Finally meeting in real life; the disappointment will be palpable
December 11, 2013 5:10 AM   Subscribe

There are several people I've been chatting to online for various periods of time, who I'm likely to meet on my next journey around the USA. In the case of a few, they are asking to meet up. Nothing romantic and more than friendship with any, though the level of friendship differs; in some cases it's quite strong or complex. Problem is, the prospect of finally meeting IRL repeatedly terrifies me to the point of making me feel ill. Is this kind of feeling normal or common, or not? How can I subdue it and not make myself hide, literally?

Trying to look at it rationally, the fear is that:

- I come over as different from my online persona. While I can write in e.g. Facebook chats like the devil on fire, in real life, am usually much quieter, wondering what to talk about that the person sitting or standing opposite will find interesting. Problem is, many minutes can pass while I think of something, by which time they've often wandered off.
- I look a bit distractingly ferocious in real life. 6' 3'', a bit heavy, startling beard and long hair, a weird combination of nerd and viking god. I can and do frighten children and small animals in the street just by walking past them.
- I'm sometimes okay in a one-to-one meeting. However, if there's a group of people it shuts down for me if I want to chat with one person, as I become extremely conscious of the other people and cannot focus on the one.
- Concerned I'll be found out as boring, dull and uninteresting in real life conversation and meeting, and then the online friendship and chats with that person afterwards will dry up or stop, and I'll wish I'd kept it to online only.

I've used alcohol previously as a, dunno, feel-at-ease-in-a-group situation, but completely gave up alcohol earlier this year for several reasons, and that's probably going to be a life thing.

As an example of all this, a few years ago someone I'd been chatting to online on and off for a long time was in the same airport as me; discovered this through their tweets. Suddenly absolutely terrified, I had a bit of a panic attack and stayed in the restroom until my flight was called so as not to bump into them. Then lied some time later and said "Gosh, wow, we were in the airport at the same time, what a coincidence, a shame we didn't meet. Next time!" While quietly kicking myself for bottling out and hiding and not meeting that person.

I'd rather not have that failure again. Side-point: because of a few things I am on for physical stuff, I don't want to take yet more meds for this, if meds seem appropriate.
posted by Wordshore to Human Relations (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can understand your anxiety. I think the best option is to show them what you've written here before you go and be upfront in the IRL meetings by describing how you feel. Saying things like, "I'm really anxious right now" can help so much. You might find out that the other person is too. And you know what? If you say that to someone and they are a jerk about it then that's really good information to have. So either way you've done yourself a service by opening up and being a bit vulnerable. Good luck and enjoy your visit!
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:33 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds like an anxiety issue... and what we focus on gets bigger. Check out for some behavioural exposures.. ie gradually increasingly the 'tricky' (for you) situations you put yourself in.

Years ago I had a friend who preferred group situations to 1:1, whereas I prefer the intimacy of a 1:1.. so it's interesting how different people have different bents and takes on stuff. Re: 1:1 situations I guess I see it as a shared responsibility to make things flow.. so it's not all me and generally speaking it really doesn't stress me. That's not to say it doesn't go pear shaped and cock up at times.. or just not work. That's ok though.. it takes time to find your people and it isn't going to be everyone (or most) people you meet.

Personally I've never found online stuff translates all that well in real life.. so much is missed online in terms of the bulk of communication (ie non verbal)... but it works for some I know, and I'm a bit of a technophobe which may shade my thinking.

Think of it as a social adventure if you can, its a brave thing to do and probably won't be boring. At worst it will be an anecdote time down the line.
posted by tanktop at 5:41 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I believe around 90% of communication is body langauge and intonation. Just be calm and try and enjoy the experience, desire is the reason you're going through with it right?

For converstaion I try to listen more than talk, people love to talk and to have people interested in them. I use the FORD method, It's so easy to run it through my head which prompts news that i forgot to talk about. FORD stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams, so when there's a lull in conversation. you base your questions on this:

Family or Family/Friends, Talk about your or their parents/siblings activities, health etc. Share stories and ask about mutual friends lives and mishaps, this can even include stories about pets and neighbours.

Occupation, Ask about what people do at work, how their day was, what's on the horizon, even earnings, locations, future career plans, previous jobs.

Recreation A big one!, You can ask literally a million things about hobbies from playing instruments, games, excursions like concerts or small holidays like camping to world cruises. Things like cooking and dining have endless shared experiences.

