In yesterday’s article, we discussed how the internet can bind old friendships. Today, we’ll examine why meeting virtual friends in person often leads to disaster and misconception.
I have a lot of internet friends and I only know their online persona — their “Virtual Being” — and when you meet someone new through a textual medium, you naturally begin to color in the missing facts of their lives that are normally provided in a real time meeting between blood and bone.
There is always a temptation to want to get together in person with a virtual friend and I recommend against ever letting it happen because that friendship will be destroyed in the natural misalignment of expectation. That, at least, has been my experience, and the experience of many good friends across the globe.
Changing the interactive parameters of any friendship mauls the organic center of the very creation of the friendship. Death on the tethered vine always follows.
Here’s one vivid example of a sloppy death from many years ago.
A team of us were providing technical support for a major computer company, and to pay us back for all our volunteer work, we were flown out to a sunny “training” conference from points across the world. Few of us had met in person. We only knew each other through our words.
Most of the in-person meetings were okay, but not spectacular, as the real festered against the imagined, but one person especially stood out to the rest of us as being devastatingly strange when reality hit the virtual.
This particular fellow had a fantastic persona online. He was witty and helpful and over-eager to do everyone’s bidding. He made our lives faster and simpler. Everyone on the team considered him a great dude and a 100% friend for life.
Then we met him in person.
The guy was everything he was — but that certain “additional extra” that the in-person provided ruined our imagination of him and immediately interdicted any possibility of future friendship.
The first thing he said to us was that he wanted to get naked and have a hot tub party because he was a swinger. He wasn’t joking. He was unable to socially read the disgust and revulsion on all our faces as he proceeded to make plans for us later that night.
He then began to make inappropriate remarks about the women on the team. He degraded the company we were all serving. His beady eyes and nefarious laugh made your gut turn in alarm warnings to your brain that you would never be safe alone in a room with him.
The moment he excused himself from the meeting, the rest of us said nothing as our hopes and wishes were punctured by the fact of his real self demolished all the goodwill he’d build polishing his online persona. The real was not present in the virtual expectation.
Ever since that revelation of revulsion, I have been careful to keep my virtual friendships virtual and my in person friendships as separate, but equal, entities. There have been times when necessity forces a real meeting of the imagined — but the result is always disappointing.
Reality never measures up to the required creative advancement of the essence of a person you have to build in order to relate to them on a human level. We tend to make the unknown into ourselves for comfort and familiarity, and when that reflection becomes reflexive, we recoil in disrecognition of the self.
Perhaps, in the future, with the rise of live video, the virtual and the real won’t have such a crashing conflict when they are formed into the same person.
I’ll give you another caveat against scientifically proven failure of the human condition. If you had a great friend in person and fell out of touch for more than a decade — and you then try to re-ignite the relationship only virtually — that effort is guaranteed to fail in a bloody mess because the historic real can never resurrect in the virtual now without ripping a hole in the time-space continuum.
You have been warned to leave the world whole!