What to do when an online friendship starts to progress too fast
June 14, 2009 1:16 PM   Subscribe

RelationshipFilter - What to do when a long-standing online friendship starts to head into uncomfortable territory?

I've been talking to a guy for over a year, perhaps closing in on the year and a half mark, and I get on very well with him.

We chatted informally on a forum before we wound up chatting off the boards, and discovered we had much in common. As such, we've remained on very good terms and talk at least twice/three times a week on messenger for hours at a time. He and I have very similar tastes in most matters, and have honest debates about serious matters as well as ranting about video games and the like.

We know each others names, ages, where the other lives (though we're in different countries), and I know what he looks like (he doesn't due to the fact I'm camera shy, which he accepts; his pics are also on the forum where we first 'met' and I posted none, reducing any further pressure). He's a lovely, intelligent and very supportive guy, whom I am proud to call my friend.

But I'm now starting to get a little worried. My friend has always shown signs of affection, even to the point of admitting a sense of 'dependency' on our communications, and in the past has expressed interest in visiting the UK to meet me. I agreed that it would be good to meet him someday, but thought nothing of it as he doesn't work, and didn't seem liable to either. This affection has apparently developed even further, and he's getting serious about visiting, to the point where he admits to have looked up ticket prices and the like, as well as looking at unemployement agencies in his area/actively looking for work. He also seems to have a very idealised image of me, which isn't good...

I think the world of him as a friend, but I'm now starting to feel uneasy. It perhaps doesn't sound like much from the above, but the wording of some of his comments over the last few months... I'd like to tell him to slow down, or to reconsider his thoughts, or something along those lines without losing him as a friend. I accept that this may not be possible, but in an ideal situation...

I'm honestly at a loss. Cutting all comms with him wouldn't be difficult, but as I've said I'd prefer not to go down that route, plus I think it'd be childish given the friendship we've built up. I can understand that it might not sound so bad from what I've said, but I don't want to post examples from our talks as I want to maintain his privacy (that and I've pointed out Mefi to him on a couple of occassions; would prefer he didn't find out about my discomfort through him recognising snatches of our previous conversations).

So... What do I do? Do I tell him outright that his desire to meet me is starting to make me uneasy? Or do I try another approach? Any advice welcomed.
posted by Inner Universe to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you need to tell him outright, and straightforward.

"I value our friendship, but I'm not comfortable with your plans to visit me."

It might be tempting to add a modifier like "it's just that right now I'm not comfortable... I'm really busy..." but that suggests there might be a good time in the future, but I wouldn't do that. Humoring him is a bad idea.

Does he know your home and/or work address?
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:28 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

What are you doing with this guy? Do you just talk to him so you have something to do online, some way to fart around and kill a few hours before bedtime? What's keeping you from making your connection with this guy into something real? I'm sorry, dear, but if he's never seen a picture of you after a year and a half, he is not really your friend and you are not his. If you don't want to meet him in person (like you said you did) and make your relationship something more than just a waste of his time, you need to say so. You've been talking to him for a year and a half, I don't think wanting to meet you in person now is taking things "too fast".

Your plight is a common one, by the way- it seems a lot of online "friendships" end with the realization that each involved party has different expectations about what they hope the whole thing will end up turning into. Sounds like this guy has the hots for you (or his idealized version of you, anyway)- it would be cruel to allow him to labor under the delusion that "someday" he'll get his fairy tale ending.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:31 PM on June 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

Entirely just my own thoughts, but I would say to say something outright: be clear and direct about it, and be honest. If he's looking things up and exploring specific travel and work options, he's getting very wrapped-up in things. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is when it's not mutual. So you need to address this quickly and very clearly.

I would vote for nothing vague or subtle, no trying to be very tactful, just being forthright and honest. I think that if you do that, you can be clear but yet without being mean. It may hurt him, but it won't be hurtful in terms of how you do it. And I think you tell him that look, you don't want to pursue this in this way, and you do not want him to move near you to be with you because that's not what you want from this. But yes you want to stay friends, and yes you value the friendship a great deal, and that's why you're telling him instead of just cutting it off.

Like I said, it'll hurt and he'll be disappointed, but it's absolutely for the best. It will without a doubt only be worse if you let him continue further.

I hope it all works out for you. Your heart is absolutely in the right place, and so I think you can do this absolutely right.
posted by davidnc at 1:35 PM on June 14, 2009

I know it's the done thing on Metafilter to treat online-only friendships as if they were as fully real as face-to-face ones, but I just don't think they are. Wanting to meet your friend is the most normal thing in the world (indeed, 10 years ago, the concept of a "friend you've never met" would have had no meaning to most people). And wanting to meet after a year is not "too fast" (although you're unclear in your post as to whether any speed would be slow enough, or whether you just never want to meet). Also, I don't want to be too judgmental since I don't know you, but in general, camera-shyness just seems like a totally unconvincing excuse for not letting such a friend see what you look like. I assume the truth is that, on some level, you don't want him to know. (Possibly for good reason, ie., you get a bad vibe from him.)

Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I think he is the one with the entirely normal expectations here. I think bringing this friendship to an end is really the only fair option.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:40 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's odd to me that he's looking for employment in the UK when he talks about visiting you.

But besides that, what is the underlying issue?

A. You like him as a friend. You are not romantically attracted to him at all.
In this case, just be upfront with him. Maybe like this: "We have a great friendship, but please know that all we can be is friends."

B. You like him romantically, but you are afraid to meet him.
In this case, send him a photo, help him plan for a visit to see you. He's taken a lot of risk, and he likes you. Take some risk yourself!

C. You like him romantically, but you need a longer online courtship.
In this case... no, that can't be possible, can it? Surely not!
posted by Houstonian at 1:41 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

"You realize I still only want to be friends, right? Like ever? Whether you visit me or not?"