Dreams This is a fun one you can ask anything from childhood fantasies, to philosphy to silly things like superpowers that was mentioned above.

Failing that you could look at the top 100 questions list i've compiled below to ask someone and try to memories a few favourites, best tip is just belive that you are a great converstaionalist and you will be!

1. Who do you live with?
2. How close are you to your family?
3. Are you a morning or night person?
4. Do you believe there is life in space or on other planets?
5. How long do you think you’ll stay in your current job?
6. What are your plans for the weekend?
7. Do you have any bad habits?
8. What is your favorite restaurant and why?
9. Do you read/watch a lot of news/current affairs?
10. Do you have any celebrity crushes?
11. Do you have any tattoos or piercings?
12. Do you prefer sweet or salty food?
13. If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
14. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
15. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?
16. If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
17. If you had a million dollars, what would you spend it on?
18. What do you think about right before falling asleep?
19. What is one regret you have:
20. What is one thing that no one knows about you?
21. What is one thing you like about being an adult?
22. What is one thing you miss about being a kid?
23. What is one thing you would change about yourself?
24. Who is your favorite band of all time?
25. What is your dream job?
26. Do you prefer pubs or clubs?
27. What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?
28. What is your favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon?
29. What is your first thought when you wake up?
30. What top personality traits do you look for in a partner?
31. What was your favorite childhood television program?
32. What is your favorite animal and why?
33. What's your favorite color and why?
34. Would you rather have millions of pounds or true love?
35. How many romantic partners have you had?
36. Have you ever broken someone's heart?
37. Have you ever had your heart broken?
38. What is your favorite film and why?
39. What is your favorite TV show?
40. What is your favorite book and why?
41. Do you prefer black or white?
42. What is your favorite Website/s and why?
43. Do you find it difficult to say sorry?
44. Who was your favorite school teacher, describe why?
45. What’s the worst thing you can think of in a sandwich?
46. When you're sick do you need lots of TLC or prefer to be left alone?
47. What is your favorite flavour of Ice Cream?
48. What do you do for a living?
49. What is your favorite season of the year?
50. If you had to take a bath in food what would it be and why?
51. What is your favorite flavour juice?
52. Would you rather travel back in time or to the future?
53. What is the most precious thingat you own?
54. Would you rather go to the Doctors or the Dentist?
55. Do you have any collections or what do you like to collect?
56. What do you think your parents are good at?
57. Do you like making lots of noise or do you prefer to be quiet?
58. If you could only take one book to a desert island what would it be?
59. At the beach would you rather play in the sand or swim in the sea?
60. How many languages can you speak?
61. Do you prefer games or puzzles?
62. What is the first thing you would do to make the world a better place?
63. If you were asked to draw a picture, what would you draw and why?
64. Where would you prefer to live, a castle, a cottage or a caravan?
65. What do you do around the house that you hate to do?
66. Why do you think trees lose their leaves in autumn
67. If you could choose, how many brothers and sisters would you have?
68. Would you rather be too hot or too cold?
69. Would you rather hug a person or an animal?
70. Describe the funniest thing you have ever seen
71. What makes you sad?
72. If you had £100 what would you buy?
73. Would you rather deep sea dive or a mountain climb?
74. What is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?
75. Do you think it is okay to tell lies?
76. Would you rather pack a lunch or buy a dinner?
77. Describe your favorite piece of clothing?
78. How many teeth have you lost?
79. Do you think you are a good friend?
80. If you could have any animal in the world as a pet, what would you choose and why?
81. What’s the biggest present you have bought someone?
82. What is your favorite fairy tale?
83. What do you do for fun on long journeys?
84. What is the latest you have stayed up/gone without sleeping?
85. What would you like to be famous for?
86. What are you really good at?
87. What colour would you like to paint your bedroom?
88. What is your favorite pizza topping?
89. Do you prefer surprises or arrangements?
90. If you have children what would you name them?
91. What is the best present you have ever had?
92. Do you think you would make a good politician
93. If you could be anybody else for a day who would you be?
94. Would you rather have the ability to fly or swim under water?
95. What is the kindest thin g you have ever done?
96. Would you rather go back to primary or high school?
97. What is the best date you have been on?
98. What has been the best day in your life?
99. How awesome is Meta Filter?!!
posted by krisb1701d at 5:42 AM on December 11, 2013 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Inositol can help with anxiety issues (also known as vitamin B 8) and is safe and cheap, and I've found that 10 mg of propranolol has helped allow me to relax in social sitations where I've had my own social anxieties ... I thought I should mention these despite your final side-point about meds, hope that's ok and not too rude.
posted by Auden at 5:45 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It sounds like you don't need to impress these folks with who you are in person. They already like chatting with you online, so presumably they'll still enjoy that in the future. In person, just be friendly and make them comfortable by being excited about them, asking questions about them, and LOLing at their jokes. They'll probably reciprocate, but even if the opportunity for you to shine doesn't arise, they'll remember having a good time. That's most of what you'd want to achieve if you could be as chatty as you are online anyway. And if in a group you sort of fade out and don't participate out of anxiety, that's fine--roll with it, like, hey you're tired from traveling, but you're glad to see everyone and can someone pass you more of those snacks. I don't think "Wordshore seemed tired" is really that bad a takeaway.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:47 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You sound nervous. Just remember that they will probably be nervous too. If you spend your mental effort trying to put them at ease, you will find your nervousness dissipating too.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:02 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really do think you could just tell them, before the meetups, "hey guys, I just wanted to let you know I can be kinda awkward in these situations sometimes, but I'm still really looking forward to meeting you! Forgive me if I seem a little shy at first?" I can't imagine anyone hearing that from a good online friend and then reacting poorly when they met you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:05 AM on December 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: You asked if your feelings of anxiety are common, and I think they are! I am not normally a super shy or anxious person, but I was terribly nervous when meeting some folks IRL who I had known for a few years online. To deal with it, I did a couple of things ahead of time. I actually came out and said that I was looking forward to meeting them but felt very nervous. That helped because then we could joke about the whole thing and it relieved some of the anxiety. I also made sure that I had shared photos of myself with those who had only known me through writing and asked for photos of them. That also helped. You will be surprised at how many people are understanding about this kind of anxiety of meeting for the first time in person. Again, addressing it and being able to joke about it really helps. Even describing yourself the way you did here will help. If you can tell them that sometimes you can be quiet and shy in person, they will help you out when you meet with some extra warmth and won't expect you to be the same as your writing.
posted by catrae at 6:11 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For whatever it's worth, I think that coming across differently/more reservedly in person than online is super, super common, as is the issue with sort of shutting down in groups. I mean, let's be honest--I don't know about you and yours, but me and my friend group? We're all online at least partly because it's so much easier for us to socialize online than it is to do so face to face. I know a very small handful of people who don't fit this description, but it's seriously about three people.

