When social anxiety is an all too familiar presence, can you over-prepare for a date? What does that mean? Are we talking about three hours of hair styling and lash curling? Or scanning every online feed for the scoop on Mr. Wonderful?
Is it different if we’re talking about a professional situation? An interview, a presentation, a semi-social gathering? Does worry lessen if you research everything you can – before the event rolls around?
We might argue that in the latter example – preparation for matters that concern work – there is no such thing as “too much.” For example, before a presentation, not only do I want to feel confident in knowledge of my material, but I like knowing key facts about those in attendance – their roles, their expectations. Then, I can increase the likelihood that my communications will be valuable and well-received.
However, according to Time magazine, in the context of blind dating, “preparation” shouldn’t include what amounts to cyber stalking… even if it is an attempt to reduce anxiety.
Safety First, in Online Dating
To quote the Julia Roberts character in “Pretty Woman:”
I’m a safety girl…
If you’re planning on meeting a stranger, don’t take chances! A dose of online due diligence is certainly in order. Basic fact checking makes sense. Ditto to talking first by phone or other means. And always, always tell a friend or family member where you’re going and with whom.
But trolling for your date’s every digital dropping of the past several years?
That’s unlikely to ease your mind, and it just may make things worse.
Of course, even when you are convinced you’ve made the requisite inquiries (online or off), you may still be in for an unsettling experience. All the more reason to keep your wits about you on a first few encounters, not to mention following the “tell a friend” rule.
As for social networks, they are not a fool-proof screen. Nor are they as helpful as you think when it comes to getting to know someone.
Social Anxiety – Online and Off
… socially anxious individuals shun social situations for fear of being found out as unlikable or worse…
Now we may imagine this would be less the case in online encounters. It seems logical; there is no need to actually speak or be seen, and we can easily fictionalize our online personas.
In fact, the jury may still be out on these assumptions. For the socially anxious and those who suffer low self-esteem:
… One study in particular found that online social communication skills and self-esteem are correlated, indicating a link between the strength of offline relationships and time spent online; this might not work to the advantage of socially anxious individuals for whom offline relationships are difficult to forge in the first place…
Too Much Information… Too Many Assumptions?
The Time article reminds us that research shows (among female college students):
…a Facebook introduction tended to make some people more nervous during the face-to-face meeting.
Hardly a damning conclusion, I know. After all, the younger we are, naturally, the newer these experiences and the fewer our tools for dealing with them. Besides, we judge by appearance and make assumptions – about confidence, intelligence, kindness and more.
Aren’t we wrong as often as not?
The point is – we may skew our expectations when we pour over publicly shared information.
If we tend toward less confidence in socializing, or if we are “socially anxious,” we may view a stranger’s posts and imagine him to be someone he isn’t: more successful, more self-assured, more charismatic, more intimidating.
Or, as Time puts it:
The initial online experience could start a process of rumination that leads to expectations and comparisons that the real life encounter may not meet or fulfill.
We may unwittingly undermine the very purpose of our over-preparation, which is to feel more at ease.
Are You Who You Appear to Be?
Aren’t we all quite different in private conversation over tapas than we are in a chat window? For that matter, aren’t we different on the virtual page or email than we are in person?
In both cases, we do not have to deal with the visual aspects of ourselves, not to mention body language. And, we can edit what we say and how we say it. Barriers fall. Authenticity increases. In many respects, we are our “truest” selves, but not the entirety of our selves.
Using myself as an example, in a social situation, I am more shy in person than you may think from the way I write. In a professional scenario, that is rarely the case. And I do not believe this is at all unusual.
And of course, some are masters of the performed persona – painting a version of themselves that serves a purpose of which we may not be aware.
Dating Dilemma: Cyber Stalking vs Real Life Talking
In my (oh-so) vast experience with online dates, few were cause for any worry, though I checked them out… quickly. I looked on LinkedIn, tended not to look on Facebook, and generally I went by any photo that was posted with a dating profile.
What I cared about most? That whomever I was meeting was, indeed, who he said he was. I also made a point to talk with my date on the phone. Even if a brief conversation after a few emails, I wanted the more spontaneous experience of the way he thought, the way he sounded, the way he expressed himself.
In fact, the blind date that resulted in one exceptionally nice man in my life was cause for an opposite sounding of the alarm – there was literally no digital footprint whatsoever. In this day and age, that was a little scary!
However, as I had met his sister in person, and I had spoken to him on the phone before we set our date, I had a gut level sense of who he was. At least, I told myself, we would enjoy an interesting evening.
As it turns out, it has been much more.
Online Information as a Tool
In recent years, our views on privacy have shifted significantly. We share a surprising amount about our lives, often without thinking.
Our mechanisms for meeting others have changed, and our expectations. Treating people as commodities, particularly in romantic relationships – I find to be one of the sadder and more disturbing elements of 21st century life. Our online activities fuel both of these phenomena – what we keep to ourselves (or not), and how easily we judge and discard others.
The Internet has altered the socializing landscape, and first impressions are created long before we meet face-to-face. Information we garner online ought to be a tool, and used wisely. It can lessen worry or heighten it. It can reveal nuggets of gold or warts taken out of context. It can enhance and prepare our experience of real world interaction comfortably, or if we allow – subvert it altogether.
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