Before coming into tech, I saw my friends weekly. I’ve never had a lot of friends, but I’ve had friends. You know, the kind that know you and understand you and you can break into random songs in front of one minute, shit-talk them in a board game the next minute, and then break down and cry when they ask, “Are you doing ok today?” We all had the same zipcode, and regional understanding - there’s something unique and interesting and beautiful about living in an Appalachian region. When I got my first job in tech this started to change. When the pandemic hit, this changed.

No one felt close anymore because we were isolated in our homes. We were literally trying to stay far away from each other. There weren’t friendships of proximity anymore - you know the kind where your kids are the same age and you go to the same park playdates together. We played in our own backyards. And for a while, things were really hard.

But from the ashes, a light appeared and we were renewed because we all had each other everywhere. We found friendships online. We found ways to safely share the challenges, the despair, the heartache, and we started to laugh again. We found that we could deeply connect with people across timezones we didn’t even know existed prior to our interactions. We grew together because we were connected by a trauma that no one had ever anticipated. And we all had a baseline of understanding each other’s lives. It was an unprecedented event in history that brought us together, deeply together.

But we also had to learn to experience sorrow together. And sometimes - the world was already so heavy - some people couldn’t be there anymore. It was hard, but we understood. There are depths of sorrow that none of us were prepared for. When we lost a friend who we had never met, but felt like we had known each other forever, there was a weird internal negotiation that happened.

What does it mean to lose a friend you’ve never hugged? What does it mean to support a group of friends online who have lost someone? How do you grieve together online? How do you survive when it’s your job to reach out to people and let them know over and over and over again that someone in your friend group has died? How do you survive being responsible for conversations about something that aches so deeply in your soul and that no one has prepared you for?

There’s a new sorrow now, the sorrow of being a hybrid friend. You feel torn between being friends with the people you see every day and the people who you see online every day. You feel like you’re not giving enough to the in person friends or the online friends. You’re being stretched, and the pain of being pulled in two directions is exhausting and excruciating. You feel like you have to make a choice.

It’s always easier to walk away from people you don’t run into in the milk aisle.

Being a hybrid friend is hard. A lot of us have met each other irl (in real life), and something about that solidifies the experience for a while. But being an online friend somehow defies object permanence. Kids might realize that the ball is hiding behind the couch, but when you’re an adult with a busy life and responsibilities, it’s hard.

I’m not judging anyone. In some ways, life is harder now than it was in 2020 because it’s full. My kids have activities, they want to go places, I want to go places. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but we had totally separate lives for a couple of years and that became the norm. And now we have a new norm and we’re trying to figure out how to merge and blend the two, but they’re just two different songs altogether.

I don’t know how to make a harmony out of this. I know that it’s hard. And I want you to know that it’s ok for it to be hard and to make hard decisions. I still think part of this is realizing that our lives will never be the same. We have all be changed because of our shared trauma, and that complicates things. We can’t go back to what things were before, because none of us are who we were before. We can’t deny the challenges and sorrows we faced in the last couple of years, because whether we like it or not, they have deeply impacted every single one of us. But we also can’t deny the beauty that we experienced when we found our people, when there were no people around.