Traveling Dog Lady: virtual strangers

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

virtual strangers

I find myself a part of a cultural phenomenon. It doesn't surprise me that I'm so "mainstream" -- I've always been into pop-culture. Check my 36-year addiction to the ABC soap All My Children, my obsession with the band Bon Jovi, and a slathering of other mainstream, pop icons and fads that I've gotten sucked into over this lifetime. (As I'm writing this, Gil yells upstairs to me to turn on Larry King Live because CNN is re-running Larry's recent interview with none other than the gorgeous, talented, mega-talented, oh, did I say gorgeous, Jon Bon Jovi!).

But the phenomenon I am writing about today is that of virtual relationships. I belong to several "groups" on the internet. A couple of dog-behavior groups, and a couple of fibromyalgia groups. The people on these groups, including me, go out of their way to help the other members of the group. Now, we group members, except for a select few, have never met by telephone, we've certainly never met in person.

We are virtual strangers.

All of this communicating is being done on the keyboard. Everybody out-doing each other, or trying to, in writing, advice-giving, spelling and humor. I cannot count the number of times I've presented to one of these groups with a problem, and someone from a different state... shit sometimes from foreign countries... will reach out with answers, suggestions, compassion and humor. Most times this advice is bandied about on the group itself, for "public" consumption, as long as you're a member of the group. But other times -- and this is the part that is most incredible -- other times people will email me privately. Virtual strangers, reaching out to little ol' me, spending their time thinking about my problem and writing to me about it.

Just this weekend, I received lengthy emails from at least four group members offering me advice, educating me, and assisting me with my various "issues". One guy helped me with some photos I was having trouble posting to And two other ladies gave me some invaluable knowledge about more personal matters.

These groups are the support groups that I attended 20 years ago in person, only better. From the comfort and privacy of your own home, you are invited to attend the support group meeting. You can do it 24/7, and communicate with like-minded individuals from all over the world. The concept is mind-blowing, and it's taken off like a rocket. Two of the groups I belong to have over 2,000 members apiece.

And, just as with interpersonal relationships of any kind, whether it be family, friends, co-workers, the same dynamics come into play. People get offended and get into arguments. The moderator has to step in and put an end to it. Sometimes, people get so offended, they quit the group (I left one dog group for 2 months this fall, and have just recently returned. I used to do that frequently with the for-real groups back in the 80s! The more things change...) Sometimes, everybody works it out and things end up being rather humorous. Some of the groups have extremely strict rules, and some are all about fun, fun, fun.

Oh, and did you know that I'm Time Magazine's Person of the Year?



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  3. It's been a couple days since I wrote this blog, entitled virtual strangers. I have changed my tune. Today was a very odd day for me anyway, I was depressed probably because the holiday madness is over, and it's probably that time of the month, winter is here and there is not enough sunlight.

    On one of the internet groups that I belong to, I got into a topic today and made some remarks to which another user asked where I had gotten that information. Since I was getting ready for work, I posted a response that said, "I'll look into it and get back to the group." Hours later, after a ton of research, I compiled a lengthy response and inadvertently used the words "To back up my statements made earier today". In the reply, I re-typed several paragraphs from a number of publications, having done this as if it was a research paper for college. The broad topic was the assumption by some experts that fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are, or MAY BE, the same disorder -- and are in fact considered or treated as such by some of the "experts" who write books on the subject and run large FM/CFS units at various well-known hospitals. Being one who is always up on the latest research, and having read everything I could get my hands on having to do with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, lupus and multiple sclerosis, I have self-educated to a fault.

    Some time after posting this very well-thought-out response to the challenge presented to me by another group member, I saw to my horror a public post by a third group member which said, " I could refute everything you said by doing research to "back up" the opposite claim. What is your point in all of this anyway? Do you just need to be right all the time?"

    I look upon these internet groups as similar to an AA group, another kind of support group, or even a group of business people. There are rules, one of them being to be polite to other group members. An air of professionalism is what's called for. In all my 46, nearly 47 years of membership in various groups in society, AA groups and business committees, no one has EVER made such a remark about me publicly. I was sickened. I physically began shaking, sitting at my desk, composing my one-line reply which would be seen by the entire group, "Ummm.... because someone asked!"

