Disclaimer: I have nothing against Facebook Messenger. I think it’s extremely useful. A good 80% of our office’s communication happens on FB Messenger, because it’s quick, convenient, and everyone is on it. It’s really, really great for getting in touch…
…just not getting to know someone.
I met a guy at a gig a few Saturdays ago. Since I’m about 70% sure I will never talk to him again (my messaging style scared him off, but more on that later), I’m assuming it’s okay to talk about him. Anyway, I won’t say anything unflattering, precisely because there is nothing unflattering to say. I thought he was kind of cool. He showed up to the gig–it was actually an art show slash open mic that I played emcee for–in a short-sleeved, well-cut(!!), white button down and skinny-fit chinos (as opposed to every other guy’s t-shirt and jeans; call me a superficial human bean but I appreciate classic closet game). He smiled a lot. He was willing to try on my cat-ear headband and let me take a photo of him in it. He struck a really, really awkward pose for that photo. He makes good art. He likes Neil Gaiman.
Best of all, he didn’t seem to mind talking to me, and I felt comfortable talking to him. This is no small feat, considering I am basically five feet and three-point-five inches of social anxiety.
In short, I kind of liked him. Not like-like, to use the grade-school turn of phrase, but I thought he was interesting (which is, BTW, totally different from being interested in him; wag maging assuming pls). I liked him enough to exchange Facebook friend requests (because who asks for numbers anymore?) in the hopes we could continue the conversation online. And we did!
For about a day.
Here’s what I don’t like about Facebook Messenger: there are no non-verbal social cues. This is totally fine if you’re messaging someone you know, or messaging someone at some ungodly hour of the night when those cues don’t matter (shoutout to my friend AJ, king of extremely random late-night FB convos), or both. It is not totally fine if you’re messaging someone that you are trying to get to know. IRL, you can tell when someone is laughing out of genuine enjoyment or just to be polite. With a “HAHAHA” or an emoji…it’s a little harder to tell???
If you’ve read my open letter to any potential new friends, you’ll know that, despite all my claims of being an antisocial cactus, I actually like meeting new people and getting to know them. Not only is being able to connect with someone a sort of catharsis for my inner awkward teenaged loner–who literally had zero friends and had to eat in the school’s back stairwell–but people can be genuinely interesting. I like asking them questions, finding out what they do and like and think about and seeing where those things intersect with my own internal landscape. The meeting of those people may be intimidating and anxiety-inducing and downright terrifying, but once we laugh at the same joke or share a smile or I watch that spark of recognition flicker to life in their eyes when I mention something they love too…I mean, it makes the whole torture of meeting people worth it.
And the thing is, I can be really good with people. Scarily good. Mistaken for an extrovert, or someone who is confident and has her life together (apparently this is the first impression I gave my friend John, to which I reply with: AHAHAHAHAHAHA) levels of good. There’s a reason why I’m usually the default emcee when my org has events: the frantic energy that makes me overwhelming can also make me funny and entertaining, and I know how to be the latter and not the former when I’m working a room or holding court in person, where I can watch people and pick up on their cues. I can say things that might look awkward in black and white but don’t sound awkward because I can control the way I say them (you will not believe the stuff I’ve gotten away with saying just because I’ve said it super casually; inflection is everything).
I can even–gasp–shut up and settle into companionable silence. At least, until the next window for conversation can open up.
On the internet, I have none of these options. All I have is a screen, a keyboard, and the tyranny of read receipts. Silence can be golden when it comes to in-person conversation, but online it literally reads like a death sentence, a hard stop to any interaction. I can chatter on and on in someone’s ear and they might find my anecdotes entertaining, but in Messenger a string of essay-length blue bubbles looks less like animation and more like desperation. My conversation style does not translate well into the digital world.
I guess that’s why the bulk of my friendships are due to repeated, frequent, in-person interactions. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that it’s possible to get used to me, to see past all the weird and find me tolerable and even likeable, especially when I’m at ease with myself, which I can get when I’m interacting with people in meat-space and am able to autopilot my conversational instincts. Shift a conversation to chat, though, and I am a mess. My friends, again, can attest to how downright hesitant and anxiety-laden I can be via chat, constantly asking if they’re mad or if I’m bothering them simply because I’m unable to gauge the context of their silences.
(The only exception to this rule is if they message really late at night, when I’m too tired to keep the filter on or care about it being off. Some of my best Messenger conversations have happened when I should have been sleeping.)
I don’t think I’ll ever sink to the level of those angry baby boomers who rant about how social media and “those darned millennials” are ruining society as we know it, but I can definitely say that being forced to conduct the “getting to know you” stage on Facebook Messenger has ruined a number of my chances at connecting with people I’d genuinely found interesting. Let me tell you; few things suck more than knowing you’d probably have hit it off with someone if you weren’t such an awkward blue bubble.
(Or, well, gray bubble.)
(Whatever. I swear, I’m a lot more interesting–and a lot less awkward–in person than I am as a bubble!)
At any rate, consider this an open invitation to the next person I meet at a gig or a party or whatever: instead of exchanging Facebook addresses (though we can totally do that), can we please go straight to arranging to meet up again to talk? Let’s pretend it’s 1995 or something, and ditch the internet for in-person.
I’ll even spot you a coffee.
(And if we do have to resort to that infernal chat window in the interim, then please, for my sake, just take my enthusiasm at face value. I swear on the honor of my family cow, I’m not hitting on you. I JUST REALLY, REALLY LIKE FUN-FACTS, SELF-DEPRECATING HUMOR, AND MAKING PEOPLE LAUGH. I literally built my entire radio persona on those traits.)
(You would have gotten to know that–heck, you would have gotten to know I used to be a radio DJ–if I could have just! Held off! My anxiety! A little bit longer!!!)