My mother used to say I was a “weirdo magnet.” She also gave me a key ring, once, that said, “I like you – you’re weird.” I like to think that most of the “weird” people we meet in life are likeable (like me!) but now and then, even nice weirdos need a little coaching in how not to come across as merely creepy and “weird-in-a-bad-way.”
Yes, I have a nice smile and look “approachable.” But I’m still trying to figure out why any man (and a few women) would approach a random stranger on the Internet and, let’s face it, one who is literally old enough to be their mother, and start the conversation with some variant of the following:
“Hi.” No, really – that’s it. Just “hi.” Followed by a sucking void of nothing else. Give me something to work with.
“Where are you?” I’m pretty sure this info is in my profile. One of them. Somewhere. It’s out there, online. Really, if you are interested in the answer and not simply grasping at conversational straws, Google it before popping up on my monitor, unbidden.
“What do you do?” See “where are you?” above. If you have to ask, you obviously aren’t all that interested in the answer. If you must make small talk, why not open with something a bit less personal, like, “What’s your favorite color? Mine’s green, because it reminds me of newly mowed grass in summer. It seems so full of life!” Or, “I see you’re a race car driver. That’s so cool – I’m a used car salesman. I think I got one of your old wrecks on my lot, last week.” In other words, volunteer the info you’re asking of the other person. Are you thinking of making up a B.S. bio for this? Make my day. One of us knows how to use Google. If you’re going to try to B.S. your way into a conversation, at least make it intriguing enough to entertain me while I run a quick background check.
Video chat should be reserved for close friends, business associates, social groups of three or more, or long-time lovers. No, random dude from Lagos, I do not want you to see me in my jammies at 6:00 AM. Ever. Blocked!
Also, please do not compose extemporaneous poetry odes to my awesomeness, or ask for my mailing address so you can send me flowers. That is not as sweet, in reality, as it is in the fantasy in your head. Look, I’m married. Not interested. And do not call me “honey,” “dear,” “sweetheart,” “love,” or any variation on that theme. I realize this is a cultural issue, in some cases – but where I grew up, that’s either a term of endearment from a loved one, or a smarmy and condescending greeting from a salesperson who deserves to be glared at. Don’t make up nicknames for me until we’ve known each other a good two years. Or more.
If you must send gifts, I’m sure the local Starbucks can find me.
I have a paragraph on my LinkedIN profile, if you bothered to glance through it before sending your completely random request to connect, that says:
Advice for Contacting Holly
Do not send spam unless you send fresh pineapple to go with it. (Seriously, I will respond only to notes that indicate there’s some reason you are contacting me, personally, as opposed to the 100,000 other people that might be on your mailing list.)
Now, family, close personal friends, face-to-face colleagues, and a few people I’ve worked with – in some capacity – online, get a semi-automatic pass on this. People I don’t know, or people I only know because we’ve casually brushed elbows on some social media site do not. Why? Because LinkedIN is supposed to be a “professional network.” With few exceptions, the folks I’m connected with, there, are people I can honestly say positive things about – in some work-related capacity – if asked. And those “few exceptions” made it to my connections by giving me a bit more than the canned “Because you are someone I trust, I’d like to add you to my network” thing from LinkedIN. This is not me being a snob – this is me, trying to use LinkedIN as it was originally designed to be used. I realize that LinkedIN is trying to reinvent itself as “just another social media site,” but until that happens, give me something more to work with, if you want to connect there.
If you see “has 457 people in her Circles” and think I’m a snob, it’s because I’m not showing off all my friends. Some of my Circles are private, to protect people who prefer not to be “harvested” as “peeps to follow” on Google+. I did unCircle a lot of people because I didn’t enjoy seeing what they were sharing publicly, and it was filling up my Home feed, obscuring the cool stuff I really did want to see. This isn’t middle school, though – don’t be offended if you Circle me and then somehow notice that I didn’t Circle you back. Only Circle me if you’re interested in what I post. That’s how it works.
I’m pretty open to connecting with new people on Facebook. But here’s the thing: I won’t accept random Friend requests, anymore, or Friend requests from strangers who have “friends in common” with me. (I don’t suggest you do that, either – I like my Facebook friends, but please ASK me before trusting any of them who send you Friend requests, there. Liking and trusting are not always the same thing.) It’s unfortunate that messages from people we’re not connected with on Facebook now go into the “Other” bucket. No one I know looks at that, and most people aren’t even aware it exists. It seems to live on a plane somewhat lower, even, than the “Spam” bucket, and is mostly filled with mash notes from merchant marines and horny girls with webcams. (Tell me it’s not just mine that’s that way!)
Anyway, I won’t send you to Facebook jail by saying, “Hell no, I have no idea who that person is! Make them watch the Facebook Re-Education Video and prevent their having any new friends for a week!” But I may ignore requests that come from people I don’t know and have never even exchanged a random “Hi” with in GTalk.
If I don’t know who you are, and your About page tells me nothing, I probably won’t accept your request. I will look at your Facebook page and if I see nothing but hateful rhetoric, racist jokes, misogyny, or spam, I will not accept your request. If I accept your request and can now see all of the above, because it was posted to “Friends Only,” I will unfriend and possibly block you. Nothing personal.
— oh, wait, yeah, it is.
Geez, You’re Picky…
By now you’re probably not even sure it’s worth the effort. “Well, you’ve told me all the ways not to talk to you…” Here are some suggestions (not just for talking to me, but for meeting new people online):
– Get to know what a cursory Google search or a glance at the person’s About page on their blog would tell you, if you want to know things like “where are you” and “what do you do.” Unless you’re wearing Google Glass, this is not an option at a face-to-face cocktail party; however, this is not a face-to-face cocktail party, and one can make too much small talk.
– Start all asynchronous and spontaneous conversations with more than “Hi.” Introduce yourself and explain why you just popped up in IM – in other words, why did you suddenly have an urge to chat with that particular person, and what was it you wanted to chat about? That person may not be online or may not be able to respond immediately, so leave an email address or something.
– Comment on the person’s Google+ profile, blog, or email, FIRST. Don’t just put them on the spot with a spontaneous “chat demand.”
All friendships start somewhere. Just don’t let social media completely redefine friendship into something meaningless and weird-in-a-creepy-sort-of-way.