Online communication: Liquid courage but at a distance

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Trying to establish a romantic relationship always baffled me a bit. How do you get started?

Do you randomly meet in a class, your eyes lock from across the room, and then you’re hooked?

How do you know if someone is worth taking a risk?

I’ve generally had crushes on guys that never moved beyond that. I admired from a distance and created these scenarios in my head of how things might unfold. But it usually ended there because I was unsure of what to do.

Sliding him a note with a personalized version of “roses are red” might be possible, but it seems like that just works as a kid for the cuteness factor.

For me, approaching a boy-girl relationship was complicated by many things: being unsure of what to say, evaluating everything I thought of sharing, talking myself out of sharing because it seemed unimportant, not knowing how to be comfortable in my own skin, over-analyzing every little tidbit of an encounter in an attempt to gain insight, not recognizing what I had to offer in a relationship because I put so much emphasis on the verbal side of things, on top of depression and other things that prevented me from seeing myself in a balanced way.

I longed for companionship and deeper friendships but was unsure of how to achieve it.

I didn’t think I was that pretty and was self-conscious of my appearance. Being tall, clumsy and generally awkward around other people seemed to be a hindrance to making connections.

Less filtering when I share online

Since the verbal communication was so challenging, I turned to online outlets. I enjoyed playing Yahoo! Games during college and every now and then there would be a private conversation.

It was easier to communicate this way. Not just because of the anonymity but because no one was staring me down waiting for an answer. The expectant stare always made it worse for my brain to put thoughts together.

Talking in person meant I scrutinized everything before sharing out loud, evaluating relevance, wording, reception and so on. Surprisingly, I didn’t have these same filters online; I was able to be more natural.

There was more freedom. Thoughts connected faster as I typed. The keyboard was almost an extension of myself. It was like writing on paper; words flow out much easier this way compared to sharing out loud.

I see the same thing today. I am quick to send an instant message to a coworker about a comment someone made, but it seems absurd to voice the same reaction out loud. The filtering kicks in stronger.

It’s the same with playing board games with my family. I don’t make much conversation during these interactions; I’m focusing on the game, trying to think and strategize. More energy seems to go into the game rather than dreaming up potential conversation starters. It doesn’t mean that I’m bored, if I’m not talking much. It just means I’m enjoying the process, the company, and focused on the game. There may be some instances where I’m internally agonizing over ways to contribute to the conversation, but I’m getting better at not stressing over that part of things.

Now that I play a game with mom through an app on my phone, suddenly more normal conversations are shared because I can type them out. There’s less pressure than having to vocalize something. Snippets of conversations that I would consider “trivial” small talk if made verbally are easier to make when typing out. Those exchanges lend themselves to more interaction which in turn opens the door for deeper revelations. Which is awesome.

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Online concerns

There are of course perverted people everywhere that you have to sort through, and the internet offers them an anonymous platform to be even creepier. Caution is very important.

For the most part I met seemingly normal guys.

The problem with this sort of interaction, especially for someone like me, is that a few hours of direct conversation can give a false sense of familiarity. Sharing more frequently in a shorter timeframe makes it seem like you’ve known each other for weeks or months rather than days.

Perhaps this is the online, word-based equivalent of being drunk and meeting someone at a bar. Judgement is impaired through a fabricated sense of intimacy. I don’t mean physical, sexual intimacy. I mean emotional intimacy. That level of connection that women, especially, crave: being heard and understood.

There were a few instances where I tried to transition the conversation offline. Meeting in person is tricky and should be met with the utmost level of caution. Same with phone-based contact. You just don’t know for sure who you’ve been corresponding with.

In my case it was a dorm room phone number and the added protection of calling cards because it was the early 2000s and that was still a thing. My experience ended without harassment or other negative consequences, but that’s not always the case. So again, caution. Today’s technology brings more features with a lot more unknowns.

One-dimensional sharing … trouble breaching the verbal side

The point of my story is that I attempted to transition this developing relationship to phone contact. Even though there was some established familiarity from online, I still resorted back to uncomfortable, unsure Lindsay. My mind would go blank again. It was once again awkward.

I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Other people could talk on the phone without any problems. Why couldn’t I?

Why does the force field go up when I try to talk to people? Why do I have so much trouble sharing?

I have opinions. Why can’t I share them? Why must I constantly feel stupid for having nothing to contribute?

I’d berate myself in the journal all the time for struggling to communicate in person. “How are people supposed to get to know you if you don’t say anything? You’ve got to speak up!”

That wasn’t helpful. There were no action steps of ways to make that a legitimate, attainable goal. It was just another way to continue spinning in circles, fueling a negative view of myself.

In more recent years I’ve tried online dating and run into similar problems. I can be absolutely charming and intelligent through email exchanges but turn into a bumbling mess on the phone. Or at the very least, it seems like a bumbling mess to me.

I’ve gotten better about explaining and preparing the guy that I need more assistance on the phone to carry the conversation, but it’s still a problem.

I’m slowly coming to terms with the idea that not talking a lot is fine. It doesn’t mean I’m defective. It’s part of who I am. I need to quit adding pressure on myself to “perform” a certain way. Talk or don’t talk. Share or simply listen. It’s ok. There’s more to who I am than verbal communication.

 

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