In praise of digital relationships, romantic and otherwise

Earlier tonight, as I prepared to go to bed, I looked up a few old schoolmates on Facebook. People to whom I was never particularly close, even then. The ones I found were nearly strangers to me. I have nothing in common with them now, and the only thing I had in common with them then was geography. Even that wasn’t exactly a matter of agency, given that we lived where our parents had chosen to live.

I’ve long rejected the notion that friendships and relationships should be based on geography. Obviously you’ll eventually want to meet your closest online friends and especially your online romantic interests, and romantic partners would ultimately relocate for each other. But choosing a friend or a partner based on elementary school or high school or even college always seemed needlessly limited to me. I know many people who found their long-term partners in school; I wasn’t one of them. And while I do retain close friendships with many people with whom I went to school, I have just as many close friends whom I met through various online means, based on our mutual interests.

Because of my shyness and, to use the technical term, resting bitch face, I’ve long had difficulty getting close to people I meet first in person. I know that I come off as a bit awkward and aloof. I communicate much better in writing. Even my co-workers compliment my humor and wit in our office chat program. So it makes sense that someone like me would more easily forge written-based relationships. 

One of my best friends now is someone I’d have never met at all, in person or otherwise, were it not for our mutual love of Harry Potter and various other geekery. We crossed paths online over five years ago and up to this point we’ve visited each other and we regularly chat long-distance about other things: cooking, pets, work, moving. I talk to her about things I’d talk to any true friend about in person.

My current long-distance partner (soon to, in a few weeks, hopefully become my short-distance partner for a few days at least) approached me because he admired my online writing about, of all things, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” That was six months ago and we’ve been talking non-stop ever since. Though I’m eager to see him, I don’t consider what we have to be inherently less meaningful because it’s mostly based on written communication.

Finally, the peril of going to school in the Midwest and in England and living on the East Coast is that nearly all of my friends, even if they began as in-person friends, became long-distance friends. Written communication is absolutely essential, whether it’s a tweet, email, text, Facebook message or something else. This is what helps me sustain my friendships, because the vast majority of my friends live hundreds or thousands of miles away.

I have more in common with a handful of people thousands of miles away in England than I do with a handful of people in Kansas with whom I shared a few years of schooling 20-odd years ago. It’s worth it to me to forsake in-person interactions for the time being in exchange for a deeper emotional attachment through writing. I wouldn’t trade a day’s worth of emails with my partner for 50 middling OKCupid dates in D.C.

But I am excited to see him, though …

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I will continue with the second half of my Paris adventures tomorrow. For now, I’ll share news of my Thanksgiving in Canterbury.

My three friends and I decided a few weeks ago to celebrate Thanksgiving. Rather, I told them how awesome it’d be and they came around. My dear mum had sent me a turkey centerpiece and tablecloth of appropriate gaucheness earlier in the season, which I saved for the occasion.

Yesterday afternoon, my hardy friend Hannah and I took the bus to Sainsbury, the “nice” grocery store in town. I didn’t really make a list; I just tried to remember what all we usually ate. Hannah’s a vegetarian, so I brought her along so she could pick out her own meal.

For the grand total of £22, £5.50 a pop, we bought the following: turkey breasts for Rachel, Deborah and me; a pie for Hannah with pine nuts, spinach and feta; whole potatoes for mashing; butter and cream for the mash; fresh raw carrots for steaming; dinner rolls; cranberry sauce; cranberry-and-orange stuffing; turkey gravy and vegetable gravy; and a whole orange-and-raspberry cheesecake.

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After my class ended at 6, I went over to Rachel and Hannah’s kitchen and we got to work. While they peeled potatoes and carrots, I put the table together, took photos, prepped the stuffing and put the turkey and vegetable pie together. We baked each separately in the oven with stuffing. I also did the gravy. Mmm gravy. Ill-advisedly, we mashed the entire bag of potatoes and ended up with a sizable mound. Hannah steamed the carrots together with leftover green beans, and I baked the dinner rolls.

We each agreed that this was probably the best meal (“best” as in hardiest) since we’d arrived here. I said a (slightly awkward) grace beforehand, and we tucked in. Everything was really good; the turkey was even properly moist. We all ate way, way too much and had to sit to digest it all. Deb gamely did most of the washing while Rachel and Hannah dried and I cleaned the table off. After that we had cheesecake and some delicious sugar doughnuts that Deb had brought back from a day trip to Lille yesterday.

