An Online Betrayal: Were We Ever Friends?

exhausted-woman with head down at deskThe internet is my friend.

It is a great thing; it is a terrible thing.

I have won jobs through email; I have lost jobs through email.

It has given me a site to write this bookish blog.  As favorite bloggers close down their blogs, I have become increasingly frantic about finding new blogs. The good ones are few and far between.

Blogging is an old-fashioned, if rough-hewn, activity.  In terms of  the internet, blogs are “virtually” as polished as Montaigne’s essays or Pepys’s diary. The opinions and arguments are expressed at greater length and are better-developed than the short, snappy bits on Facebook and Twitter.  Amateurs toil in their spare time to share their opinions of books, movies, or politics.   I am talking about the tens of thousands or millions (I don’t know the numbers) of amateurs who love to write.

But the internet is a peripatetic community of the lonely and restless. We look for a connection we don’t have in our real lives: in my case  bookish friends!  For a few years we post on book boards; then it’s Yahoo or Google discussion groups ; then the online communities fight about Edward Said’s brilliant memoir Out of Time (politics, Jerusalem, and Palestine) or even Jane Austen (a source of great contention); the groups break up; they move on to  Goodreads; Twitter;, Pinterest, etc. .

It makes my head ache to think about all the electronic blips that mark our online lives.  Is the blog I deleted in 2005 still whizzing through cyberspace like a meteor?  How about those discussions on AOL of Wally Lamb and Andrea Barrett?

The internet can bring people with similar interests together.  I keep my expectations low.  I have enjoyed exchanging postcards, letters, and book with bloggers and members of my groups.  At the Southern Festival of Books dozens of members of an online book group met to, attend readings, chat, and go to restaurants.  We were not soulmates, but a certain loyalty united us.  Even if I never see S., C., R. P. or J. again, I will consider them my friends.

Recently i experienced an online betrayal.

An online friend  asked me to visit her.  I hadn’t flown in years and was eager to get out of the Midwest for a few days.  We went to concerts, the theater, and museums, and had a lovely time.  We have stayed in touch.

But recently she attacked me at her blog.  This is the kind of online interaction I dread, and yet we’re all involved in this kind of thing.  I wrote something about a writer she admired who was pulling out all the stops to make another writer look bad.  Then my friend wrote a blog attacking me for attacking the critical writer.

After she posted the blog, she sent me a note with the header:  “Don’t you think you’re overreacting?”   I put it in the trash, dear reader.  I didn’t dare read anymore of it.  I was deeply hurt.

I am finally over it.  She is not a troll.  But isn’t there something wrong with our “break-up”?

It is the classic breakup on the internet.  When people find they are not soulmates, they hit at each other.

Puzzling and sad.   But it makes me question my online activities.  We all make mistakes.  Where do we draw the line?  Should we strive to be more polite so we don’t hurt each other’s feelings?  Should we stop criticizing writers and only write about the books we like?


Everyone draws a different line in the sand.

10 thoughts on “An Online Betrayal: Were We Ever Friends?

  1. Good topic and good question. I feel I have made friends with some bloggers, some people in Yahoo groups and on FB. What would happen if we met face to face, I don’t know. I had viseo discussions with. two persons: it went well with one but it has been a disaster with the other after months of daily talks end very concrete decisions made to meet in France and the USA. Now he breaking up is poisoning my life. And there is sometimes this aggressivity that vents out in reading groups, or the acerbic comment on FB. I am fortunate to have had only one “friendship” that went wrong.
    We know this is all spent in a “virtual” world but it hurts in a non-virtual way. I am sorry for you. I hope that you still have “friends” in whom you believe and this precious connection that allows us to talk about our favourite topic: books and reading, and cultural matters. There is a sharing in this that is not always possible with our daily environment (I speak for me here 🙂 ). Ang blogs and reading lists are more satisfying than the hurried “I like” and short comment on FB- when it does go to a simple exchage of “pins”!
    Cheer up, Kat! Civilised people still exist outside the ancient Greeks and Romans! 🙂


    • Thank you for the lovely comment, Camille! Usually meeting online friends is casual and fun. Expectations must be kept low, but I feel a real affection for those I’ve met. I’m in the dark ages about video discussions, but that can be a real way to communicate, I’m sure. Am so sorry this thing happened. THESE THINGS HAPPEN ALL THE TIME ON THE INTERNET! And, yes, there is civilization. You’re right!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had an unpleasant experience with a blogger .We connected on line discussed books with a group of other Twitter acquaintances.When she found out we lived nearv each other she invited me to a few book events.I said no politely I did not want to move to a real friendship with her I noticedshe could be very nasty even discussing books. I politely made my excuses she started insulting me with questions do you ever leave your house !its noon going out today. . I finally said you don’t know me please stop your sarcastiic remarks &Instopped responding,I have met a lot of lovely friends on line&thats where I choose to keep them,


    • Rhonda, that is so wise. We love to write to our online friends, but it can be very hard to take it to the next level. I must confess that much as I enjoyed meeting people at the book festival I lost touch with them after our online group broke up. It’s good that you were so up-front with this person. What a nerve to keep pestering you! I have gotten so much out of online life, but we also have to look out for ourselves.


  3. I think I know the posts you’re referring to and even if I hadn’t agreed with your take on them (which I do) I would have respected your right to your opinion. The trouble is, because of the distancing effect of the Internet, or the anonymity or whatever, people seem to go to extremes so easily. I’m sorry you had this experience, particularly when it’s someone you’ve met – and I hope you continue to find nice contacts in the book blogging world. Mind have been mostly OK, and I’m lucky that when they’ve made the transition to real life people (through the LT Virago group mainly) they’ve been lovely. You need to be free to say what you think – this is your blog and your opinions – and I think we just need to be more tolerant. If I don’t agree with a post, I tend to just not comment – I would never post anything nasty!


    • Yes, I won’t refer to the specific post because I don’t want to rekindle any bad feeling (though you know the post!). There are nightmarish incidents where we can’t take something back–like the Reply All options on emails–but there are other times when we express our opinions with care and they still offend people. It was devastating to a lose a “real/online” friend over what is essentially a disagreement about writers. And yet bookish people online fall out over books all the time!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have met some intelligent and sympathetic booklovers on the net, but I have also had some negative experiences, mainly on listservs. Recently I left one because the moderator behaved badly; in fact she became abusive. She apologized, but I simply don’t want to subject myself to that kind of behavior again. It’s not worth it. I find that alternatives are opening up, so I’ll go with that. It is a shame though that intelligent and well read people will use the net to act out, and I’m not talking about a teenager. She knows better. So I sympathize with your disappointment, esp since you actually went out of your way to meet this person. I have come to believe that in books, writers give us their best selves. That’s what makes the reading experience so gratifying. If only people would try to be their best selves and let go of all the one-uping.


    • Yes, listservs and book boards (I’m not sure if there are any “book boards” left) somehow kindle a lot of argument. It isn’t just the books: it’s the manners of the participants. Civilized discussions are what we’re after, and I like your idea of being our best selves online. I should declare a Year of Reading Dead Writers in the hope of offending fewer people!


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