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Friendships from a surprising source

Twenty years ago it would have been highly unlikely to form close friendships with people you’ve never even met.

Yet today it is becoming more and more common through Internet forums.

I never would have believed the rising phenomenon of online friendships had much merit if I hadn’t experienced it firsthand.

When I was pregnant, I started posting on a site for moms and moms-to-be called Babyfit (http://www.babyfit.com).

The message boards on the site are categorized by various topics, including due dates.

When I was pregnant, I posted to the September ’06 board, but when my son was born in August of 2006, I started frequenting that forum instead.

At first, topics of discussion mainly focused on pregnancy and, later, issues with our growing children.

As the months wore on and we settled into our new roles as mothers more comfortably, topics came up more and more frequently on our personal lives.

If someone needed a shoulder to cry on because their grandmother was sick and dying, for instance, they’d start a new thread on their favorite board and within just a few hours, dozens of fellow board members would post and offer support.

It didn’t take long before we all became used to each other as individuals and could rattle off the basic life information of a poster just by looking at her screen name.

The &uot;Babyfit moms&uot; have been an integral part of my life over the last two years.

I find myself talking about them in normal, everyday conversation with other friends and family as if they lived just down the street instead of all across the country.

&uot;The other day, one of my Babyfit friends told me…&uot; is not an uncommon start to a sentence for me, nor for thousands of others who frequent the site.

What started as a shared bond over being pregnant and due in the same month, or having children born in the same month, has morphed into something so much more meaningful.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting three other Babyfit moms and their families for the first time.

I also saw one other mom and her son that I’d met previously.

It isn’t every day you can say that you met some of your best friends for the first time.

Some people might think it’s silly to have such close friendships with people so far away, but honestly I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends.

I know more about them and they about me than many people in my hometown that I’ve known my whole life.

Meeting the &uot;Babyfit girls&uot; this weekend wasn’t the awkward affair it would normally be when people meet for the first time, either.

Instead, it was more like a reunion of sorts – kind of like coming home.

There were no uncomfortable silences, no strange gaps in conversation; instead it was like being with a group of women who’ve known each other for years… which, in a sense, we are.

Though many people still view it as taboo to physically meet others you originally met online (myself included), in this instance it was nothing of the sort.

I felt safer going to meet these ladies than I do walking out my door in the morning, that’s how much we all talk to each other about absolutely anything and everything.

In the beginning on Babyfit, there were hundreds of women on my due date board, but as our children age that number has dwindled to maybe 50 or so extremely active members.

Those of us remaining are so close that when one person doesn’t post for more than a day or so, we start getting emails and text messages from other members concerned as to our whereabouts, just wanting to make sure we’re okay.

That kind of close bond is a rare find even among &uot;real life&uot; friends, I’d say.

After my experience meeting a few of my Babyfit friends this weekend, I recommend to anyone to find an online group that suits your lifestyle.

If you’re not a mother or mother-to-be, then search for other groups.

You might be pleasantly surprised, like me, to find friendships that last a lifetime.

Want to let me know what you think?

Have a suggestion for a future column? Feel free send an email to: jennipher.dickens@r-cnews.com or call (252) 332-7208.