It’s funny to me how easy it is to go about my day and realize how often I find myself inundated with information through the various channels of my phone, my computer and old school eavesdropping. As a so-called highly sensitive person, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the constant updates, hashtags and refreshed pages in everyone’s lives. I often forget the names of those I know so well online and sometimes realize that I’ve never actually met the real life version of these individuals.
These online to real life interactions usually prove to be seamless, though, once in a while, they can go horribly wrong. One part awkward (the part where I call out the individual who I’ve never met by their Instagram name), and one part perhaps painfully funny (the part where I hashtag real life moments in the moment). I’ve found that more often than not people’s real life and Internet personas are often completely clashing. Here’s where it all started.
Two years ago I went on a Tumblr date. Yes. A date with someone who was following me on Tumblr. Since I’d seen so many Lifetime movies and documentaries on the Manson family, I found myself equal parts intrigued and scared. But months after my college graduation, I was ready to do something for the story. So I alerted all of my friends and family of where the date would take place (the exact address, along with where I parked) and I chose two friends to stay close to their phones in case I needed back up (i.e. a false emergency call).
I arrived early and wondered if my Tumblr date would be as interesting as his Instagrammed photos. I didn’t really know what his face looked like, but his perfectly coiffed Danny Zuko-esque hair was sure to stand out, as it did in so many shadowed Polaroids.
Fifteen minutes later he finally arrived. I went in for a hug, he gave me a high five, all the while making zero eye contact. I knew that this was going to go nowhere fast, but I continued on with a conceptual checklist of conversation categories. We talked friends, college, bars, San Diego and high school for nearly an hour. He professed his love of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Karen O. I’m not sure if he was awkward or just nervous, but the whole time he made zero eye contact with me. It was as though he was forcing himself to look anywhere but my face. This made me both laugh inside and feel self-conscious.
We decided to journey to another bar, where I proceeded to text a friend ‘HELP.’ I knew the night would need to end soon. Taking on the night ‘for the story’ was tiring. As we sat side by side and sipped on craft beer, I tried to keep the conversation light and rather meaningless.
Moments later, and out of nowhere, he said “So my dad died last week.” Naturally, my first instinct was to laugh, because I thought he was doing a bit. Something from his own version of SNL. I quickly found out that this was not the case. It was as if the silence engulfed the room and I didn’t know what to do. I could tell by his blank stare that he did not have a dark sense of humor and this was, in fact, the truth. I immediately apologized and tried to console him by sharing my personal experience with death. I was met with a fast talking completely different version of my Tumblr date. He was now no longer silent and awkward, but was crazed and slightly hysteric. I felt horrible but didn’t know what to do. I pieced together that I was probably one of the first people he had talked to about his dad’s death. It’s always easier to talk to strangers.
The date quickly wrapped up after talk of death turned to his own firsthand account of getting Lasik. After the night was over, I cut off communication with him and hoped that he would find peace, whatever that meant for him.
But every now and then I’ll see him out in the world and though I do my best to avoid him, he always approaches me to say hello. It’s as though because of our strange date, we secretly know a lot more about each other, beyond the confines of Tumblr. Perhaps I’m just as awkward as those online friends who I find awkward in real life. Those Twitter followers and Instagram likers and Facebook pokes.
I may not have found a match that night. But I realized how much I appreciate real life interactions and friends. Even the ones that don’t have the quirkiest Internet presence.
You can read more from Alex Morales on her blog.