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What Makes Online Friendships Work?

Getting close to new friends in a virtual world is easier than ever.

There are three ways by which we typically find new friends. The first is propinquity, or proximity, to potential friends. The second path to new friendships is through involvement in shared activities. Lastly, life events, such as entering school or having a child, are the third path via which we find new friends.

Face-to-Face Relationship Factors

Research shows that we prefer friends we believe are similar to us and who have personalities that we enjoy; this decreases the possibility for interpersonal conflict. A potential friend’s level of attractiveness is relevant in the initial stages of friendship. Americans tend to be drawn towards beauty and we tend to believe that attractive people are more like us in their attitudes and values—regardless of where we actually rank ourselves in the world of beauty or style. This seemingly innate predilection for attractive people has been studied and some interesting things have turned up. For one, an attractive face will appear familiar to us, fostering a feeling that we have already interacted with the person before—even though we have not. This feeling of recognition may partly explain why we are initially drawn to attractive people—they may help us feel comfortable in social situations. It is still unproven whether attractive women actually have more friends than less attractive women; in fact, research suggests that we pretty much choose friends that we rank at the same level of attractiveness that we rank ourselves. We also prefer friends with strong social skills—this makes friendship development that much easier for both parties. Not only do healthy social skills facilitate a budding friendship, but research also reveals that when someone shares positive words with us, a feeling of familiarity arises within us. We are simply drawn to those people in whose presence we feel comfortable.

Friendship Development Speeds may Vary

Most often, friendships ease forward following a path of increasing closeness. Occasionally, though, friendships can materialize out of nowhere. This almost instant recognition of a like soul could be termed the “click factor,” and it’s been described as feeling as if a person has known someone for years even though they had just met. There are as many different personalities as there are individuals and friendships can develop between unlikely pairs. There are some friends with whom we “just click,” and we recognize early on that our personalities are a good match. In other situations, we may develop a friendship more slowly over time. Just as absence might make the heart grow fonder, continuing exposure may also bring familiarity and fondness. For the most part, we like predictable situations – change is never easy and most of us resist it whenever feasible. Thus, friendships between even unlikely pairs can materialize when routines result in sustained proximity.

Virtual Friendships that Grow Remarkably Close

Regarding individuals that you might only know through online interaction – whether it’s corporate contacts on the job or forum-friends on your favorite fan site, support site, or Pinterest site, you can generally check off all three factors: shared interests are what typically bring a person to a specific internet site. There is also a high likelihood for corresponding life events – such as the case for forums for expecting mothers, sufferers of a specific illness, and so on. It is very likely that you may never actually meet any of these folks face-to-face, but that does not hold back the sense of connection that is built.

More and more of us are developing online friendship groups and if someone ever stops to wonder about their own involvement and interest in the lives of their virtual buddies, it’s not too hard to understand how these relationships grow. You have found people who share your interests or engage in similar activities and the propinquity factor is off the charts! How much closer could we get to someone than to sit with them each evening over a cup of coffee or tea, glass of wine, or bottle of beer – in your own home, no less! Whether you carry your virtual social support network around in your pocket via your smart phone or hang out at Starbucks via your laptop, these wireless connections reflect the friendship building block basics regardless of how geographically divergent your paths might be.

How strong is your social support network? Do your friends and family help keep you healthy?

If you would like to take part in a new research study designed to explore the relationship between social support and overall well-being, please follow this link: