Sometimes people I know in real life ask if I use Twitter and if they can follow me. These moments are always very uncomfortable for me, and I always have some excuse to keep them away. It’s not because I don’t like them — that has never been the case. The reason is more complicated than that.
Here’s the thing. The internet is such a low-stress way to interact with other people. (It can be very stressful if, for example, you let yourself get overwhelmed by the mountains of hate people dish out by the second, but that’s another topic.) You can toss your thoughts, opinions, and art into the internet void, and eventually someone will see what you made and will talk to you about it. They will come to you. Or they will post something and you will go to them. There is very little pressure to interact in ways you don’t want to. If you have something to say, you can say it, and if you’re content saying nothing, just keep clicking.
For this reason, I think it’s so much easier to make friends online than it is in real life. For me, this is especially true of Twitter. My Twitter page is me on paper (or in pixels, rather). It’s a daily stream of my life, going back nearly five years now. Who I am is all right there for you to see, and if you like me, you’ll follow. If you don’t like me, you’ll move on. There is no uncomfortable, forced interaction. You interact with who you want to and in the way you want to.
Here’s where things get complicated.
If someone I know in real life asks if they can follow me on Twitter, it means I’ve already been interacting with them for a while. But unlike how things are online, they’ve seen only a very small, very colored portion of me. When I post things online, it’s still a small, colored portion of me, but it’s a version of me that is probably less edited and less censored than who I am when interacting with people in the flesh. I’m going to be more careful about what I say in face-to-face conversation than I am with my stream of thoughts online. And it’s for this reason I don’t feel comfortable with people I know in real life first following my exploits online. Maybe they had a different image of who I am. Maybe they will no longer like me. Things will become uncomfortable between us.
“Don’t we learn that you need to be true to yourself? Isn’t the separation of your IRL self from your online self kind of deceptive?” Yes. It absolutely is. And this is one of my greatest anxieties about face-to-face human interaction. I can’t be myself in the flesh, in the moment. I will say things I don’t really believe. I will agree to things I don’t really agree with. I don’t want conflict. I want to be liked. I want the moments to pass as smoothly as possible. I’m more myself when I have time to form my thoughts carefully. Speaking to someone in person doesn’t allow time for that. They say something, and you need to have something to say back to them NOW. It feels nearly impossible for me to be myself in person, but it’s not something I can avoid. Face-to-face interaction is inevitable.
Perhaps if I were someone more extroverted or strong-willed, I could be myself in person. But I’m not, and so I’m left feeling anxious about my never-ending in-person deception. And I’ll keep coming up with excuses to keep my real life and online life separate.