    This isn't the first time this has happened to me on one of these internet groups. I got into a big tussle on one of the dog groups, because I was ridiculed for having never neutered my two male dogs, among other things. I quit that group, a group I really enjoyed, and did return after two months. In the meantime, I joined a smaller, much more fun group of "doggie-group defectors" who started the smaller group partly for this very reason I'm writing about here.

    This strange phenomenon, these virtual stranger relationships, are a thing to be studied, a lesson in human society and psychology to be sure.

    Back to the fibromyalgia group: I found the member's private email address, and wrote her a short email (that took a lot of restraint!) informing her that my feelings were hurt, that I was deeply offended by her remark, which she had made publicly, and which was unforgivable. I told her that another group member had asked me where I had read about the two syndromes being considered "the same", and that I had put a ton of work into my response. I told her obviously she had overlooked that post from this morning where the person had asked me where I got my information. I told her "I don't even KNOW you, and you're saying these things publicly to me?" I was incensed.

    In real life, I go to great lengths to be non-confrontational. If someone hurts my feelings, I stuff it and don't tell them. This, of course, makes me sick physically and emotionally, and isn't any good, and the person gets away with the bad behavior. But on the internet groups, it's the complete opposite. I do not hesitate to confront, speak my mind and tell people off. I do it quite eloquently, if I do say so myself! I don't use vulgarities and I try not to personally attack the other person who just personally attacked ME. I need to bottle that and bring it to the real-life table.

    In the years that I have been working in business, and lemme tell you there have been some heated meetings and moments, no one has ever had the balls to accuse me of always having to be right. They may have thought it of me. But they would never say it to my face. The same is true of the countless 12-step and other support groups I've belonged to "in person." The same protocol should be required on internet groups.

    After I sent the private email to the lady, I immediately quit the group. Boy, was THAT empowering!

    When I was a child, teachers would write on my report card "Does not participate in class." Why, even some of them thought I was mute because I did not speak for months. Somewhere along the line, I turned a corner, became nothing less than "class clown" and one of the loudest people I know. I'm not necessarily proud of that, it is just a fact. I also started being "a joiner". I joined AA, I joined other support groups, I joined this, I joined that -- gym memberships, yoga classes, you name it, I joined it and then dropped it. That's what makes the world go 'round. Variety is the spice of life and all that baloney.

    Being "a joiner" on these internet groups can be bad. First of all, I'm one of these people who has to respond to friggin' everything. So, I end up spending hours every day writing to these virtual strangers. Then, I "get into it" with someone, and we get all defensive and the next thing you know I'm pissed off and I'm quitting. And so, that's what happened today.

    To tell you the truth it is a blessing that I quit that group. I was spending a lot of time each day dwelling on my pain and fatigue symptoms, and not a lot of time enjoying life.

    I re-joined the dog group a couple weeks ago. I no longer post to every reply. Most of the time, I "lurk" -- that means reading the posts but doing my best not to respond unless I truly can be helpful. I was working way too much for the dog group last summer, too, and it took its toll. These things can be addictive, and not good for you. Sit on your arse and type for several hours, when you could be out walking your dog. Not a good thing! When I left that group, people begged me to come back (pant, pant, woof! woof!)

    Those are my thoughts on virtual strangers today. I wonder if that woman is getting reprimanded by the rest of the group. I won't log back in to find out. I'm done. I doubt anybody'll be begging me to come back.

  4. Update: The virtual stranger and I ended 2006 on a good note. She had gone back into the group's postings and corresponded with the list owner, and realized that I had prepared my lengthy report in response to a challenge made by the list owner herself. The virtual stranger copied and pasted all of the email correspondence between herself and the list owner, and emailed it to me, along with her apology and her request that I re-join the group.

    In the meantime, I too had been emailing the list owner, who was urging me to return to the group.

    I shared those emails with virtual stranger.

    I suggested that we put this behind us and start fresh, and hoped we could become virtual friends. Virtual stranger agreed.

    I should be re-joining the group soon, but in the meantime I joined three other fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome groups -- just so I'm covered!


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