Illusion of familiarity…

‘The charm of the unknown is gone and the charm of familiarity has not yet come. We’ll survive it.’
Erich Maria Remarque, Arch of Triumph: A Novel of a Man Without a Country

You know Girl on the Net, right? You’re reading my blog so you must know Girl on the Net! She’s the blogger we secretly want to be; she’s among the most successful and she’s pretty fucking fantastic. Doesn’t every sex blogger know Girl on the Net? (Seriously, if you don’t – click here and read everything she’s ever written, I can wait…)

I’ve been reading GOTN for years; I think I can thank her for drawing me into the blogging world in the first place, discovering others through her recommendations and following these threads to more and more extraordinary writing. Her own writing is thigh-clenchingly hot. But it’s also witty, sex-positive, sometimes ranty and always enlightening. Oh yes, I’m a fan!

And if you’d have asked, I’d probably have said that I know GOTN. I’ve not met her, but I feel like I know her. She’s pretty open about her fantasies and tastes, she’s laid out strong opinions on a variety of topics, and she’s written about her real life – real relationships, both good and bad, growing up, wonderful and awful experiences, and about mistakes and regret. She’s shared so much of her life, how can I not feel that I know her?

Except, of course, that that’s complete and utter bullshit.

I’ve just finished reading GOTN’s new book, How A Bad Girl Fell In Love, which was published earlier this month and it’s an absolute triumph. This isn’t meant to be a review as such so just believe me that it’s fantastic and buy it. Buy it now!

But what I enjoyed most about it was that it revealed her GOTN persona to be exactly that – a persona; an image of herself that she has carefully cultivated to create a super hot sex blogging wonder woman. It’s not all of who she is in any way. Writing now as ‘Sarah,’ talking about being GOTN, she exposes parts of her life that she’s kept out of GOTN’s – her struggles with mental health, her relationship with Mark, and how hard she works to be GOTN. It was kind of incredible to read. And perhaps for the first time in her writing, I found that the sex came second to the rest of the story rather than leading the way. Her writing is so honest and eloquent about other areas that I wanted to read more of that and may not have noticed if there was less sex, stunningly hot as it was.

Reading her book, I felt that I both knew more and less about the real person – more because she’s shared more with us, and so much less because it became clear that even the most vocal and articulate of writers can have extraordinary hidden depths; a fact that I’m almost ashamed to admit that I had forgotten. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that Sarah is as much an artificial face as GOTN, protecting both her real identity and her real self. But I now admire GOTN so much more for getting it right; for being that sex blogging wonder woman so successfully.

GOTN isn’t the only time I may have fallen for this false sense of closeness. Although I was pretty scared about first meeting someone I only knew because of his blog, I was reassured by reading it – enough people seemed to like him that he couldn’t really be a serial killer, and I liked the man I read into his posts. But knowing him as I do now, this published intimacy was only just the surface. Obviously, there is so much to him than what he shares.

Again, he’s not the only one. There are other bloggers who I would consider better friends than our brief meetings might suggest because I read their blogs. And still others who I haven’t met at all who I feel somehow close to when I actually know nothing real about them, only what they’ve chosen to share on Twitter and their blogs.

I started wondering if this was true of other sex bloggers, or with blogging in general. (Or is it just me??) Does the informality of this aspect of social media foster false illusions of familiarity, or is it more specifically a risk with sex and relationship blogging? Do you think you know me? Subtle hints at my job and infrequent mentions of non-sex subjects may colour your picture of me, but should that picture really be any more than just faceless photos and stories about sex? If you met me, would you be surprised or disappointed? I only share good thoughts, interesting stories and, of course, only discuss sex and relationships. There’s so much more that makes me who I am that I don’t share – my work, my family, my social awkwardness, rubbish days, hard times…

I do suspect that this sense of familiarity is worse with sex blogging, possibly because sex bloggers write about subjects that are traditionally private and intimate, creating exactly the deception of acquaintance that would lead someone to think that they know you. If I am confiding in you, sharing my sex life in vivid detail and discussing personal and sometimes difficult relationship subjects, we must be friends. And as there are areas that I only share here, we must be pretty close, aren’t we? Do the other more everyday details even matter if you know what turns me on or how my heart works?

The majority of the time, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this closeness. In fact, the community spirit is one of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed being part of the sex blogger world and it’s what’s given me the confidence to develop my blog and, well, become who I am now. I value the friendships that I have made, regardless of how superficial or not they may be, and I am looking forward to meeting other bloggers and writers at Eroticon and other similar future events.

But sometimes it doesn’t work out so positively. Sometimes this delusional closeness encourages people to behave in ways that they may not towards perfect strangers – offering well meaning but unwanted advice, persisting in asking questions about the writer’s personal lives, all the way along the spectrum to harassment and abuse. Would these trolls speak to randomers in the street this way? Maybe some of them would, but I suspect a large proportion feel that they just taking part in a mutually agreed discussion or conversation. That they’re on the inside, that they’re part of the inner circle, that the writer would be grateful for their insight.

I am fortunate enough to have avoided any negativity with my blog so far, but I know that it is really only a matter of time. As a women who writes about sex, I have accepted that this lack of criticism is more a sign that my blog is too small and unnoticed, and not that what I write about is more acceptable. And I’m not sure that that’s OK.

So where does this leave us? Clearly, harassment is always wrong and we should discourage this attitude wherever and however possible, but I would be very sad to lose the sense of belonging that has allowed me to make connections with otherwise complete strangers. I like that I have made friends in this online space, I like that I am comfortable enough that I can say and share what I do. I just don’t know how to make it…safer.

