!! Strangers!!! And they were talking to me, or trying to engage me in a conversation. Stranger danger! Red alert! And wait!! One of them was a pesky man!!! Or a boy, I could not be sure. He surely acted as a boy. He called my girl friend, the admin of the book group, Mashi (aunty) and when he discovered that I was her batch mate in college, he called me Mashi as well. Ah, a mere child, harmless, I thought. Then he sent me a friend request and I frowned at that.

Wait, no!! I don’t want to be friends with a stranger! They could rob me blind or send nasty propositions. Ummmm…well…yeah…my inflated self-worth was a bit at play. No, just kidding. I was simply wary of strangers in a virtual world. I still am! Anyway, back to my quandary! What does he want? Can he see that my profile picture has a man on it? I am very happily married, thank you very much! But he was funny and witty and childish. And he made me laugh just like college days! So with shaking hands and uncertain fingers I clicked on the ‘Accept Friend Request’ button. And asked him, “How old are you?” I had assumed him to be a teenager or a man in his early twenties, he turned out to be only a couple of years younger than me. Help!! A grown man! Oh, well, if he turns out to be a jerk, I can always send him into oblivion by the click of a button I thought. He became one of my dearest friends and continues to be so after 5 years. And he is one of the most well read, thoughtful, intelligent person I know.

The friendship would have met an untimely death right at the beginning had I not been Type A about checking and re checking my comments before I sent them. The first time I typed his name on the iPad, wrote a comment and was all set to hit ‘Enter’, I happened to notice that my Apple device did not have his Indian name in its dictionary so it conveniently changed his name to ‘Stinky’. I was about to address my first ‘unknown’ friend on my one and only social networking site as Stinky. The friendship would have had a sad demise, and an early one.

Through him, I met some others, men and women! One friend came to US for work and made the extra effort to come and just see me in my town although his work place was in a different State altogether. My family asked, “So, you know him only through Facebook?” I confidently said, “Yes.” He is now more of a family member than a friend. My whole family embraced him as one of our own.

I made friends over songs, poems, blogs and laughs. I made friends over world cup soccer and Game of Thrones. Some stayed on the periphery, some touched my heart and soul through their brilliance, kindness of heart and generosity. I rejoice at their victories and mourn their losses. They teach me new songs, new poetry, new thoughts. We debate over our beliefs, we laugh over jokes. We have shared stories, made our presence felt during difficult times. We have said those words to each other, ‘You matter.’ We have said, ‘This too shall pass.’ And we have said, ‘Fly, soar’. I have found many real friends in the virtual world. I met them in a reunion last year, some of them, for the first time. The meeting, however, was seamless. My husband, who tagged along, somewhat skeptical of virtual friendships, smiled wide as he met my friends. He laughed along, danced to Hindi songs, read my poet friend’s poetry with open-mouthed awe and came back with their love and friendship.

But I am still wary of strangers. Most friend requests don’t get accepted unless I have interacted and liked what the person had to say on threads of other friends. I do not indiscriminately make friends with unknown people and I would advise against it. Having said that, I value my ‘real’ friends who I found in’ virtual’ world. You know who you are.

Oh, and you can blame ‘You’ve got mail’ for the mush.



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