March 17, 2014

Prepare to be disappointed

I have a group of friends who mostly communicate online. We're spread all over the country, and while each of us has met at least one other person in the group, none of us have met all of us. We've never all been in the same place at once.

Earlier tonight, we were talking about how fun it would be to organize a huge meetup, perhaps a weekend in Vegas.

After a flurry of excitement and energy, as plans started to take a more realistic shape, the posts changed tone:

"I am very awkward in person."
"I'm a hillbilly."
"I express myself much more eloquently in writing."
"I'm likely to talk too much, or do something awkward or clumsy."
"I'm much more insecure online. Does that make me weird?"

This is a group of smart, beautiful, interesting women who have been in daily conversation for the past 7 years. And yet, here we are, pre-emptively apologizing for how disappointed our friends will be when they meet us.

I admit it; one of those was mine. This insecurity is hardly unique to this group of friends. Given my career, my personality, and the general state of technology, I often get to know people online before we meet in person. And every time, I assume that I will disappoint. I suspect that people will find me heavier, less interesting, and less clever than they expected. One friend told me I was more insecure than she expected, and then I became insecure over appearing insecure.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Is it because online conversation allows us time to process and edit our thoughts before responding, unlike in-person small talk?

Is it because we craft our online personas by applying soft filters to our photos and selectively choosing which part of our lives to share, creating an image that no real person could live up to?

Is it because we change the fundamental dynamics of a friendship when we move it from its native form of communication (online) into a new setting?

Is it a female thing? Would a group of male friends planning a Vegas trip also pre-emptively worry about their self-image, or would their conversation be more along the lines of, "Booze and strippers! High five, bro!"

I really don't know.

This, I do know:

Friends are friends, whether we meet them on the Internet or in our neighborhood. They don't reject you for showing up and being yourself.

Friends we meet in the physical world know the sound of our laugh and the way our face looks when something is bothering us. They can deliver helpful things like hugs or wine.

Online friends know each other from the in-between spaces of our lives: The Facebook posts while we're waiting in line, the light on the screen when we can't sleep at night. It's easy to tell them things that we're too embarrassed to share face-to-face.

The most powerful friendship is the one that merges the two.

And maybe that's the part that's scary. But it's worth it.

Vegas, here we come.

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