Connecting IRL (In Real Life)
Have you found that binging on social media is not fulfilling? Social media is like the junk food of relationships. Junk food fills an urge: reducing hunger, but the underlying need (nutrition) is not met. Social media seems to fill an urge: reducing aloneness or feeling unknown. But in the end, images, posts, and comments leave us empty of the meaningful connection we need. We’re not known – and we don’t know others — quite like we long for. Instead feeling full relationally, we continually crave attention and approval.
Relating to other people IRL has the opportunity to help. It won’t make all relational cravings go away, but it can address our underlying disconnection in ways that virtual touch points cannot. The problem is, we’re out of practice. It’s so much easier to text than call someone. It seems safer to tell someone what you think when it goes through a screen. Can I get an Amen?
Relating to another human face-to-face can bring up some anxiety because it’s hard. We have to respond in the moment, without time to think and type, and delete anything we think might reflect badly on us. We might feel comfortable with consumer connections we have regularly, but we don’t know how to relate deeply to others. We don’t know how to ask questions without an agenda, or disagree in civil ways.
So these next few blogs are going to be a refresher course on tips for relating to other humans in real life. We’ll talk about some basics, then we’ll attempt to set our expectations at realistic levels. Finally, we’ll give some tips on asking questions to connect more meaningfully with those around us.
Some Basics for Relating IRL
- Reduce social media. Remember when your mom told you not to ruin your appetite by snacking before a meal? You won’t feel a need to relate IRL if you’re filling the urge with social media. Notice when you hop online…what were you feeling just then? Is it possible you might feel alone (and want to share your joyful moment with someone) or maybe you feel bored (and want someone to engage with)? Do you feel insecure (and need to prove your worth)? Our emotions have a function – they are designed to motivate us. Loneliness, boredom, and insecurity can all motivate you to reach out to others. If you numb your feelings (aka ruin your appetite) through social media, then you’ll never feel the reason to move beyond your comfort zone.
- Get together in person. Sebastian Maniscalco, a stand-up comedian, has a bit about how his mother used to keep an Entenmann’s coffee cake in the house just in case company would drop by. In his funny, physical way, he contrasts that historical account with today’s tendency to hide in shock when someone rings our doorbell. To relate IRL, you may have to leave your home. You might need to invite someone to your house. You don’t have to spend money, but you do need to have a face and a body in proximity to you.
- Give eye contact. So much is communicated nonverbally through our eyes. Respect, curiosity, empathy, care… are all conveyed through our eyes more than our words. Now, disdain, condescension, and anger can also be communicated through our eyes – perhaps this is why we might avoid eye contact in general. Self-protection is a powerful teacher. Nevertheless, take a risk and look your friend, relative, or coworker in the eye. Hold the eye contact a second longer than you feel comfortable with and expand your ability to look other people in the eye. Generally, you’ll want to give more eye contact when you are listening. When you are talking it’s socially expected that you’ll look around (since you’re presumably thinking at the same time).
- Allow others to join in the conversation. I’ve seen something that grieves me: in a setting where there are many people, one person will hold the attention of another person and not include others as they join the dyad. Granted, some folks may have an autistic bent, but in more often, I think it has more to do with awareness and skill (both things we can change). Become aware of those who would like to join in on your conversation – notice someone edging closer. Realize this takes guts for them to do, and they are motivated to join the conversation because they have the same need to connect that you do. Once you’re aware that there’s another person there, step back to make physical space for them to join the conversation. Make the space a triangle or a bigger circle. Pause on what you’re talking about to make introductions (if needed) and fill them in on what you’re saying. Invite them into the discussion. Let’s do better at including others into whatever connection we’ve got going.
It doesn’t escape me that I’m typing these tips on Relating IRL through a screen. Please forgive my use of the virtual world to urge you into the real world. I want so much for us humans to be together in the ways we was meant to: in person.
More to come on having realistic expectations for IRL experiences.
Written by Veronica Johnson
November 10, 2022