Everything worked out well, and I realized that this was the first Thanksgiving I’d spent where I was in charge of the most of the planning, coordination and cooking. And I didn’t screw it up!  I’m just glad I got to spend it with good friends who were happy to share our overeating tradition.

My mother has also informed me that several people read this blog but don’t comment. Please comment if you see something you like or have questions! I like feedback and I like knowing that someone is reading.

Going out!

My mother told me before I left not to spend all of my time in my room. I have the past couple of nights, mostly because I’ve been getting over a head cold and the weather’s been lousy.

But tonight I went on a sort of campus pub crawl (yes, we have bars on campus, because we’re awesome). I thought I’d tell you a little about my new friends and our night out.

Hannah, Rachel and Deborah

Hannah, Rachel and Deborah

First there’s Deborah. She’s a PhD student in genetics, and very perky, bubbly and outgoing. She’s shorter than I am but really feisty. She’s also a quiz fanatic, like me, so we sort of bonded over that immediately.

Second is Hannah, who’s doing an LLM in law. She’s like me in that she’s quiet until you get to know her, but talkative and friendly once you do. She also studied at Kent as an undergrad, so she’s sort of our guide around campus and good to get dirt on what to do around town.

Finally there’s Rachel. She’s doing a PhD in biodiversity. She’s outgoing and funny, but on the serious side I can tell she’s serious about her work and plans to study hard.

All three of them are English.

Tonight I had dinner at Origins, the bar in Darwin College (Origins, get it?), with Rachel, Deborah and one of Deborah’s visiting friends. Origins specializes in Tex-Mex type stuff like nachos, quesadillas and fajitas, and also has snack foods and burgers. I had a burger, Rachel had Cajun chicken in a skillet and the other two had chicken wraps. It has kind of a sports bar-meets-modern-restaurant feel, with lots of booths, pool tables and TVs. It has a bright orange/yellow color palate, which is cool.

After that, we headed to Gulbenkian’s bar and cafe (Gulbenkian’s is the campus theatre/cinema, with a large cafe), which had a cocktail night on. We met up with Hannah and one of the other guys from Woolf, who’s from Germany. The drinks were still kind of pricey, so we headed over to Mungo’s, a place in Eliot College that’s designed like a euro nightclub type place. I’m told they have great burgers and sandwiches during the day (a third major cafe on campus, K-Bar, in Keynes College, does mostly pizza, while Dolche Vita, also in Keynes, does more European-Asian fusion and coffee drinks). Rutherford College has a bar owned and operated by the student union; the aforementioned bars/cafes are operated by university hospitality.

After a couple of drinks in Mungo’s, where the dance music made it kind of loud, we walked over to Park Wood, which is a residential neighborhood on the other side of campus for undergrads, and went to Woody’s, a student bar/pub owned by the student union. We watched a game of pool, chatted and had another drink before walking back to Woolf. All in all, a fun night out and reasonably inexpensive — about £10 total for dinner and drinks from 7:30 to midnight.

Tomorrow I’m going into the city centre to see “The Town” at the Odeon Cinema and appraise the theatre. I might look at WHSmith for some work folders for classes, which start Tuesday for me. We might do something tomorrow night, I’m not sure. Sunday afternoon is the trip to Leeds Castle, and Sunday night is a pub quiz in K-Bar. Monday’s curry night at the Gulbenkian and a quiz night at a pub in town, and Tuesday I’m attending an Amnesty International meeting. Current Affairs meets on Thursday evenings, and I may have to alternate between pub nights and society meetings for the American society, as it looks like both will fall on Mondays (even though there are other pub quizzes throughout the week).

I’ve also decided to try out Anglican services at Keynes Chapel on Sundays, starting next week (can’t go this week because of the castle tour). The services all include lunch afterward, and I’m kind of curious about the Anglican set-up. It’s also been ages since I’ve had any sort of Communion. The fellowship organizes a lot of activities during the term, and this term’s trips include a day visit to Bodiam Castle, built during the reign of Richard II (yeah, him again) and the small parish town of Rye, as well as a longer holiday in Bruges, Belgium in November.

So there you have it. Not even here a week!

P.S. By far the most important details of the night were that I earned my first mayorship on Foursquare (I’m “mayor” of Origins now) and I got another badge — the “Crunked” badge for four or more check-ins in one might. Mummy must be so proud.