by Kelsey J Barnes
When I was younger, I was obsessed with the legend called the red string of fate. The Asian legend suggests that there is an invisible red string that connects us to our destined person, wherever they may be in the world. This string can be stretched, weathered down, and find itself tangled into a ball, but, if it’s meant to be, it can never completely snap. As a lifelong hopeless romantic, I love the thought of the universe conspiring to bring two people together; as if everything is predetermined, as if fate really could be real.
The red string of fate seemed to connect itself to me when I was a pre-teen; growing up with the rise of social networks and blogs meant that there was suddenly the option to connect with people across the globe. You knew people solely by their usernames, created as a way to protect one’s real name out of fear of strangers. Back then there was always a smokescreen; a nom de plume protecting our identity from others, while also trying to connect at the same time. The fear of strangers, although still somewhat valid, disappeared with sites like LiveJournal, Xanga, and MySpace, and as the veil we all wore disappeared, so did the walls that we put up to keep ourselves at arm’s length from one another.
At age 16, I followed the thread all the way to England to meet up with friends I met on MySpace. Initially we all connected through a mutual love for a boyband, but the comments made on each other’s pages eventually turned into more intimate conversations about everything we were going through. Secrets that were never said out loud before were shared through texts and emails and Skype calls, which became something like a virtual shoulder to lean on; an international support system that connected us – distance and time difference be damned – and suddenly there was an unseen red string tied around our pinky fingers, tying ourselves to one another.
The years that followed saw the red string that tied us together stretched from distance, shortened during visits to each other’s countries, and slightly thinned out during periods when life would get in the way and texts and calls were missed. But a first connection made by something other than existing and living in the same vicinity can add a different type of strength and perseverance to a friendship – a shared but unspoken feeling of comfort to know that, regardless of distance and timing, they are always there to validate your feelings, to make you feel seen and heard. The single most magical, mystical, and miraculous thing about long distance friendships that first existed solely online is the knowledge that months can go by and you pick up exactly where you left off: on a pixelated FaceTime call, sending a million scatterbrained texts, and emails ending with I love you/thank you for always being there.
At the end of my 25th year I flew to London for a different reason, for a different red string: a boy I met online who’s jokes would make me throw my head back in laughter and seemed to light a fire inside of me that I didn’t realize existed. I took us finding one another as a sign from the universe; clearly romanticising the situation and what we could be through dreams of chance encounters and embellishing the fact that this sometimes lover existed an ocean away. What I didn’t take into consideration during my romanticising and daydreaming was how quickly things and feelings can change. How easily, when given just the amount of pressure and force, the thread can snap, which is exactly what happened when I flew to London to see this sometimes-lover.
“It was those who I only knew from 140 characters and blue iMessages and WhatsApp voice notes that threw me a life vest when I was drowning in waters I didn’t really know”
The daydreams were in the gutter, I woke up from the fantasy haze I was living in, and I was so unbelievably lonely in a city that was not my own. Frantically I searched for any garment that I left lying around and packed my suitcase quickly, without really realizing that I didn’t technically have any other place to go to. I was in England for another week and couldn’t afford a hotel. So, at 2am on a Monday morning, I asked myself: where exactly does a heartbroken girl go when she’s in a city that is not her own?
To the same friends who have weathered all of her storms since she tied red strings to them back when they met on MySpace when she was 16.
Refusing to let me spend the rest of my time in my favourite city in a state of sadness, my friends would not let me associate London, a city where I had previously made such great memories, with heartbreak. Texts were sent, plans were made, and suddenly I had offers of beds and floors and couches to sleep on right away. I texted my best friend Sophie, a friend from MySpace who was away from London on business, and explained the situation. I met my friend Laura, a girl I knew from Twitter, and arranged to meet for a coffee the morning after. She listened intently as I explained what had happened from the beginning and responded with love and care, even though it was our first in real life meeting. Sim, who I met on Tumblr eight years ago, brought me to a cafe specifically for a bacon sandwich that is so good it can, in Sim’s words, cure heartbreak. When I took the train to Manchester to see family, it was Beth, another friend from MySpace days, who brought me on a bar crawl and made me laugh for the first time in days, a sound that we were both happy to hear.
When I returned to London for the final days of my visit, a reservation was made at Brasserie Zedel for a group of us. Friends that I knew from Twitter – Anna, Bianca, Laura – joined Sophie and I, and we all came together to drink and chat and discuss life and love and the mess of it all. Advice was shared (do not let anyone take up real estate in your mind who does not pay the renter’s fee) and whiskey shots were had at one of the best cocktail bars I’ve ever been to. The moment I remember the most was when, on the rooftop of a bar, I looked over London with all of these girls that the world wide web brought me and I felt free. How, even in the worst possible outcome of the entire journey happened, it was those who I only knew from 140 characters and blue iMessages and WhatsApp voice notes that threw me a life vest when I was drowning in waters I didn’t really know
There are always those who choose to not understand online friendships. Sure, you’re friends but you don’t really know each other when you don’t live in the same city, they will say, as if physical closeness means a stronger friendship. It is through my friendships that were cultivated and grown online where I feel seen, valid and heard. So many red strings have survived distance and timing and everything else that occurs when those we love live far away, and I think friendships that can survive all of that have the power to survive anything. It is a miracle to meet anyone at any point, so to find and share a mutual connection with someone online should be considered a different type of friendship altogether; one that does not need the physical body there at any moment, but just needs the words of another soul that understands.
Kelsey J Barnes | @kelseyjbarnes
Kelsey J Barnes is a freelance writer from Toronto, Canada. She likes drinking coffee, writing about her feelings, reading memoirs, and collecting an alarming number of copies of Peter Pan. You can follow her on Twitter and read more of her work on her blog.