Now that we live in the future, everyone has friendships that began on the web. In Internet Friends, writers tell stories of friendships created, maintained, and (sometimes) ended online. To pitch your own Internet Friendship, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is something that I often feel ashamed to admit. Of all the challenging experiences motherhood has put me through—the emergency C-section, and the spinal headache that came after; the months of sleepless nights, always followed by work the next day—the hardest part of the whole shebang has been this: making mom friends.
When I first became a parent, I was instructed to do this by people—both parents and the child free—who made it sound like the easiest task in the world. “Oh, you’ll need to get some mom friends,” they’d say, like picking up some milk at the grocery store. Simple, right? But for me—socially anxious, shy, running on 37 minutes of sleep a day—it quickly became a struggle I couldn’t quite get a handle on.
I was lonely and craving connection, and so I tried meeting other moms in person, dragging my daughters to mom groups organized by my yoga studio or local neighborhood listserv. But I struggled to click with other moms about topics other than the squirming babies on our laps. I couldn’t quite figure out how to turn chitchat about tummy time into something more meaningful. Even though we were all harried and exhausted, there was still a stiffness to our interactions combined with a desire to charm each other, just like a first date.
That hour or two of pleasant but distant conversation during the day didn’t help when I really needed friends, when my panic was at its worst: In the middle of night, when the baby wouldn’t stop crying or I got up to breastfeed and couldn’t fall back asleep. During one of those exhausted, lonely, middle-of-the-night moments I pulled up Facebook on my phone and saw that a friend had added me to a private group of moms. And it was there that I finally found the friends I’d been searching for.
My “mom Facebook group,” which is how I to refer to it when my husband asks me what I’m giggling at on my phone, is made up mostly of women living in Los Angeles (my current home), with members also sprinkled around the United States and the rest of the world. It’s secret, created by a couple of friends a few years ago, looking for a place to connect. Pretty standard, right? There are uncountable groups just like this one, with names like “Boston Mommies” or “Mom 2 Mom.” I’ve been added to them before. In my experience, they often implode into 2,000-comment rage-threads about vaccines or sleep schedules. But my secret mom group has lasted even when others around them fall. The little utopia that’s formed in the Groups tab on my Facebook page almost makes me believe that Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild is a place for good, and not just Russian political trolls and LuLaRoe legging sales.
The other morning, I shared with the mom group that I’d absentmindedly poured a glass of water into the kitchen trash can. Members quickly replied with their own tales of Mom Brain, which—believe you me—is a real thing. I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to know that somewhere out there are other women also putting yogurt in the cupboard, or leaving their phones on top of the car. Take the bond I’ve formed with Amanda, a woman I met in the group, over us both having lost a parent. Months after our initial conversation, she was in the audience at my first ever reading in support of my book about losing my mom. What started online has evolved into actual, real-life friendship—the thing that was once so hard for me to come by.
This group has become so integral to my life that it even helps me pick out outfits, like some sort of virtual college roommate. When I had a big event to go to and was unsure if I could pull off a white blazer with jeans, I snapped a couple of awkward full-body selfies and posted them to the group, writing, “HELP!!! Is this an outfit?!” In the comments section that followed, 26 different women helped me get dressed. (Consensus: I needed more flattering jeans but was otherwise good to go!) And when I complained about my flat, dull hair, Heather, a fellow member, recommended this amazing Revlon hair dryer. No, it hasn’t changed my life, but the mop on my head is definitely much improved.
Good blowouts aside, this Facebook group is a space for me to share all the panic, fear, anxiety, sorrow, guilt, and anger that bubbles up on a daily basis. The joy and triumphs, too, of course—but it’s easier to find space for those in my day-to-day conversations or my personal Facebook page. It’s the darker stuff that longed for a home with friends who understand. This summer, when I typed out a post that began, “Is anyone else in a constant cycle of just feeling like a failure on every front?” I didn’t feel embarrassed or exposed. The stream of comments I received in reply were supportive and in solidarity. Maybe it’s the screen between us that allows me to be more vulnerable, but it’s the unconditional support I receive that keeps me coming back.
I’ve treasured online connections since my lonely days as a rabid 16-year-old Phish fan. Back in the early ’90s heyday of AOL dialup, I spent afternoons and evenings bantering in a chatroom dedicated to fellow fans, trading tapes and swapping poetry. (Oh yes, we had our own Phish-related poetry forum. Jealous?) Later in life my career as a writer flourished penning content online, and both experiences taught me just how good that feeling of synchronicity with internet strangers can be. You begin to love them like family, trading in time with your real-life friends for text chats with avatars who somehow know you better. In 2016 I co-founded a secret Hillary Clinton Facebook group for women that grew into a large, like-minded community of politically active and engaged HRC supporters. But after the election, the dialogue started to occasionally sour, nerves were frayed, and I dropped out of the group entirely. Online groups start off as some sort of digital utopia, full of connection and community, but often devolve, as our best and worst selves come out in full force in ways they’d never do were the interactions in person. I used to regard these experiences as wasteful of my time, energy, and emotions. But lately I’ve started to see that any connection counts for something. Even groups and communities on which we ultimately hit delete serve a meaningful purpose for a time. We bonded and belonged; we felt heard and safe enough to speak out. This matters.
Happily, my mom Facebook group has only seemed to grow closer and more connected over time. (I won’t jeopardize it by sharing its name; anyway, it’s currently closed to new members.) A few months ago, I wrote a plaintive post to the group about how much, in hard parenting weeks, I missed my mom. I considered deleting the post—it felt too raw, and a little pathetic—but before I could erase it, I was awash in replies of support. Other motherless women chimed in with their own grief, including Heather, the woman with the amazing hair dryer rec. We’ve since shared our memories and grief privately, and I know that if I’m having a particularly tough day longing for my mom, I can zap a message to someone who will get it.
But with all that this group has given me, I’d never really considered that I might have contributed in a meaningful way to another member’s well-being, until I began asking them about their experiences for this piece. One mom wrote me: “One night, after a brutal cluster-feeding session, I reached out to the group and just expressed that I felt like I was drowning. I had so many responses, just letting me know that they supported me. And you, who I had only met a handful of times, offered to come to my house with food and to help. In those moments or darkness, when we cry out, ‘Am I all alone?’ it’s so powerful to have a chorus of women call back ‘I’m here.’ ”
Perhaps even more crucial for me than all the love and support I’ve received from my mom Facebook group is the realization that it’s reciprocal. I’m not sure this is what all those well-intentioned people meant when they told me to “make mom friends,” but I think what I’ve found is even better—a chamber of voices, loud, clear, and loving, that say: We see you, we hear you, and we get you. You’re not alone. And also, change those pants.