So I met my online friend in real life! What are these mixed emotions?
September 15, 2014 2:58 PM   Subscribe

I met an online friend of about 10 years today in person and feel oddly emotional. What just happened?

Some months ago I posted this thread (for context):

My friend and I have built up a friendship over the course of about 10 years. We lost touch for about 2 years until he found me again 6 months ago. Yesterday we met in person.

In the previous thread some people suggested there could have been a "romantic undertone" to the friendship/that may be what was giving me pause. In a way, I wonder if this was true (although he is taken and I am certainly in no place for anything romantic considering I'm still grieving a recently ended relationship!). I felt comfortable with him very quickly, but was not convinced he shared this - he was nervously stroking his face through almost the entirety of the meeting and oddly stuck his belongings between us which I felt created a weird barrier off the bat. The other thing was that I apologised for not meeting him years prior (he had asked a few times via letters) and then pretended not to recall this in an almost cutting manner before later joking that he was disappointed when I hadn't met him.

Despite this though we chatted about lots and did different things together over the course of a few hours. One thing that was missing is that in our long exchanges he always makes a heartfelt effort to ask lots of questions about myself and how I'm doing (and vice versa!). This didn't really happen for some reason. He was more serious overall than I would have expected but there was more laughs and smiling once the ice was broken!

He wants to meet up again which I'm happy but to do. But...I came away from the meeting with a feeling that something was bothering me. I certainly wasn't disappointed; nor did I feel like it was fantastic. But I've got a lump in my throat and feel there was a tension there that I can't put my finger on. Not bad chemistry (there was chemistry), but just tension, like some elephant in the room. I can't shake it. What is this? Am I simply over analysing?
posted by Kat_Dubs to Human Relations (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You're thinking too hard, honestly. Every so often I meet people I've "known" for over a decade, or see them again for the first time in nearly as long, and there's a massive cognitive dissonance between their presence in your head and their real self in the room.

It's also kind of profound. I mean, like, this way of knowing someone is crazy and gives you a weird feeling about your place on the globe.

It's fine for it to be weird. It would be weirder if it wasn't at all strange.

Just accept that you will have various perspectives on this event now, in 48 hours, in a week, in 5 years. It doesn't need to meeeeeeeean anything that you have feelings, just that you experienced something that you don't every day.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:06 PM on September 15, 2014 [15 favorites]

It sound like disappointment to me. It's weird because while you feel that you have an intimate connection, you really don't, and when you meet in person it's like a strange blind-date.

So you had a strange blind-date, since he's in a partnership with someone, you really need to decide up-front if this is a friendship you want to foster, or if it was just too weird or off to you.

You don't have to meet up right away, but if you do, perhaps you should invite his partner, might make things less strange.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:14 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Email/phone/IM communications all create a false sense of intimacy and it can take a while for real intimacy to gel. It's one of the major drawbacks of online relationships, romantic and platonic. It's the dissonance of knowing and not knowing someone. The more time you spend together in person, the more this feeling goes away. Don't overthink it. (You may decide that you don't want to continue the relationship and that's OK too.)
posted by shoesietart at 3:27 PM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I think that many people have a harder time socializing offline than they do online. It sounds like he wasn't quite the same person offline as the one you've met online--and that is, in my experience, pretty normal. It's a different medium, and people communicate differently through it.

Most of your comments about the meeting itself read like fairly typical moderate anxiousness things to me, like he's maybe not amazing at interpersonal relationships, or doesn't have a lot of experience talking to women one on one. And that feels super weird to you, because you have this longstanding relationship with him. But while some people can transfer that to in-person meetings quite easily, some need more time to adjust. It sounds like you're in the former category, and he's in the latter. My bet is that if you meet him a couple more times, he'll slowly shift back to being more like the person you expected.
posted by MeghanC at 3:28 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've met a few internet friends, and there's always an awkwardness for me, and a bit of the cognitive dissonance of knowing someone's innermost thoughts without knowing the basics of how they move and talk. There's almost a little grief about so many possibilities of who they are condensing down to one regular person. And yet, some of my best friends have made that transition--the awkwardness doesn't really have any bearing on later closeness.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:39 PM on September 15, 2014 [17 favorites]

It's fine for it to be weird. It would be weirder if it wasn't at all strange.

I think this is exactly right.

I chimed in on the last thread; one thing I'll note is that it sounds like you met up for just a few hours? In my very similar situation, I'd gone out to visit my friend for a week*, and the first few hours (even the first day, maybe) were a bit surreal for sure. The weirdness settled out after that.

It probably helped that we spent the first few hours trapped in a car together after he picked me up at the airport. We didn't really have options of activities to distract us from the initial weirdness. We had to sit in the car, and we talked like we always talked, and had that time to acknowledge that it was kind of weird that we were both actually physical human people and not just living inside each other's internet.

*because I always just jump right into the deep end, apparently
posted by pemberkins at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've had numerous internet friends over the years and I've met nearly all in person. I can think of one particular first meeting where we both left a little let down, I think. It was for no reason in particular but rather we had to recognize that our relationship was going to change a bit in some shape or form (and perhaps it already had even before we met but we just didn't realize it.) I, too, had just and a break-up and the other person was newly coupled, although I had really seen it mostly as something platonic.

