Relationships

Alone Together

How two isolated emos found friendship through Fall Out Boy fandom.

Illustration of two anonymous emo girls with Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy at center.
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Peter Kramer/Getty Images, Thinkstock.

Now that we live in the future, everyone has friendships that began on the web. In “Internet Friends,” writers tell stories of friendships created, maintained, and (sometimes) ended online. To pitch your own Internet Friendship, email humaninterest@slate.com.

Fall Out Boy changed my life, and I mean that totally unironically. After all, it was through the band’s official fan message boards that I met my best friend.

Emo—a term relating to the mid-2000s genre of “emotional” music and all of the teenage angst and eyeliner that accompanied it—has never exactly been cool, and as a teenager growing up in Melbourne, Australia, being associated with it could be incredibly isolating. In the absence of many friends to scream over skinny jeans and moody heartthrobs with, I turned to the internet to search out like-minded fans. It was a Friday in mid-2008 when I first stumbled across the Fall Out Boy boards, and it didn’t take long before I became wholly caught up in this online community.

Like many 16-year-olds of that era, I had heavily negotiated “computer time” on the family desktop in the study. After discovering the boards, I quickly began to spend my weekly computer allowance doing exactly what we were warned not to do—befriending people from around the world on an unmoderated forum and sharing personal information, while pretending to my parents that I was just playing Neopets.

Posts on the boards spanned from band-related content to advice about school, dating, sexuality, fashion, and friendship. It’s no exaggeration to say that the boards were formative for me as an adolescent. Many of the boardies were American, and to this day much of what I know about the United States comes from my time on there. I spent the better part of three years posting, commenting, and feeling connected to people I never would have met otherwise. Over time, many of our friendships moved off the boards to other forms of social media: Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter.

Michaela and I first spoke when I commented on a post she had made asking for new friends to add on MSN Messenger. These posts were common and after months spent online, I wasn’t shy of sharing my details. I remember my excitement at discovering she was from New Zealand—there weren’t a lot of boardies from close to home. Not only that, but Michaela was my age and although we were both shy initially, before long speaking to her via MSN was a regular fixture in my life. Both of us were wannabe emos with friends who tolerated but mostly made fun of us for it. We confided in each other, talked about wishing we went to school in America where there were “real emos,” swapped music, gossiped about the boys in our favorite bands, and gave each other dating advice. Michaela is an incredible artist, and she used photographs of me for some of her artworks; I helped edit one of her English assignments for class. We exchanged messages, then emails, then letters, and eventually swapped gifts at our birthdays.

The last year of high school was a difficult one for me for a whole range of reasons, and I became closer with Michaela, speaking daily as we both struggled with the demands of school, friendships, and growing up feeling uncomfortable in our own skins.

One night in late September of that year, the doorbell rang, and my parents sent me to answer it. I remember clearly a sense of irritation and tears stinging my eyes, frustrated that I couldn’t just go upstairs and be left alone to keep “studying” (or browsing Tumblr, or both). But my anger quickly turned into disbelief when Michaela was standing on the doorstep of my house.

I had already planned to visit her after school finished, but without my knowing she had planned to come to Melbourne for her 18th birthday and had contacted my parents to ask if she could stay with us for a week. Our friends on the boards were almost as excited as we were to see an international meeting take place in person. During that week we spent every waking moment together exploring Melbourne, taking selfies, and spending time with my friends. With a couple of months to go before my final school exams, this was a welcome break, and it served to cement our friendship firmly for the years to come.

Despite the distance, our friendship remains one of the bedrocks of my identity and one of my strongest and longest lasting relationships. Michaela is my go-to friend for both giving and receiving brutal honesty, cheering up, artistic guidance, and support. Naturally, we’re incredibly different people compared with who we were 10 years ago, but our friendship hasn’t wavered. In the eight years since we first met, we’ve both visited one another on a number of occasions and still speak regularly.

It’s bizarre to think that the very internet I was told to be afraid of was the vehicle that made my most enduring friendship and one of the most influential relationships of my life possible. While the band’s popularity may have fallen in recent years, Fall Out Boy brought Michaela and me together—for that, I’ll always be a fan.

Aisling Grey is a teacher, pop culture aficionado, and freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. She’s still emo in 2018.