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My first encounter with this came during a phone call with Maria. We had begun chatting on a grad school discussion board and posts had soon turned to emails and phone conversations. We were preparing to meet for the first time:
“Seth, I need to tell you something.” She said quietly.
“Sure! What’s up?” I quickly replied. I was in a great mood.
“I told all of my friends that I met you while on vacation in Maine.” She finished.
I was disappointed until I realized what she was actually saying: online conversations aren’t given the same weight as the ones we have face-to-face. Maria didn’t want her friends to think less of me because our relationship had begun online. Why might they think that?
- Because it’s so easy to fib online, we figure everybody does it. We do it, why wouldn’t they?
- Since we can read the very souls of those we meet in person, an online acquaintance obviously knows nothing about us. Your emoticons can’t trick us!
- We find it so easy to share personal thoughts and feelings online that it must not be real. If it were, we’d have good conversations all the time!
And so I went along with Maria’s story…until a few hours and a few drinks into the dinner party we were attending at her friend’s house. I had already interacted with most of the party goers and I was well-liked. I stood at my seat and made an announcement: “I have something to confess,” I said with a somber voice. “I’m not the person Maria told you about. I’m actually a 74 year-old woman Maria met on a dating website.”
They laughed and conversation quickly turned to sharing stories about crazy and interesting people we’d met online. Maria was free from feeling like she’d lied to her friends and I was inspired to explore ways that our online interactions can be used as tools to improve our face to face relationships. I came up with three things most of us do online that would serve us well as part of our analog existence:
- Be friendly. Online forums, blogs, and services like Twitter are a great place to practice initiating conversations with strangers. Once you’re up to speed, start conversations with interesting people you see on the street. There’s this thing called a “pleasant smile” (see photo for example) that works very well with most people.
- Be yourself: The internet should serve as daily reminder to you that the world is filled with people who are openly enthusiastic about discussing the things they love. Admit to your passions and seek out friends who share your interests instead of worrying that others will think you’re weird. Girls dig passionate guys. Be passionate, just don’t be creepy.
- Embrace your options: Use the same thick skin you use online when talking to people face-to-face. If that pretty girl you’ve messaged on a dating site doesn’t respond, you shrug it off and try again with somebody new. Take that same mentality and incorporate into your everyday conversations and flirtations. You’ll soon discover that rejection is easier to swallow and acceptance comes along more frequently!
As I’ve said in the past, I’m really not a big fan of online dating. However, online interactions with people of all ages and expectations are quickly becoming a daily part of our lives. It is important to recognize how you relate to people online and make sure your presence is identical to the one that shows up for parties. Doing so will allow you to connect with more people you find interesting and result in more…wait for it…great dates!
If you have any wild stories about meeting online friends for the first time, leave a comment so we all can enjoy it!
Best to you!