It felt odd for a few months and we both ended up taking a leave of absence of sorts. However, it's been a few years and we're still in touch and it's really positive! Yes, it's a bit different but perhaps that's not really about having met in person but the fact that we all change and generally for the better. And this is especially true in online friendships that start in more formative years.

Because you two have such a strong groundwork, I'd say please give it time and space and I think you two can go back to having a closer, comfortable-feeling relationship in the near future. You might have a heart-to-heart about it -- you could even share this link if you'd like?! -- or it might naturally ebb and flow, like any friendship can. I found talking to close in-person friends and family members to be helpful in understanding what I had been hoping for subconsciously and how things suddenly felt different. Do you think this might help you, too?

I'm so glad you two could finally meet in person and I wish you both happiness in your continued contact, whatever form that may be. I think -- and most MeFites would probably agree :-) -- that internet friendships are really something special and I feel so lucky to live in an age when they're possible. (Remember all those stranger-danger warnings people used to give? There is a grain of truth but it was all way overblown and now we can all laugh, right?!) In any case, I wish you both all the best and send you hug from here!
posted by smorgasbord at 4:27 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Meeting people you've known online in person is always weird. It's a completely different situation, but I was at an event this weekend where I met a bunch of people I had know on Twitter in person and it was all "Well, we already know each other and ..." So it was weird but also satisfying to put faces to names.

It either works out well or it doesn't. It's good to know either way. It may just be you need more time to process or it may be that you don't have chemistry in person. It's OK either way. Sometimes that's an important thing to go through. Sometimes it doesn't work out.

Meet up one more time and see how it goes. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. If you want to pull back a bit after, that's OK. Take care of yourself, mostly.
posted by darksong at 4:40 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Internet has made it possible to get to know people in a very weird way, to a weirdly intimate degree, without meeting them in person. I have read that people are supposedly more honest and open online than in person. This resonates with my experiences. It has nothing to do with being guarded or having trouble socializing. It's just that I like to talk about a lot of things that there isn't time for and that would be horribly inappropriate in the few minutes of time you have to talk with someone at work or while paying a cashier for your stuff or whatever. There is lots of time online to have deep, meaningful, heartfelt conversations of a sort that, IRL, only happen with your blood kin, your lovers and other seriously inner circle sorts.

I have met people IRL that I knew first online and didn't quite know how to proceed. I have also met people IRL that I knew first online and it went fine. It varied some depending on the kind of relationship we had and other factors.

But I think part of it is that the ability to get to know someone so well without actually meeting them is deeply weird and kind of unique to the Internet. I haven't tended to read more into it than that when it was awkward.

So I think "internet intimate friends" is just a thing that is fundamentally different from how intimate friends used to happen. For example, I can be internet intimate friends with a smoker in spite of my respiratory problems. But if I met them IRL, that would be an issue. So there are some things that just don't get worked out online that would have been worked out if you knew them under other circumstances and then...two worlds collide. Weirdly.
posted by Michele in California at 5:08 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's possible you just need to give yourself time to process. It's only been a few hours!

It's also possible you had quite a bit of nervous energy going into this meeting, and you are just experiencing the adrenaline letdown.

Let yourself settle. Turn off your internets, listen to some music, and get some sleep.
posted by zennie at 6:43 PM on September 15, 2014

So I met my partner online.

After a significant amount of time (not 10 years, though) my now-partner got on a plane at Heathrow and flew to Washington, DC, to meet me for the first time.

She was everything and nothing I expected. When you chat with someone, it's easy to fill in the gaps -- this is what they sound like, this is what they laugh about, this is what makes them happy. It's very human to take what you know and create a platonic ideal about it.

When my partner came to visit me, I was like -- shit, this is a real person. She looks and moves and smells like a real human, not the amalgam I'd created in my brainbox. She's not this creature that's half fantasy and half reality -- she's an IRL messy terrible wonderful human who's going to fart sometimes.

I asked my therapist how to handle this type of situation, and here was her response: get out of your head. Look at this person and realize they're the imperfect embodiment of everything you liked. Give them room to grow in ways you can't control. Remember that this is who they always were -- it's their truth, and your assumptions were the limited ones.

It's worked for me so far. We'll see what happens moving forward. Good luck!
posted by harperpitt at 7:05 PM on September 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

I can understand feeling some weird, confusing emotions in a situation like this. On the one hand this is a close friend, somebody you've known ten years. On the other hand this is a stranger, a person you've never met before. There's so much history in the room, but you've never looked into each other's eyes until that moment. That's weird and confusing!

There can also be a lot of pressure in a situation like that. Like, what if you have zero rapport in person? Will that ruin your friendship? You're used to feeling totally at ease with this person, but suddenly you have to be cool and charming, or at least not weird and awkward. You're also used to having time to think up smart and clever stuff, but now you have to interact in real time. And what if there IS some romantic attraction? What does that mean?

If my own experience is anything to go by, you'll probably get over the weirdness soon and go back to being good online pals, except now you'll know what the other person looks like in 3D.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:40 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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