Online Friendships Sparking Connection in Florida and Beyond

A rapport that starts with a click is helping people overcome loneliness.

Group of friends laughing.

(digitalskillet /

In our post-pandemic era, loneliness remains a reality for many, with surveys like this worldwide poll of 142 countries and territories from Gallup showing that at least a quarter of people feel lonely. But help is very much available to the lonely online, as the Tampa Bay Times highlights. An article in this newspaper calls our online world a life raft that helps us form lasting bonds with like-minded people in friendships that often spill over into the real world. 

Significantly, there’s even a National Internet Friends Day, celebrated on February 13 each year, reports National Today. This is because internet friendships have become a natural extension of people’s need for connections, and are often as valued and lasting as in-person friendships as life gets busier.

Sparking close connections with like-minded people online
The Tampa Bay Times zooms in on an enduring friendship between two women, kickstarted when Julie Adair, an amateur candle maker looking for feedback on fragrant blends, and Kelli Hart, a single mom who loves candles, connected on a Dunedin Facebook group.  The women cultivated an online friendship that soon took in other shared interests. They discovered that they’d been living a street apart for around a decade. They met up in person, and their lives have become intertwined ever since. They even enjoy “Sunday Funday” poolside days when they pretend they’re on vacation. 

Others, such as this PureWow writer, have also honestly shared their experience of meeting up with their online friends in the real world, charting how a slight feeling of apprehension turned into mutual joy about their friendship.

Hart explains to the Tampa Bay Times that theirs is the kind of magical friendship that can feel like a rarity, especially for women approaching middle age.  Neighbors don’t talk like they did, she believes, and folks focus on their phones and themselves, instead of chatting.

The paper also profiles Kelsey Behnke, a woman who moved to the Tampa Bay area in 2020 to care for her niece. The loneliness she experienced, and not knowing how to create a new network of real friends was hard to handle until she created “Tampa Bay  Socialite Babes” on social media, a group that now has 7000 members! The page description starts with “Hey girl hey!! Welcome to the FRIEND ZONE…. Let’s support one another and have fun at this thing we call life!”

While meet-up groups aren’t new, for next-gen folks including migrant workers living more transient lifestyles, and often working from home or in hybrid job positions,  this route to forming friendships feels alluring.  

A Bustle wellness article exploring how friendships can form online shares some good examples of successful online to real-world friendships. Kelsey Fehlberg started a Twitter account to connect with fellow K-pop fans and is now part of a group of superfans with an active WhatsApp chat. While the writer discusses how most people aren’t conditioned to view digital interactions as a meaningful bond, she sees this as a mistaken assumption, as such friendships can bring joy, fulfilment and a sense of connection. 

Bustle quotes a 2021 study on the state of American friendships by the Survey Center on American Life. This shows that four in ten Americans have online-only friendships.

Pushing back against the ‘loneliness epidemic’
In May 2023, as Forbes details, The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivrk Murthy, released an 85-page report declaring loneliness a new public health epidemic in the US. It emphasizes that relationships are a source of well-being hiding in plain sight and can help us live healthier, more fulfilled and productive lives.

This report tracks the decline in social connections, especially among young people, and shows that half of US adults are lonely, an experience that impacts negatively on mental as well as physical health. The need to rebuild the social fabric through social connections is seen as the antidote to this crisis. 

Murthy has written a bestselling book on the healing power of social connections. He insists that what matters in connections with others is not the medium of the connection; whether it happens virtually or in person, but the quality of the interaction. Or as a Guardian article writer puts it, “you don’t necessarily have to be with someone to connect with them, and that being in someone’s company doesn’t mean you’re connecting.”

This respect for the quality relationships she has formed online is apparent in a recent digital culture article published in The Michigan Daily by Katelyn Silwinski entitled “Odes to internet friends.” 

Saluting the quality of these lasting friendships over the years, the writer thinks of these online spaces as real and tangible places as they are where so many of her vivid memories with friends took place. “The people I meet there play a more essential role than the channels themselves. Amid all of the negative discourse about the internet, I want to share some joy; I have made true friends through platforms like Instagram and Discord, and I want to give my flowers to those friendships and explain how they have inspired my journey,” she says.

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