Send pictures ahead of time, and own up to the fact that you're excited but anxious. No one's going to fault you for it--I bet that at least a few of your friends are in the same boat.
posted by MeghanC at 6:22 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Skype with some of them, first. Maybe do it with the pretext of getting last-minute details taken care of before you go into the internet abyss that is travelling? This should remove some (but not all) of the worry.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:25 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Problem is, the prospect of finally meeting IRL repeatedly terrifies me to the point of making me feel ill.

While I understand the IRL acronym, you should also remember that it's still real life when you talk to someone over the phone or over the internet or whatever. The person on this end is you, and the person on that end is ... pretty much just like you: a being made of meat, poking or typing at their screen or keyboard, who has some anxieties and some secrets, who thinks something about their body is weird, who gets nervous in some situations and relaxed in others.

Is this kind of feeling normal or common

Eh, who cares. It's your feeling.

I look a bit distractingly ferocious in real life. 6' 3'', a bit heavy, startling beard and long hair, a weird combination of nerd and viking god.

To me this just sounds huggable. Don't assume you know what connections people make in their heads when seeing you.

Last night I was at a social event and was introduced to someone I maybe (?) should've known. I said "Hi, I'm fritley, [offer handshake], I'm not sure I remember who you are. [shakeshake]" Then she told me. Then she told me how nervous she gets when she can't remember someone's name but thinks she should. I wonder if you could use my strategy instead of hers? Instead of worrying, tell your friends (they are your friends, remember) that you sometimes get nervous in person, but would like to try meeting because you think they're awesome, and is it ok if you cut it short with no hard feelings if you get to feeling weird? Good friends are pretty understanding. A little asking (but not too much explaining), and a little apology (but again not too much explaining) if you think you've been weird, can go a long way.
posted by fritley at 6:30 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Been there, done that.

So, yeah, here I'll maybe post a tightly crafted and edited bit of advice that makes it sound like we can get over this with a few koan style bits of advice and an affirmation or two. But no, just trying to think about the social is getting me to ramble and freeze.

