Disclaimer: This is not about online dating. This is about online friendship.
Since moving to New York, I’ve noticed that more and more of my personal and my professional connections aren’t from school or work, but from the internet. For instance, here are snippets from various conversations I’ve had in the past week:
“So how do all of you guys know each other? Did you go to school together?” “No…we all know each other from the internet.”
“Are you?” “Hi.” “Hi.” “Yeah, we’ve emailed.” “I know.” “It’s so cool to finally meet someone I’ve been working with for so long.”
“Oh, hey…um…sorry…but I think I know you from the internet. I love your blog.”
Just in case you don’t excel at reading comprehension (It’s okay! Not all schools place an emphasis on it.), what this all means is that the internet is the hip new place to meet super cool fun awesome people who are into the same things you are.
The internet is wonderful. You could be in a small town in the middle of nowhere and you can finally find someone in the Phillippines who also loves Dianne Wiest as much as you do. What’s even better is that your friendship isn’t based on age, gender, looks, wealth, ethnic or cultural background. As Anne Shirley would say, you’re kindred spirits. You nerd out about the same things. It’s a mental and emotional connection. It’s the best.
However, when you try to take that platonic ideal of a friendship offline, things can get tricky.
Just as we behave differently in front of our parents than we do in front of our friends, we behave differently online than we do in real life (or IRL). Which means the person we meet IRL might not be the version of the person we meet online. Your friend could end up being your worst nightmare.
The whole prospect of meeting an internet friend can turn into a panic attack. What if they suck? What if they think you suck? What if when you finally meet, you’re both so awkward you just want to go back to your room, hide under the covers and never log off the internet again?
Now that I’ve been making friends from the internet for a few years, I think I’ve figured out a couple of helpful rules for how to successfully make the transition from digital friend to real bud:
1) Have an activity.
If it’s just you and the other person, you have limited options. Among them: eating, drinking and talking awkwardly about your life story. I usually meet people for comedy shows and/or parties. Those seem to be the best ways I’ve found to personally meet people, but I assume shopping excursions, art exhibits, movies and grand sporting events could also fit the bill.
2) Invite more than one person.
The more, the merrier, and the merrier, the less awkward. Make it a meet-up event. It’ll be super cool. Or make it so you each bring a pal you already know. Even less awkward.
3) Be patient.
Some people are hesitant to open up emotionally IRL the same way they do on the internet. You might not immediately hit it off, but that doesn’t mean that person’s a dud. It just means that meeting someone you already have an expectation of is weird. Your internet self already has a relationship with his or her internet self, but that in no way means that your IRL selves are friends. True friendship sometimes takes time, so be patient.
Those are tips that have helped me make some of the best friends of my life through the internet. Most of these meet-ups happen through careful coordination, but sometimes you recognize someone from the internet in your real life and you don’t know how to introduce yourself.
Just introduce yourself.
Seriously. I know it’s even scarier that the pre-ordained meet-up, but even if you don’t have a rapport with that person online (and you just know them because you follow them), feel free to talk to them. Again, be patient. Be polite. You’re still IRL strangers, but keep in mind that anything you know about them through the internet is out there because they want to connect with people.
That said, there are certain situations in which you probably shouldn’t force a connection. It’s tough to call because everyone’s different. I only know my own quirks. So, here are some more rules that I’ve made up about when you should not approach me if you know me from the internet and want to be IRL friends:
1) If I am sitting alone in a bar during the day with a glass of wine reading a giant book.
I am trying really hard to finish George R. R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, guys. I usually haul it to a neighborhood bar on a weekend afternoon, order some cheese fries, a glass of wine and tear through a few chapters about life in Westeros. This is my only reading time. I need to focus on the names of all of Dany’s political rivals. It’s hard because technically every single character in the book (except for maybe three) are her political rivals. Just let me concentrate and talk to me as I’m leaving, cool? Cool.
2) If I am at a theater or bar before a comedy show with a notebook.
So, I perform stand up sometimes. I need to make a set list. I also need to concentrate on my set list. Run through it in my head. Otherwise, I might bomb on stage. If you want to be my IRL friend, then you have to know that the first rule of IRL friendship is that you don’t want to watch your friends bomb on stage. So, hang around, wait for me to put my notebook away before chatting. Or, you know, you could watch the show. PLEASE WATCH THE SHOW.
3) If it is before 8:30 am.
Don’t talk to me even if you already know me IRL. It’s before 8:30 am. I need to learn how to become human again before I can partake in human interactions.
4) If I am sitting in the…ahem…water closet.
You can talk to me while I’m on line to use the…ahem…water closet or as I’m washing my hands after using the…ahem…water closet, but for goodness sake, why would you talk to someone while they were in the…ahem…water closet??
5) If I am talking to a cute boy and giggling loudly.
Don’t ruin this for me! I’m probably already ruining it for myself!
6) If I am at a bar with a friend, half way through a glass of wine and I’m saying things like, “I really learned a lot from it!” or “I’m better off without him!” or “I’m a survivor! I’m not going to give up. Whatever else Beyonce said, I’m that right now!”
Okay, you can totally approach me at this time, but disclaimer: I am about to say some stupid things to prove I’m over whatever break up I’m supposed to be over. I’m cool if you want to chat, but you personally might not want to be pulled into this.
See? I’m pretty approachable. I get, as I outlined before, that meeting people is scary. I have to give myself a pep talk on a day-to-day basis about how awesome I am. I spend every day convinced that this is the day that everyone will turn on me and tell me to my face that they hate me. So, I get that you might be nervous to talk to me in person, because I’m also nervous to talk to you in person.
And so, the biggest rule to making friends on the internet is Don’t Be a Troll. No one likes a negative judgmental sour puss on the internet, and no one likes it in real life, either (unless they are really funny). So just be nice and be human. After all, if you can project a cool persona on the web, chances are some part of you as a person is also awesome. Be that. Be awesome. Be a good friend.
All images via.