In the age of technology, everything is at our fingertips. We can have groceries delivered to our house, prescriptions refilled instantly, bills paid on time, and gifts sent to loved ones all with the touch of a button, without ever having to leave our home or our device. Similarly, we can make friends and start romantic relationships through our screens, which is inevitably changing the way that we connect with people, for better or for worse.
In elementary school, we made friends with our peers in our classes. We bonded by playing together at recess, working on group assignments, and trading items from our lunches — all of which we did in person, face-to-face.
In the modern, digital age, things have changed substantially. We communicate our emotions and interests through carefully curated words (and emojis, of course!), and while these initial conversations can bring about and sustain long-term, meaningful relationships, these patterns also beg the question: Are we just as quick to make friends now as we were in the days before social media?
Or do we hold out and stand back until we’ve gauged that someone should be our friend, based on how they appear through their e-mail communication or social media persona? How do we engage in meaningful friendships in a digital age, becoming friends who initiate first and judge last?
Spend Time in Person
The internet and social media have helped friends stay in touch, whether they live down the street from one another or are separated by an ocean. E-mail, text, and Twitter can help us stay in the loop and updated on our loved one’s daily life, but don’t overlook the importance of spending time in person, too.
Real “face time” gives us the chance to connect on a deeper level, sharing the ups and downs of life that are outside of the fray of what’s Instagrammable. When spending time in person, keep your phone out of reach, if possible, since research shows that just the presence of your device can make loved ones feel unimportant.
Chat About Life Offline
When you first connect with a friend through an online medium, it is easy to only talk about the similarities you share in the online world. And for the most part, that’s okay — usually our interests online are a reflection of our interests offline. But make sure to connect on topics that live outside of your devices, too.
Discuss the dynamics of your relationships with your family, friends, pets and significant others, your favorite foods and how you take your coffee, or the outfit you wear that makes you feel the best. It may sound like silly, obvious advice to discuss these kinds of things with one another, but being willing to get back to basics will help you relive the way you made friends on the elementary school playground.
One fun example would be to make a recipe together, perhaps one that you’ve mutually found and liked on Pinterest. It’s easy to pin inspirational items — recipes, home décor tips, DIY projects — and then never actually apply those ideas to our everyday lives. When we’re browsing on our own, we can spend hours on Pinterest and never actually make that perfect margarita recipe or that gold-leaf vase. But, if we choose to get together offline and work on a project together, we create space for fun conversation and the happiness boost that comes from trying something new with a cherished friend. We don’t necessarily need to fight the good things that come from strengthening a friendship through an internet connection — things like the way we’re able to stay up-to-date with one another’s lives, communicate quickly, and share fun photos — but we do want to balance them out authentically and genuinely with quality face time.
We don’t necessarily need to fight the good things that come from strengthening a friendship through an internet connection … but we do want to balance them out authentically and genuinely with quality face time.
Show Your Vulnerability
When you’re spending time with a friend, whether digitally or in person, commit to being honest and open with one another. One of the difficulties that many of us face is the empty hole of comparison that often comes as a result of scrolling mindlessly through our social media feeds, which can lead us to believe that what we see online is an entirely accurate reflection of reality.
Sometimes we see photos, status updates and blog posts and believe that these moments tell the whole story about someone’s life. The truth is that everyone has good days and bad ones, and by sharing our experiences with one another, no matter how light or dark they might be, we can forge extremely strong emotional connections, allowing us to relate to one another in our struggles and in our joys. We’ll be sustained whether we live next door to one another or thousands of miles away.
Make New Friends
In addition to solidifying connections with friends that we already have, the internet can provide a space for us to establish relationships with people we may otherwise would never meet, people who we’ve observed from afar who don’t live in our neighborhood or community. But how do we bridge the gap between what we see online and what we experience in relationship? How can we prevent ourselves from preemptively judging a person’s character based solely on the posts she shares?
One way is by choosing to connect individually and intentionally, reaching out with a comment or a direct message to introduce yourself and give positive feedback about something you saw on someone’s profile. It’s easy to get sucked into a sort of online voyeurism, where we just sit back and scroll through our feeds and home pages and observe what’s going on in other peoples’s lives, taking in the information without ever acting on it.
So instead, when attempting to forge a relationship with a new friend whose online persona inspires you, tell them that – through a comment, a message, or an email. Express your genuine intent in getting to know them better, sharing your belief that a potential friendship is on the horizon because of all of the commonalities that exist in your online lives. Make new friends offline using the same intentional approach. Ask a new coworker to join you for lunch. Join a service group and strike up conversations with your fellow volunteers. Make plans to meet a fellow yogi for a green juice or a coffee after class.
Intentionally pursuing friendships with others, whether online or offline, is a surefire way to get to know someone on a deeper level, one that’s outside of the scope of their online persona, regardless of how many internet-related commonalities you share.
How do you connect with friends and family offline? Have you started any new friendships through connecting with others online?
Image via Gillian Stevens