And I have to remember that we're way over thinking it all, just smile and say how do you do.

But that's not enough.

I should have asked this on ask.

Lot's of good thoughts already in this thread.

The meetups via MiFi would be good practice. It's ok to not be as clever in person. It's ok to not be the life of the party or to be quiet. It's ok to scare small children, probably good for them. But certainly vastly less of an issue than our perceptions make it.

It is so easy to let perceptions trigger a positive feedback loop that spirals out of control skewing the reality of the world.
posted by sammyo at 6:33 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: I've met a few people I met on-line (I also married someone I met on-line). I think at first it is important to know both of you will be uncomfortable. Talking in person is WAY different. There is so much more detail.

When I met in person who is now a good friend of mine, we spent time texting eachother in the same room. We'd make a few verbal comments, and then we worked up from there. However, we spent alot of time together because I had moved to the area where she lived.

Just be yourself and it will be fine. The first few minutes will be strange, but then you'll realize all the things you've talked about already that you have in common. Then conversation will flow.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:45 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: So, probably on at least a couple of these meetups things aren't going to go that well. If/when this happens, it could be for a million reasons that have NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. Maybe your online friend has a big meeting the next day, or maybe *they're* kind of awkward and weird, or maybe their cat just died, or maybe their best friend just told them she's pregnant and they have kind of mixed feelings about it... It's not the end of the world and it's not a reflection on your self-worth.

Several times I've met people I knew online in real life and it was... OK? Like, we got through the coffee date or whatever, nobody died, but it was kind of awkward. Sometimes it's been pretty good - we had a nice dinner, parted on good terms, never connected much IRL afterwards. And once or twice it's been phenomenal - met for what was supposed to be a quick coffee, ended up spended the rest of the day wandering the city and having a late dinner and drinks with their spouse or friends. So, like, be prepared for it to be awesome, but if it's not... that's pretty normal. Some relationships work better in text.
posted by mskyle at 6:57 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If they're your friends online, they already like you and they will be looking for more reasons to like you IRL, not looking for reasons to dislike you. You'd probably have to do something actively malicious for them to even start to question your goodness. So, have fun! They want to like you!
posted by little_dog_laughing at 7:09 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: IANAT but for me, when I have anxiety over an event, I try not to focus on the initial event-- the meeting or seeing them the first time. Instead, I imagine either the event in progress, or the event over.

For example, lets say you are anxious because you're going to a concert. You begin to think about getting there on time and needing to get food there, and paying for parking and where are the toilets going to be? And which gate is it and... etc etc. A lot of my anxiety stems from trying to think of everything I need to do, including potential consequences. Suddenly, the whole idea of the concert becomes one big thing I start to dread. Ugh.

So, when that starts happening, I try to disengage from that thought pattern, and not to think about the anxiety-inducing stuff. Stuff which is me building up the idea of the Scary Thing in my mind. But the reality is that the Scary Thing isn't that scary, that I'm accidentally inflating it by dwelling on certain negative aspects, and that without fail, whenever Scary Thing is over, I'm always like, "Oh that wasn't so bad after all!" So with that in mind, any time my anxiety gets triggered, and it makes me not wanna do something, I shift my mindset. I visualize myself past the Scary Thing I'm dreading or putting off-- eg. I think about having fun while I'm there, or singing along to my fave music, or buying a band T-Shirt and enjoying myself, etc.

At least for me, this helps to get over the initial, 'oh god this and this and this might happen!' fear that I get when I do new things.

So instead of visualizing the awkwardness in your meeting, instead focus on the moment the awkwardness will be over-- or the gains you derive from doing said thing. Why are you going to meet your friends? Because you like each other, and you get along, and it'll be fun to see and talk to and touch someone who knows you so well. Because it'll be fun. So keep that in mind. And instead of imagining, 'omg, awkwaaard,' imagine yourself as established friends in real life, with your online friends, think of the awkwardness over and you hanging out all happy and chill like. Try to hold that in your mind, because it's actually more real than the supposed awkwardness, which will be fleeting.

You're lucky in that they're just friends, you know? And you don't have the pressure of them being a potential romantic interest. The pressure is higher and so is the anxiety usually.

I met two guys who had romantic interest in me from the US-- a few years ago, and it was way scarier than meeting my platonic friends. Platonic friends are way easier! Argh! But you know what? It was fine with time. Sure it was a little awkward at first, but believe me, it goes away. Also, there may be a possible prospective romantic interest I have to meet in person in a few months. The third, I am not the 'type' for at all, I can't explain how sick I feel at that whole prospective scenario. But if I can do it, (and I can be super anxious at times) believe me when I say, you can too.