I mean, friends SHOULD be able to visit each other, right? But yes, for the sake of his own head and heart you should definitely make it clear that a possible romantic future is not on the table.

(Even if there's a 2% chance. Don't admit that or you may provide hope and that would be even worse. Just confirm that it's a friendship, and that friendship could be great.)
posted by rokusan at 1:41 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

There's something a little awkward about saying to someone "You're my friend, but I don't want to meet you in person." That said, it's what you need to find a way to communicate that to this person because it's an entirely ok and legitimate preference to have regarding an online friendship.

Perhaps something like: "I hope I haven't misled you, and I know you may not understand why I feel this way--and I know you feel differently--but I would prefer that we keep our conversations online, rather than visiting each other." You need for him to know that you do not want him to visit, and that you aren't planning for this online relationship to develop into an in-person relationship. You're not at all obligated to feel comfortable (or to sublimate feelings of discomfort) about his visiting, or about the two of you ever meeting. However, it should also be acknowledged that he's not obligated to continue a close correspondence with someone who refuses to meet him, either.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:45 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

indeed, 10 years ago, the concept of a "friend you've never met" would have had no meaning to most people

Main Entry: pen pal
Function: noun
Date: 1938
: a friend made and kept through correspondence
posted by effbot at 1:48 PM on June 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

I thought of another possibility:

D. You've been flirty with him online, and that was fun, but you never intended it to go to real life. And, you are not romantically interested.
In this case, come clean with him. Maybe, "I really enjoy talking with you, and flirting with you, but I never meant it to go farther than that. I'm just not in a spot in my life where I can take on more than that."
posted by Houstonian at 1:55 PM on June 14, 2009

Main Entry: pen pal

Yeah, yeah, OK, point taken. But the point about online friendships is that there's enough bandwidth for them to seem a bit like face to face ones, hence causing problems of misunderstanding between the parties.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:56 PM on June 14, 2009

Surprisingly swift responses! Thanks all for your advice, they've given me encouragement on how to act, and food for thought too (especially regarding how I interact with people online). There's a few answers I want to adress, but all points made have been useful for me, so again, thanks.

Solon and Thanks: He knows the city where I live, and home adresses may have come up in passing some time ago. I'll be direct with him when we next speak.

ThePinkSuperhero: The issue is that he is in Sweden, I'm in the UK - if we were in the same country, meeting up would be less of a concern for me. None the less, your comment has struck home regarding our "friendship". To be clear, although our chats are often very simple or light, I don't consider him a time kill; I value him more than that, but clearly not as he thinks. Your last paragraph rings especially true, and again, I'll be upfront about things.

Houstonian: He's seeking work in Sweden, not in the UK. Option D is also true to a point, but not in the sense you're getting at - looking back, I've almost certainly added fuel to the fire of his affection, so to speak.
posted by Inner Universe at 2:57 PM on June 14, 2009

A friend can carry you through the toughest times. Unless the problem is with that friend. Then you're pretty much on your own.
posted by discountfortunecookie at 2:59 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Solon and Thanks: He knows the city where I live, and home adresses may have come up in passing some time ago. I'll be direct with him when we next speak.

Okay, I just wasn't sure if he'd go ahead and actually book tickets somewhere, assuming you're on board, or if he'd need to ask you first to find out exactly where to go.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:16 PM on June 14, 2009

Um, he likes you. He wants to hook up with you or date you or smooch you or whatever. You like him tons but you don't want to date him...? It actually sounds like you're just afraid he won't think you're attractive, if I may presumptuously read between the lines.

If (a) you do like him and you'd like to hook up with him but you're afraid to show him your pic & meet him face-to-face because you fear you're not attractive enough, well that breaks my damn heart. He already likes you.... go get a cute haircut and some makeup and a new outfit and stuff and get a friend to photograph you, and show him what you look like! Put your best face forward, and if he likes what he sees, you get to meet this dude that you may be ideally compatible with! Win!

If (b) you don't like him romantically and honestly just want to stay friends, then definitely don't let him visit, dial back any flirtation, and try to stay online-only friends from afar... but to be honest, it might be too late. It's hard on a friendship when one person has romantic feelings and is "rejected" by the other, and in my experience those friendships don't usually work out.

At any rate, wanting to meet a good online friend after a year of chatting is totally normal; you're the one who's being unusual here. Just be aware of that with how you frame this, and if that's the case, make sure he knows it's not him, it's you.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:39 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you show him your picture, you may quickly and efficiently solve the problem of him wanting to come visit you.

I don't mean that to suggest that you are unattractive. I mean that he may have idealized your image in a way that, when confronted with the real you, may bring him back down to earth. The you he is imagining may just not jibe with the way you really look --- regardless of whether the real you is more or less attractive than the imagined you.
posted by jayder at 9:06 PM on June 14, 2009

Is this relevant here? If We Started Dating...
posted by Area Control at 8:23 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

He's seeking work in Sweden
and he's getting serious about visiting

If this can ease your mind: If he lives in Sweden, and is just now starting to look for employment, he can't really be expecting to do any traveling for another 2 years at least. There's too much unemployment.

He also seems to have a very idealised image of me, which isn't good...

Yes, you should really try to set him straight in that case.

I'd like to tell him to slow down, or to reconsider his thoughts, or something along those lines without losing him as a friend. I accept that this may not be possible, but in an ideal situation...

Nonsense. If he's even close to being "a lovely, intelligent and very supportive guy", it really should be possible.
Of course he can't switch his feelings off with a press of a button, but if you give him time, he'll adjust to it.

Friends are friends. :)
posted by Ingenting at 12:33 AM on July 7, 2009

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