What Meeting My Internet Friend IRL After 10 Years Taught Me About Adult Friendships

Were we even really friends?

a illo of two friends high fiving on smartphones
Dasha Burobina/PureWow

Last month, my friend of ten years reached out to make dinner plans. It may sound like a regular thing to do with a pal…but this was the first time I was meeting Jay in person. See, our friendship of a decade had been cultivated via screen. We’d only ever spoken online through social media after “meeting” as struggling college students who had a common obsession interest in Glee—we hit it off immediately in a chatroom dedicated to the silly singing show. And even as we hit milestones—college, graduation, first jobs—without ever hanging IRL, we stayed friends, checking in constantly during the pandemic, celebrating our career wins or comforting each other through loss.

But when a work conference pulled Jay into New York City for the first time this November, we were suddenly going to be taking our online friendship into the wild. It made me think about the nature of our digital relationship and the significance of this first meeting. What if things went south? What if I wasn’t what she pictured? What if she thought I was a fraud? What if our friendship was merely something I made up in my head? And most importantly, were we really even friends?

To put it mildly, I was anxious. The idea of this meet-up had devolved into a test I so desperately wanted to pass. And then, waiting outside the restaurant, I heard someone timidly call out my name. I looked up, and there was Jay. After ten years, we were finally face to face. At first, we stood there awkwardly wondering if we should shake on it (like old business pals) or hug it out. We went with the latter, and my anxiety washed away as we embraced, reminding me that she was not actually a stranger. Once seated, we hit a rhythm, catching up on our families, friends, jobs, our lack of a dating life and so forth without missing a beat. It was just as easy as an online conversation, except we got to show our real-life reactions and personality quirks. 

Initially, we were going to part ways after dinner—a safe, non-awkward out for both of us. A few days prior, though, Jay had mentioned trying to catch a Broadway show, but for fear of coming on too strong, I didn’t push it. But as I found myself opening up more at dinner, I think maybe Jay noticed too, and it was enough for her to ask to me to join her to one of her favorite shows. 

The rest of the night, we were old buddies. From weaving through bustling Times Square together to sitting shoulder to shoulder in the theater, we hit two friendship milestones, this time, together, in person. The first: Jay was comfortable enough getting emotional during the show (how is that not real friendship points?) and the second: I was willing to leave my bag with her as I headed to the bathroom during intermission. (As a native New Yorker, this act is BIG.) 

Maybe it’s obvious, but building up trust doesn’t happen easily for me. I tend to keep my friendships at arm’s length. I’ve been burned before, and I’ve grown protective of myself and my feelings. But there were just so many instances throughout this night with Jay that reminded me that we were both putting in the effort to add this new layer to our friendship. It wasn’t one-sided. We were meeting in the middle, even though it was probably new territory for the both of us. 

After the show, we shifted from chats into text messages—a simple act that holds so much more weight than sharing a social handle to me. As we finally went our separate ways, I realized that all my insecurities and doubts I had before we met stemmed from a place I never fully addressed.

For a long time, I gave up on trying to make (or hold onto) IRL friends. I just found it easier to build a friendship online because the stakes were lower. I could hide behind emojis and quippy abbreviations instead of exposing my authentic self. But that day I was finally able to step out of my digital bubble and be 100 percent myself—like all those times in the chat room back in 2013. Jay gave me the space to shift my ideas on friendships. On the bus ride home from our meet-up, I realized that I was ready to step up, be more vulnerable and just take a chance.

As I sent the first text, I smiled and felt confident to finally answer the question I'd been asking myself: Yes, we are really friends.

I Went to a TikTok Meet Up to Make New Friends in NYC and Here’s What It Was *Really* Like

about face matte fluid eye paint review chelsea candelario

Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...