Most of my relationships began online.
Not most, all.
Since Facebook arrived, or since I created an account, meeting people (and getting to ‘know’ them) has become deceptively easy.
And as an introvert, my gratitude for the internet cannot be overstated. It helps me get out of my shell without taking me too far out of my comfort zone.
But something about this convenience is not quite right.
I’m not sure if it’s because of the deceptive ease I mentioned earlier or just a consequence of collective naive presumption, but we now seem to think that we know people just because we text each other furiously, have a few lengthy calls and go on (virtual) dates.
We scratch the surface and get excited when gold dust shows up. But that’s not the same thing as the precious metal, and no amount of alchemy can turn a flash in the pan into the real deal.
I’ll speak for myself. This is how the interaction with someone new tends to go:
It begins with a follow and a slide, or a swipe and a match.
Then mutual interests are explored and perceived common ground quickly becomes the foundation for building something, so we assemble a (romantic) house of cards at the speed of chat.
Familiarity is accelerated to create a sense of comfort, and we’re deluded into believing that we belong together.
But common ground can shift and intensity cannot make up for ignorance.
The fact is, people are exhaustingly complex beings – knowing one another is never complete, learning about us never ends.
What we think we have figured out today reinvents itself as tomorrow’s mystery. And just when we solve that, our preferred person evolves again as we all do.
It’s either a frustrating slog or an intriguing adventure, depending on how you look at it, but that’s not the point.
Let’s look at the effects of reality on this delusion.
When what is considered to be common ground shifts, it feels like an earthquake has hit the house of cards.
We’re unsettled, rattled, shaken up, and the aftershocks come as questions:
- Who is this person I’m talking to?
- Am I doing the right thing?
- Should I be here?
- What if this is who they really are and we have nothing in common?
And the all-important one:
- Should I run?
Of course, the answers to these questions are subjective. Only you can answer them for yourself and even then, you may not be sure.
But there’s a whole other question that I have found to be more useful to ask because answering it sincerely has helped me stay grounded where my expectations are concerned:
- How much can I really know about someone else in a short time?
The thing is, cramming as much knowledge of a person as we can in a short time isn’t smart or intuitive. It just shows a lack of understanding.
That’s the human crash course.
In my experience, it’s a leading cause of crashing and burning in relationships.
When we think we know people “well enough,” here’s what happens:
1. We spot behavioural patterns that may not be there at all.
2. We tend to ask questions less and jump to conclusions more.
3. The process of getting to know them is interrupted, pausing that wondrous and unending activity driven by curiosity, sincere interest and the willingness to be wrong.
4. We set ourselves up for relationship conflicts fueled by ignorance.
5. We lean toward making unilateral decisions because we assume the other person’s position.
None of these things is a recipe for a fulfilling relationship, whether romantic or platonic. Not even a professional relationship.
I consider knowing to be a marathon, not a sprint. So no matter how hard and fast we run, we’re never going to cover as much ground as we think we will.
We’ll just end up measuring distance with the units of intensity, then we’ll burn out and most likely give up trying to know.
Instead of a mad dash toward a nonexistent finish line, we should know for a fact that we don’t know much, slow down and pay attention (listen and observe).
It’s amazing how much we can learn about someone else when we get out of our head enough to be present in their life.