One thing you learn when you spend time online is that it's a big, big world-with a little of everything and everyone in it. But you also learn that it's a small world-a place where you can find your group, support system, best friend, passion and so much more. A place where making connections can change your life…forever. Here, four women whose lives were altered by an online connection.
The Unlikely Best Friend
Ruth Atherly, a 51-year-old business owner in Gibsons, British Columbia, went online about four years ago to find support in her efforts to lose weight. Inspired by the TV show The Biggest Loser, she signed on to their site, through which she joined a support group with about 15 others. It wasn't long before one member's contributions stood out. "Tammie got my jokes," says Ruth of her new online pal. Before long, their online connection deepened, and they took their relationship off The Biggest Loser forum. Ruth says, "I'm not sure when the friendship shifted into something more personal, but it might have been around the time I realized that if I didn't get an email from her for a few days, I missed it." Tammie, she adds, is the sister she never realized she wanted. On paper, the two women shouldn't get along. Tammie's a Southerner, from Kentucky; Ruth's Canadian through and through. Their politics, their life choices, everything would seem to indicate they shouldn't be so intensely connected. And yet they are. These days, the two women talk on the phone at least once a week (while continuing their emails), and have met in person; Tammie traveled to Canada, and recently both met in Las Vegas with their husbands (which they plan to make an annual jaunt). To what does Ruth attribute their unusually close, improbable connection? "I think there are people out there you just feel instantly safe with, who get you. She's authentic, never judgmental and always able to see things from others' perspectives. I feel very fortunate to have found her."
The Motivational Group
Abby Smyers, 29, lives alone in Dayton, Montana. A few years back, after a rough patch in her life, she was on a plane coming home from a trip to Egypt, writing about her experiences in her journal. A woman sitting behind her leaned forward to say hello. "She said, 'I see you like to journal. After we take off, there's something I want to share with you,'" recalls Abby. They started discussing how journaling is a great way to sort out your feelings and ended up talking for 12 hours straight. After the plane landed, the woman asked Abby to join a small online group of women-there are seven in all now-who connect daily via email. They call themselves I AM Chicks. "We share our intentions for the day, then comment on each other's intentions, offering support and encouragement." What began as a spiritual practice for the group-to increase gratitude and create positive feeling-has also morphed into the usual stuff of nurturing female friendships. They discuss business ventures, love lives, houses and kids-even gossip. The online nature of the group's communication, says Abby, means that the normal getting-to-know-you stuff was thrown out the window. "Our ages, our professions, our families, where we went to college-that stuff doesn't matter. We skipped right to intense communication; it's like we're all one heart." Just last year, the group decided it was time to meet in person, and have decided to make annual trips to one member's house each year. That one serendipitous moment on that plane changed Abby's life-online, and off.
Support for a Health Issue
Laura Watson was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 10. In the ensuing years, she took good care of herself. "I am very independent, and wanted to handle it all on my own," says Laura, who is now 31 and lives in Laurel Springs, North Carolina. But when she reached college, her control slipped. "I rarely checked my blood sugar, and would guess how much insulin to take. In my 20s, I continued to struggle, crying in doctors' waiting rooms as I made up blood sugar numbers to put in my logbook. I was barely getting by." Through her job with a nonprofit organization, Laura took a class that involved researching other nonprofits, and stumbled onto the Diabetes Sisters website, which brings together women living with all types of diabetes. "There were all these women my age in the same boat, but they were healthy and in control of their lives," says Laura. "I decided to start corresponding with one member in California," which helped her sort out her resistance to taking control of her condition. In fact, she credits the support of her fellow online female diabetics for helping her turn her attitude about her condition-and her life-around. "The online component makes it less intimidating; it feels safe to seek advice that way rather than face-to-face." In the past year and a half since she joined Diabetes Sisters, she's lost 40 lbs, started running again (she plans to run a marathon this November) and keeps her blood sugar in control. "You can get wonderful support from family and friends, but it's not the same as from someone who's going through the same thing because she's been there, too."
The Long-Lost Friend
When Jennifer Langrotteria was in kindergarten, in Tuxedo Park, New York, she met Martha at the private school they both attended. The two little girls, one blonde, one brunette, quickly became inseparable. "Literally!" says Jennifer. "One time, after a weekend-long sleepover, we actually glued our hands together because we didn't want to part." Through the second grade, the two girls were tighter than twin sisters, and counted each other's family as their own. But some time after the second grade, Martha's family moved to New Jersey. "We saw each other once, but then some time after that, they moved again, this time to Wisconsin." Perhaps because they were still just little girls-combined with the fact that there was no Internet back then to make staying in contact easier-they lost touch. Thirty years elapsed, until one day, on Facebook, Jennifer started thinking of her old friend, as she had many times over the years. "I searched for her name and a few Facebook users with the same name popped up. I sent a message to a few that I thought could be her, and sure enough, one of them was. She got right back to me." As if no time had elapsed, the women started chatting on Facebook, via email and soon by phone, catching up about family and jobs and the past. "We talked for an hour that first time," says Jennifer. "I have friends who are closer, but Martha's my link with the past. Also, though I never stopped thinking about her, it took something like Facebook to get me to try to find her. Before that, I wouldn't have known how to begin."
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