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The Social Media Guide: How to Balance Online and Offline Relationships

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iStock_000052917622_smallSocial media is a double-edged sword. It’s good for a lot of things. It bridges the distance created by different time zones and sleep schedules. It allows us to keep tabs on those that matter most to us, even when they’re the furthest from us. However, it also creates its fair share of problems. Living in the digital age, it’s important to explore the shortcomings of social media, and understand the importance of real human interaction.

So much of being social revolves around proximity. As humans, we’re created for human contact. We need to interact with people on a personal level. Yes, a Facebook poke is fun, but it doesn’t carry the same weight as a physical, face-to-face interaction. You’re fully engaged in a conversation when you’re physically present. Over social media, you have no idea how much of their attention you’re holding.

A real conversation is reciprocal. All parties are fully invested in the conversation, understanding that it’s a give and take. Between tweets and status updates, social media has evolved into more of a soapbox for personal opinions, rather than a channel for intimate discussion. Too much of the content on social media is speech-oriented. Rather than intimacy fostered through mutual interests in one another, it becomes one-sided. Instead of “How are you?” it’s “Hey! Hey! Look at me!” Intimacy happens when everyone is vulnerable. It takes guts to expose your innermost feelings to someone else, and it takes courage to fully listen and empathize. The risk, however, is worth the reward. When you reveal your true self in conversation, you walk away knowing that your relationship has deepened. You’ve reached a new level of trust – though you can’t physically hold the feeling, you know it’s there. While plenty of people hold deep conversations via social media, it’s much harder to feel the same level of compassion that a face-to-face conversation brings. How can you gauge the genuineness of someone’s words when you can’t even see the expression on their face or the sound of their voice?

Interpersonal communication means that you need to communicate on a personal level. While the advent of social media has led to a rise in uneven interactions, that doesn’t mean modern technology is now completely devoid of tools for complementary conversation. Even though it might seem antiquated by today’s standards, there’s nothing wrong with picking up the phone and calling someone. Sometimes, it’s nice just to hear someone on the other end. Skype is fantastic for the same reasons. Not only does Skype provide a voice, but it also lets you see a familiar face.

Calls via phone or Skype can help hold together long-distance relationships. But you still need close friends to rely on. In these relationships, “close” is the optimal word. You need someone to be there for you—both geographically and empathically.

Often, however, it can be difficult to find new friends. Maybe you’ve just moved to a new town. Or you’ve finished school, and most of your close friends have moved away. Finding good friends is a matter of putting yourself out there. As comfortable as it might be to bide your time online, it doesn’t get the same results as physically leaving your comfort zone. Try exploring your local community and the social groups in the area—church, sports, shows, or service organizations, like Feed My Starving Children are great ways to meet new people. If you’re trying to get people together to do something, don’t be afraid to take the initiative and ask. If you’re a bit shy, social media is a great tool to initiate interacting with someone, just make sure to avoid using it as your only form of social interaction.

Once you’ve met people you feel you can connect with, it’s important to actually connect with them on an emotional level. You can divulge information about yourself via social media, but it’s hard to tell if anyone is actually listening. As people, we want to be known and accepted. The only way to get to know a person is to be there for that person. Spending time with someone, you’ll get to know about their personality and what they enjoy doing. There are certain nuances to people’s personalities that can’t be communicated with social media. The interactions that deepen friendships only happen during intimate, personable connections. There’s no substitute for being face-to-face.

People turn to social media to feel less alone, but that only supports the idea that everyone feels a little lonely now and again, and that’s okay. While you might feel that you’re engaging others through social media, the feeling may not be as substantial as a genuine, physical interaction. Instead of reaching out to others from behind your keyboard, try stepping out into the world. Meet new people and experiences with open arms. While it might seem difficult at first, when you finally feel that spark of friendship, you’ll be glad you took a chance.