Maybe it’s a question of perspective. My surprise at the realisation that I don’t know GOTN at all despite reading her blog is perhaps more a sign of how well she writes and not how mistaken I was. It’s all a part of that community spirit that I value and I do have enough perspective to know that she’s not a friend. I wouldn’t cross any line to assume actual familiarity or acquaintance (and am actually pretty terrified of sending this to her as I don’t know if writing about her in this way is indeed crossing that line!)

Because friendships can form on these platforms, but they require the same work and process that friendships would in real life. And all those who violate this process to jump straight in to criticise and abuse should just be told to fuck off. You’re ruining it for everyone.

19 thoughts on “Illusion of familiarity…

  1. Livvy a thoughtful post on so many levels and I TOTALLY agree friendships develop but need the same amount of work as friendships in ‘real’ life, I came to realise this late on and it’s not easy keeping up with an email relationship begun through WP, yes rewarding but by no means easy. Great post.

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  2. (Add on) You ask the question does informality intimacy and honesty through WP blogging mean you’d like and recognise the person in real life? By recognise I mean would they be the same person as witnessed through their blog. From personal experience (I wrote a post after) I met with a blogger last summer, initially on the day we talked over coffees in a railway station cafe, saw we hit it off and then had a picnic by a river, lovely day but alas no romance.

    Back to your question, BOTH of us recognised each other, both said we were the same as seen through our writing, it was even a little spooky, on the one level we both understood each other’s personality and wicked sense of humour, on another we both knew secrets that are unknown to another living soul in ‘real’ life, like I said our blog honesty was a commonality which helped break the ice and again she was exactly the same as the woman in her blog. Hope that helps

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  3. I enjoyed this post, Livvy, and I was going to say ‘thoughtful post’ before I saw XandrewX say it… because it is. As a new blogger to this ‘world of writing’ as opposed to mainstream blogging (which I have done for years)I am trying to feel my way. I can see how you can begin to think you know someone by what they are writing, or showing, but you really can’t. Especially when so much of this is pretty anonymous. You are right, online friendship is born out of a longterm relationship that grows over time.

    I welcome constructive criticism because I want to be the best I can be, and be interesting and a pleasure to read. But there is a time and place for that.

    p.s. I have read GOTN and enjoy her blog, as I do yours.

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  4. This resonates strongly with me. I don’t have a blog but I subscribe to lots and read/lurk on lots more. And I have my ‘favourites’ whose ‘sex lives’ I ‘follow’. (Scared I now sound like a stalker or that groupie hanger on who doesn’t quite get it). Sometimes I forget they’re being very selective in what they share because of the intimacy and because the writing is often very good. I think certain types of sex blogging leads to greater feelings of intimacy with the reader – especially if events driven. Oddly also having read GOTN for a few years, hers is not one I would put into that category. I also think another variable is why we read (as well as why you write) – I read different blogs for different reasons,: outright nosiness, intellectual curiosity, to be educated, to laugh, and to be turned on. Each of those reasons leads to a different layer of presumed connection with the writer.

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  5. Would you want to know the full truth?

    Let’s be honest the day to day of anyone’s life isn’t all that intersting. You have come to a blog to read about (in GotN’s case) sex. If you got stories about work or going down the shops you wouldn’t stick around.

    So it is just edited down to the juicy bits. Sometimes to protect the innocent some times just to make it more fun. That is what any good writer should do.

    But you are right it is easy to see that as who they are, and even feel close to them because of what they have shared. Especially in the case of someone like GOTN who crafts it so seamlessly.

    I see it like meeting someone at a party. They have amazing stories, they are funny, they are someone who is just fun. But that is their party face, the real them can be very different.

    I don’t see it as bad, just understand I only see a part they want to show. I’m sure this isn’t all who you are either. But it is still great.

    See you at Eroticon.

    Andrew

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  6. i think you are wrong to think your blog is small and unnoticed. i look at the idea of why do we have blogs? To connect with like-minded people. If that is a small, but committed group and you get something out of the interaction you are a success. I am really looking forward to meeting you, from the illusion of familiarity i have with you! xxx

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  7. As always – so many good points in this, Livvy. I blogged for 7 years at another site — all nonfiction, personal essay type stuff. I made so many dear friends who I still adore and respect to this day. One way I look at it — and mind you, I’m in Los Angeles — is that the illusions that people present occur IRL, too. Framing, context, and image all come in to play whether we’re in our skin or “merely” words and pictures on a screen. Sometimes something in that framing, context and image that someone has presented seeps through in a way that resonates and connections are formed…… now I’m rambling…. 🙂 pardon me. Thank you for another great post! xxM

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  8. I would love to meet people IRL that I’ve met on the internets. I’m sure it’s weird since people already know too much, but lots of people know TMI about me if they follow our blog and my shenanigans on Facebook too. It’s just the way it is.

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  9. Very insightful and truthful…
    For now though…
    Maybe harassment is currently a quintessential part of the Internet at this particular point in space-time. Maybe in these days before we invent a working troll-filter, we each have to decide whether “all publicity is good publicity” or whether we’re going to be meticulous comment-moderator spiders in our corner of the web.

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  10. I thought something similar to what Melina says when I was reading this – that I think an illusion of familiarity often exists with people we know in real life. I talk about sex all the time with my friends or anyone who cares to listen (often strangers in pubs), but I rarely talk about my feelings, especially when they’re bad feelings. Because I’m so open about my sexuality, however, people really open up to me in beautiful and unexpected ways, potentially because they feel close to me. I had a similar reaction in reading GOTN’s book. The tone of the book is completely different than the blog, and I love it because it feels more real (especially as she talks about apathy, fear, anxiety, and mixed feelings about being in a long-term relationship), even though as the entire point of this blog post maintains, it’s still a crafted narrative of a persona.

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