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It’s 2019 and we’re all living vicariously.

No, that’s not quite right. We’re all living our own lives, experienced almost vicariously, with online friends as present and prescient as meatspace ones. In place of letters we have email, posts, pictures. Instead of phone calls, texts. And instead of happy hour we have the group chat.

Picking your friends for a group chat is easy. Just start texting one friend, and then see who you’re copy/pasting basically the whole conversation to. Get tired of holding your finger on the screen. Start a new chat with both friends. If they’re not friends yet, they will be soon. This is one of the few places in life where the transitive property of friendship actually exists. Or at least the transitive property of interests.

Talk. Share. Congratulate your gang/squad/chat/whateverthekidsthesedayssay on milestones. Be awake at 3am because you have to pee, when someone’s having a crisis in another time zone. Hold their hand. Offer support, or at least expertise in corpse disposal. Share Amazon wishlists instead of asking what people want for their birthdays. Make things happen for them on rough days.

Every good group chat needs subchats, each of which exclude a single member of the original chat. The purpose of these subchats is largely benign, even when you’re shittalking the excluded member. I know she’s having a hard time but omg her problems are not problems. Why don’t they just break up? I forget, quick, what’s the younger one’s name, the one that starts with K? This isn’t going to be funny to O because of his brother but I have to make the pun or I’ll die. OK we only need like a hundred bucks to get the car back; I have 30 – can we do this?

And then you hit the real crisis. The “we’re gonna break up the band cause we can’t name the band” crisis. What’s your chat emoji?

Don’t choose lightly, although you can change it. Do change it frequently at first. You’ll know when you’ve got the right emoji, because none of you will feel like altering it. It’ll stand in for the complicated stuff, broad-spectrum, more than a thumbs-up.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a thumbs-up. It’s a checkmark, an acknowledgement that the comment happened. But.

Sprout means you’re coming along. Sprout means that’s a good idea. Sprout means we’re both learning and we stumble sometimes. Sprout means I see you growing, do you see me?

Puffer fish means fuck that guy. Puffer fish means I’m cute but I might be poisonous. Puffer fish means oh shit your kid threw up and you stepped in it, are you ok? Puffer fish means we’re buoyant in spite of, or maybe buoyant of spite. Puffer fish means it’s early and these are complicated feels. Puffer fish means yes, definitely get another cat.

Octopus means entangled. Octopus means call me. Octopus means I’m out shopping right now but that’s a good idea. Octopus means I love you.