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More than ever, it’s easy to link up with people online who share your interests.

You may live in England, but have buds in Lagos, Tel Aviv and Honolulu. You never need to leave the house to chill with them, and you don’t have to put on makeup or even own a single pair of trousers.

Online buds know your passions, fears and secrets. But what happens if you are faced with meeting them in real life? Will they be thrown by how you look? Will your voice be too nasally? Will you be as witty as your online persona?

I spoke with two experts about what to do if you have online friends that you are nervous about meeting in person. How will you live up to the standards you set when you were just typing?

1. Take the risk

Meeting in person can be scary, but it will deepen your connection, said Marisa G. Franco, a professor, speaker and author of “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends.”

“The more full our presence is with someone, the more connected we feel to them,” she said, referencing what’s known as social presence theory.

“There’s research that finds that in-person interaction increases connection the most, text-based the least, video and telephone in between. So [meeting in person] is an opportunity to increase your level of connectedness with other people. If you only interact online, you likely won’t experience that same depth of connection.”

It’s undeniable that you will come off differently in person, said Franco.

“There’s a whole part of ourselves that we can’t convey [virtually], because we don’t have body language and nonverbal behaviors,” she said. “So if we’re afraid of coming off as different, it’s not something we should be afraid of, because it’s understandable.”

Almost everyone is struggling with social interactions since the pandemic hit, so you aren’t alone. “Everybody wants to pretend like everything is normal,” said Tanya Crabb, a psychologist at the University of Nevada and the founder of Soul Works Counseling and Coaching. “And the truth of the matter is, these last few years haven’t been normal, and we are no longer that version of normal either.”

We are all learning to socialise again.

2. Keep your expectations low

When you first meet your friend in person, stay positive. Focus on your strengths. Tell yourself that people like you and everything will go well.

When “you do, you’re more at ease, you’re open, you’re more friendly,” said Franco, “whereas when you assume you’re coming off as weird, you’re gonna withdraw and become cold because you’re gonna be afraid of what you say and be more self-conscious.”

At the same time, keep your expectations low.

“You’re not going to leave with a new best friend,” said Crabb. “That’s not a thing. The question is, ‘Did [I] make it out of there in one piece? Was I kind? Was I polite? Was I friendly?’ And not ‘Was I funny? Was I charismatic? Was I charming?’ Those are pretty high bars to set.”

Instead, strive to be present, Franco said. Aim at “showing interest in the other person. Being engaged. Not feeling pressure to have to come off in any particular way.”

The best gift you can give to a new friend is listening and reflecting back — and that will also help keep you out of your own head, Crabb said. “A lot of people just want to be heard more than they want to be spoken to,” she said.

“That awkward process is part of the process of connection rather than a sign that you’re not connected.”

– Marisa G. Franco

Don’t even give yourself the responsibility of interjecting in a conversation unless you feel comfortable. “The goal of the engagement is for it to be pleasant, not perfect,” she said.

If it makes you feel more relaxed, outwardly state that meeting in person is different and somewhat uncomfortable. “Sometimes just acknowledging the awkward makes the awkward less awkward,” said Crabb. Tell your new in-person friend that you are a bit nervous but are excited to hang face-to-face.

3. Meet again… and again

“If you don’t click that first time, don’t stop meeting in person,” Crabb said. Start with “small and short interactions until you get comfortable. Think of it like getting in the water. If you haven’t swam for a while, the first time you go it’s gonna be cold as hell. Gradually step in a little bit at a time.”

For the second meet up, you don’t have to plan a day trip together, but maybe you could grab a coffee. The more exposure you have to a person, the more comfortable it gets and the more a friendship grows.

“It’s normal to feel cautious,” Franco said. “It’s normal to feel weary. It’s normal to feel a little bit socially anxious in those early interactions. It’s our adaptive right as human beings for us to take time before we can fully trust someone. That awkward process is part of the process of connection rather than a sign that you’re not connected.”

4. Check in afterwards with your friend and yourself

“It’s OK to reach out [to your friend after hanging out] because that person was probably wondering if it was weird for you, too,” said Crabb. “Reach out, saying, ‘It was cool hanging out with you today, hope we can do it again soon.’ It doesn’t have to be something super involved. It’s just polite. Less is more.”

If you think you bombed, ask yourself: “Where is your proof?” Crabb said.

“The truth of the matter is our thoughts or theories and feelings aren’t facts,” she said. “So unless you have something concrete when you leave that situation that says that you failed, unless the person is like, ‘Never speak to me again, you monster,’ chances are you did OK.”

If you did flub a line, keep it in perspective. “No one is going to go home and be replaying that conversation in their mind,” said Crabb. “Is it going to be an issue five months down the line?”

Ask yourself if you would ever critique someone else as harshly as you are critiquing yourself.

“If a friend or a loved one came and said, ‘Here’s what happened in the conversation,’ would you be like ’You blew it. You mean you called him Jim and his name was John? I can’t believe you said that!” Crabb said.

5. Be proud of putting yourself out there

A lot of folks insist on taking a magnifying glass to their life, scrutinising everything. Instead, try to focus on what went right. If your online friend can’t hang out again right away, give them the benefit of the doubt.

“Just because someone isn’t willing to hang out with you again, doesn’t mean that you bombed,” said Franco. “They could have other things going on in their life, or maybe they expect the connection to happen more quickly and you are aware that it’s going be gradual. Someone else’s reaction to you doesn’t reflect your worth as a person.”

There is always the chance that your friend is, in fact, a judgmental jerk.

“Consider yourself fortunate. You want to know who’s in your corner and who’s not,” Crabb said, “and the sooner you find that out, the better.”

Be proud that you are putting yourself out there, Franco said.

“You’re doing the right thing to get to a place where you feel more connected. Each individual act might not bring you the outcome that you want, but the fact that you are headed in the larger direction to get the outcome that you want is important to keep in mind,” Franco added.

If it does turn out that you are better online friends than in-person friends, that’s OK. You can always fall back into your old communication patterns.

“The things that created that relationship for you exist outside of the physical space,” Crabb said. “You’re not suddenly going to hate each other because one of you is taller or shorter than the other.”

But stay positive. Odds are, your meeting will go better than expected and your relationship will blossom.




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#Move #Digital #Friendships #Real #World

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