Recently I had a couple of experiences that reminded me of the folly of thinking we have a great social life if we have a bunch of Facebook, Twitter, and other online friends. Yes, “virtual friends” can be meaningful, but nothing trumps meeting and knowing people IRL, aka in real life. In Real Life means face to face, sitting near one another, interacting in real time, and otherwise being a human being. Yes, it’s alien to many of us – especially our kids – but it brings rewards that can’t be calculated by Klout or the number of “likes” or so-called “followers” you might have.
No one would accuse me of being shy or bashful. But, I still can get in the comfortable habit of staying home and enjoying my “virtual” social life. Whenever I venture “out” I get unexpected rewards. First, there’s yet to be a “virtual” friend I’ve met in person who hasn’t been terrific. By the time I meet someone that I’ve known online, I “know” them pretty darn well. It’s a great joy to then expand that knowledge with a face-to-face get together. It never fails to work for me.
Two recent experiences have reinforced the value of real life meeting. One was a small conference I attended and the other was a very small get together at my home where I invited two online friends over for dinner.
The conference – I knew – would be terrific. I got to meet with several people who I “knew” online or “knew of!” Again, not a single disappointment. In some cases, relationships were simply enhanced, in others true relationships were begun. Yes, you can sit on your hands at such events, but I’ve found most people – well known or not – that live and work in Social Media are pretty social and pretty approachable. You just gotta go up to them and say, “Hello.”
My method often involves using my own niche of Social Media – being a dad – as a way to start conversation. The moment I find out the other person has kids, the conversation gets interesting. First, if they’re an “expert” of some kind, they get to speak about something outside their expertise. Second, it’s personal and it immediately breaks down any potential barriers. Two simple tools in such conversations is to look them in the eye and actually listen. In my case, both come easy since I am truly interested in everyone’s personal story when kids and/or marriage/divorce are involved.
With men, this is often outside their normal comfort zone and soon they welcome the opportunity to talk about something other than tech stuff or their particular knowledge base. Because, as parents, we all know nothing — really. It’s learning on the run and we ALL can learn from one another.
The other recent IRL experience involved two “virtual” friends coming over for dinner. I will use pseudonyms not because anything embarrassing occurred but simply because I haven’t asked permission to use their real names and I respect them too much to take any chance on offending them.
One of the two women – we’ll call her Jackie – was someone I’d met before. We had long ago become friends, worked together, so her presence was simply having a friend over and enjoying each other’s company. However, Jackie shared the story of our first meeting and how awkward and nervous she felt about meeting a “stranger.” Further, she reminded me that for a woman there’s more inherent fear and risk. Her husband was assuring her that I was probably okay, but she did have trepidation before that first encounter. Not so after about 10 seconds when non-stop conversation began and continued for hours!
The second “friend” – we’ll call her Karen – had never met me before OR spoken with me on the phone. She’d attended #DadChat but “knew” me only as that disembodied twitter voice on it. When Karen entered my house, it was like a deer entering a lion’s den – her body language carried all sorts of anxiety. I quickly tried to ease her nervousness by introducing her to Jackie and my wife.
Karen drove over 90 minutes to come to my house. Her kids had pushed her to “get out” because she’d gotten way too used to being a homebody. It took a little coaxing, but by evening’s end Karen was laughing, drinking (lots of drinking – just kidding), and she was clearly totally relaxed.
When my wife and me walked both Jackie and Karen to the door, there was no doubt that one “real” friendship had begun while another was simply deepened.
The lesson? Get out. Go to that event that you’re nervous about attending. Take a shot and walk up to someone you’ve admired from afar and say, “Hello” – – what’s the worst thing that can happen? There is no “worst thing” because whatever happens it will be a learning and growing experience.
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