You'll be fine! Don't beat yourself up, either. It's okay to be a little anti-social, it's okay to be quiet, it's okay to be shy at first. It's okay to wanna work up to meeting someone instead of having it sprung on you randomly in an airport.

Seriously, if they're your friends, they will get comfortable around you pretty quick. Have fun on your trip!
posted by Dimes at 7:34 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Can you build up slowly to meeting them? Do baby steps with skyping and phone calls?

Also of they are friends then tell them what you wrote here.
posted by wwax at 7:38 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Is this kind of feeling normal or common, or not?

Yes, yes it is common!

How can I subdue it and not make myself hide, literally?

Talk about it with your friends. Maybe not all, but some of them most likely feel the same way. It will be much easier to deal with if you can be open and talk about it, so instead of standing there quietly thinking "awkwaaaard" (as I have done at least once with every Internet friend I ever met) you can say "awkwaaaaard, I'm so nervous right now!" out loud, and then your friend can say "oh wow, me too!" and then you can both laugh and release some of the awkward tension.

Also, since you'll be travelling, it sounds like you don't have any plans to start hanging out IRL with these folks regularly, is that correct? I think that the worst-case scenario here is for someone to think "oh, it's much more fun to chat with Wordshore on Facebook, maybe we should just keep it online from now on." They already know they enjoy spending time with you online, so even if they find it awkward or boring in person, that's not going to negate their known enjoyment of hanging out online. I don't think that your online friendships are really at risk.

I met quite a few IRC friends, back in the days when only people who were awkward IRL were even spending time online to begin with. We were all super awkward, and the time we spent together was sometimes boring, but it was still really good to meet them, and it made hanging out online more fun, not less, in the future. I hope your experience will be similarly positive!
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:03 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: How relationships work is you try to move forward until you can't. This is a step forward. Maybe you'll go farther, maybe you'll step back, maybe you'll go sideways and inside out.

Meeting is a natural evolution in your current environment. Embrace it with curiosity.

Good luck.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:19 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Make some comments about how you sometimes feel uncomfortable in large groups.
Remember that many others feel the same fears.
Consider also that it might end up being crazy fun to meet people who will look different and be different, in real life, and that having met will enhance you online friendship. This is, in fact, the most likely outcome. I've met a bunch of mefites, all terrific people.
posted by theora55 at 10:29 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: One thing that has worked for me is to have a concrete activity to do with someone, rather than a face-to-face intimate chat. Group situations are actually better in some ways for this, especially "mixer" sorts of things where there are lots of people breaking off into little conversational groups, and with something (drinks, food) for you to excuse yourself to engage with.

One on one, I've had really good luck with walking/hiking, going to a bookstore (if you can both talk about books for ages) or other shopping that spurs conversation, going to some sort of museum/art show/garden, driving (the not-facing-each-other thing can help a ton) or doing some kind of physical project. (I've helped people move as a social activity, but I'm weird.) It takes a little more planning and forethought, but it can give you something else to focus on, talk about, and fill the dead space in the conversation with.

I also very much second the video chat thing. Google Hangouts, if you're willing to sell your soul to G+, does group chats quite well, and getting a sense of someone's appearance and body language is really handy ahead of time. I find it to be much closer to meatspace interaction than text chat, or even voice/phone chat.

(I am spending next week hosting someone I've interacted with 90% of the time online, and I have nothing but sympathy about the situation. Video chat first, then logistics! That's my strategy. Also, frank conversation about your anxiety. It makes being the other person, so, sooo much easier.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:56 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you have a favorite game or activity you could bring with you to meet up, or can you arrange to meet people to do an activity or eat a meal? It seems that most of your fears relate to how you come across and possibly not meeting the other person's expectations. Perhaps if you both could focus on a shared experience and enjoy your time together that way, you wouldn't feel quite so much "in the spotlight" and pressured to perform.
posted by epj at 1:02 PM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: If you know that your startling beard and long hair will scare strangers and children, why not consider a more friendly look? I've had friends who had long hair for 10+ years, were forced to cut it off due to a job, and were then so glad that they adopted this new look. I know not everyone will feel that way, but I think it's worth considering, since you are worried about it already.
posted by cheesecake at 6:22 PM on December 11, 2013

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