'Friending' each other in real life

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2014 - 1:16 PM

Online acquaintances can become great offline pals, but the initial in-person meeting can be all kinds of awkward.

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Illustration: Nakahodo MCT

There’s a regular Sunday gathering at Nora Purmort’s house in northeast Minneapolis.

Women come by to sip coffee and share snacks. They chat about their lives, and occasionally tackle a craft project.

The guest list varies, but for the most part, they aren’t childhood friends, college classmates or co-workers. They met on Twitter, conversing 140 characters at a time.

“They don’t know each other [in real life], but they’ve been following each other on Twitter,” Purmort said. “If I can have people over and it can be a mix of people who only know each other on the Internet, that’s a pretty cool thing.”

Social media has been a social boon for Purmort, who figures she’s made more than a dozen close friends via the social network since moving back to Minneapolis a few years ago. Others share her enthusiasm, attending regular events around the Twin Cities, known as tweetups, to meet those they’ve only chatted with online.

They say the social media chatter eases in-person connection and forges deeper ties around mutual interests more quickly. There’s no need to cast about for common passions if you’ve spent the past few months bantering about films or baseball on Twitter.

But meeting online friends in person can also come with all sorts of awkwardness — or even danger — without a little common sense.

After years of reading someone’s blog, you might know their Mommy woes or fashion tastes, but you’re missing a lot of other information. People question how much to reveal: Is it creepy to bring up that adorable baby photo on Instagram the first time you meet? Then there are personality traits. Does Twitter humor translate in person?

“There are a few moments of getting acquainted or weirdness because you’re meeting a modern-day pen pal in real life,” said Rachel Bertsche, author of “MWF Seeking BFF,” a book about her yearlong quest to make new friends as an adult. “When you meet in real life, it’s not like a blind date so much as a ‘You’ve Got Mail’ situation.’”

As with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in that 1990s rom-com classic, you know plenty about each other — but probably are missing key details.

“You’re making assumptions about who that person is,” said Carlin Flora, who wrote the book “Friendfluence” about the way friends shape each other. “It’s hard to fit the model in your head of the person with the actual in-the-flesh person in front of you.”

Yet that can be part of the fun, as long as the in-person surprises aren’t alarming.

Erin Herold of Minneapolis recently met a man at a local tweetup whom she had been following on Instagram. She didn’t know what he looked like until that in-person introduction.

“I’d know his dog. I could tell you all about him, but I couldn’t pick him out of a crowd in a room,” she said. “It was the nicest thing to be able to put a true face with a name.”

They’re planning to get together again for coffee.

But not all meetings go so well.

When Herold, who has a disability, met another Twitter acquaintance for coffee, he made a snide comment about her cane, calling it “a really neat affectation.”

There was no second friend date for him.

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