Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Meeting Online Friends IRL

Mark J. Kline | 21 Oct 2010 09:00
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Dear Dr. Mark,

I've played a lot of online games and made plenty of friends doing so. My friends decided it would be fun to meet up in real life and spend a week hanging out. I had a great time, and it seemed the same for them. However when I returned home, all communication stopped. Aside from a call to say their flight landed safely, my friends never messaged me again, let alone returned any of my messages.

I don't believe I act much differently in real life than I do in a game, same personality, same humor, etc. The situation during the visit never seemed awkward, and we all knew each other well before meeting up, so I'm not entirely sure why people have no interest in keeping in touch.

Why did this meet-up seem to cause a breakdown in our online friendships?

Could the friends I made online have had assumptions and expectations about me that were shattered when we met, causing the cease in communication?

How disappointing that you made promising connections with people online, traveled a significant distance to see them, thought you had a great time, and the result was being dumped! You crossed into a new social frontier where the standards and etiquette are only just being defined and you're right to be puzzled by the outcome.

Not long ago, when I began educating parents about the internet, a huge fear was that kids would go off with strangers and get victimized in some terrible way. Tales of young teenagers being lured by pedophiles are a standard part of the parent education canon, used to encourage parental supervision of children's internet use. While some of this is overblown, I generally don't encourage minors to have in-person meetings with internet friends without parental oversight.

I'm going to assume you are a young adult of at least legal age, hopefully older, and that you made a reasonably mature decision about the risks and potential rewards of this adventure. I actually don't think these social excursions are as unusual as many in my generation imagine. You might have more reason to trust someone you've spent hours hanging out with online than somebody you meet in a bar or on a blind date.

When you spend months and years playing with a group of people, which includes talking, laughing, working together intensely, and sometimes sharing feelings and personal information, its easy to really feel like you know them. For some of us, these relationships can seem more intimate and important than those we have in real life, even to the point where they become a priority over local family and friends.

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