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I've Never Met My Best Friends IRL, Because They're All Online

Courtesy of Tyrese Coleman

Any new mom can attest to the verity of this scene: you place your 6-month-old baby on his belly for tummy time and he freaks out. He screams. He cries. His face turns red. He doesn't reach for any of the plush animals on his jungle gym mat. Instead, he writhes and curses you in baby talk. You grab your phone. You research developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and physical therapy options, and that's when you realize you need someone to talk to. You need friends, women you can talk to, mothers who know. Though I've never met my best friends in real life, it's never mattered much.

Website after website says your baby should roll over by six months. Why the hell hasn't your child turned over and done push-ups by now?  You look at your baby and get on your knees beside him, teeth gritted, fists clenched as if you're watching a horse race you've bet the house on, thinking, Come on baby, turn over, turn over, come on. When he continues to flop, you fall defeated against the couch. Maybe you weep because you're really beginning to believe your child has gross motor delays. But it's only been six months, and your twins were born premature. Delays are common in preemies, though.

The anxiety keeps you up at night, and you appreciate your other son, who's sitting up in his Boppy like a champ. At least he's been rolling over. You need to find out if your babies are developing alongside their peers, though. Remembering a post from a pregnancy website discussion board about a Facebook group, you search for it, get a hit, and click "Join."

We often hear a lot about online sites for women with kids, and most commonly, we hear about sites for women who are expecting. Pregnancy website discussion boards are often full of posts about feeling bloated, sonogram readings, finding maternity clothes, and stressing over baby names (or lack thereof). When my pregnancy became a difficult one, my interest in those message boards waned. I wasn't enchanted by the magic of pregnancy.

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It was clear, however, that this Facebook group was not like any other. Maybe it's because motherhood in its permanency has a different camaraderie than pregnancy, a moment in time that will inevitably end, but the women in this group were more open: sharing pictures of their kids, their partners, and themselves. My baby wasn't the only one who wasn't rolling over; my twins not the only multiples, not the only preemies.

We aren't just women talking about the woes of raising children or bonding over a shared due date month. We are stay-at-home moms searching for adult connections through fingertip taps and cell-phone screens in between breastfeeding and naps. Or we are mothers who work outside the home who understand the pain of hearing a child call his daycare teacher "mama." Or we're women who work from home, grappling with life and a career and a never-ending to-do list of dishes and video conferences. We argue like real friends do. Sometimes we break up for good. Sometimes all we need is separation, and like true girlfriends, we work it out. We support one another through divorces, miscarriages, financial problems, and family drama. There are group t-shirts, a book club, a food and fitness club, some are pen pals, others are pals IRL. For some, this secret Facebook group is the only set of friends we have in this world.

Sometimes you stop seeing your flesh-and-blood friends. When you aren't available for spontaneous happy hours, trips to the mall, or weekend getaways, IRL friendships shift and change. Your interactions with people you've known for years, maybe even all your life, dwindle to a few text messages and Saturday morning drop-by visits to the see the babies. I joined The Facebook Group merely searching for confirmation that my children were in line with others their age, but quickly found myself making up for the real life social interactions that fell away once I had my boys. I replaced the intimacy I shared with my best friend — who doesn't have children, is always traveling, her life full of dinner dates, working overtime, and going out to bars — with a bunch of women online who were always there, even at 1 a.m., bottle in one hand, phone in the other.

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In some ways, I prefer hanging out with my Facebook friends than my girlfriends in real life. I can expose my darkest secrets or the hardships  I'm too ashamed to share with others without judgment. There are so many of us that at least one other person is bound to understand what I'm going through. And I don't have to look that person in the eye, I don't have to see their disappointment or pity. I get a strange joy when over 100 people "like" or comment on something I've posted, validation that something I've done matters to someone else, validation that's hard to get otherwise. 

There is something deceptively trustworthy about the Facebook platform: the personal information that barely scratches the surface, the ability to pick and choose what parts of your life to present to the world while still revealing your deepest self. People establish close relationships online because they feel more open to show who they really are, especially with the safety of virtual distance. Some argue that relationships like these don't count — how can you be friends with someone you've never met? But as society moves further away from physical interactions, recreating the bonds of friendship with others you may never see in person  makes sense. It's our new "real," real friends, real life, real world. And I love these ladies, even if we are still just a bunch of strangers.

Images: Courtesy of Tyrese Coleman, Giphy (2)