Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

What Is The Etiquette of Social Media Stalking?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been lacking courage with women in my life, and been taking steps recently to have more courage and take action to go talk to women I’m interested in. Yesterday, I took one of these steps. I went to talk to a performer of the improv show I went to, she was absolutely brilliant (and pretty!). I interrupted her with her friends after the show to congratulate her, and we had a nice little chat, she made conversation with me and seemed interested. She asked if I’d be coming back to the next show, which is in one month, to which I replied I definitely would. Now I didn’t want to bother her as her friends were interrupting, and it was another (scary!) step to take her number right away/suggest we meet again, which I didn’t do. So I wished her good night. (Aside: It’s hard to reconcile being proud of taking little steps while still being disappointed in oneself for not being perfect)

Now the next show is in one month and I think it’s a long time to wait. And I’m pretty good at finding people on Facebook, if you catch my drift.

My dilemma is this: should I contact her online, offering we meet again, or should I wait a month to (possibly) talk to her again? On one hand, I want to strike the iron while it’s hot and act with urgency but I don’t want to make her feel stalked; and on the other, I prefer the engagement of face-to-face but a lot of things can happen and pass in one month, and the logistics of talking to her again could be difficult.

Thanks Doc, keep on keepin’ on

Taking Little Steps

DEAR TAKING LITTLE STEPS: First of all TLC, you should be proud of yourself. You’ve done something that you’ve had a hard time with in the past – going up and starting conversations with people. That’s awesome. Don’t let the fact that you didn’t do or accomplish everything you’d hoped for get you down; self-improvement is a marathon, not a sprint. Take each milestone as it comes instead of getting upset that you haven’t hit the next one already. Trust me: success breeds success, and those little steps add up over time. Take pride in what you have done and let that motivate you for the next step.

So with that in mind, I want to make sure that you don’t screw up your progress and set yourself back by making a couple common mistakes.

Because believe me, tracking this person down on Facebook would be a mistake right now.

Here’s a quick rundown of social media etiquette: certain platforms have different expectations of intimacy. Twitter, for example is an open platform; it’s generally expected that you’re tweeting out to the general public. In an awkward metaphor, it’s somewhere between standing on a soapbox and having a conversation with people out on the street. Some people prefer private accounts and only interact with mutual or approved followers, but for the most part there’s a low expectation of privacy and intimacy.

(Of course, this can quickly lead to problems with people sea-lioning…)

Instagram is similar; it’s an outward facing system designed for people to promote themselves and build an audience of people who want to see their content. While there ARE folks who prefer to keep their IG private and locked to friends only, it’s generally safe to assume that people on Instagram are cool with their content being put out there for public consumption.

Because a lot of people – especially creative types and performers – use Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat for public promotion, it’s not terribly unusual to follow people you don’t know well or know at all.

Facebook, on the other hand, is more intimate. While there are people who will leave their Facebook accounts wide open and who collect as many friends as possible, most people reserve Facebook connections to people who they have a certain level of familiarity with. The accepted level of familiarity may vary – some people will accept friend requests from friends of friends or people they interact with in Facebook groups and professional pages, while others will only accept requests from family and people they know very well. When you get a friend request from someone you only barely know or have only met once… well that can be a little awkward, especially if you don’t otherwise have any social contact with her.

In your case, TLS, you really don’t have a social connection with this person. Unless you’ve left some details out of your letter, you don’t share overlapping social circles or mutual friends to vouch for you; if you did, you wouldn’t have to track her down on Facebook. All you’ve had at this point is one conversation after a performance. And while it’s great that it went well, you’re still a stranger to her. And believe me, having someone who you have met once or twice in passing track you down on Facebook is seriously creepy.

Here’s the other mistake you’re making – you’re overestimating her potential interest in you. As with most things in life, context counts. In your case, you’re coming up to a performer after their performance and chatting with them briefly. They’re still in performance mode, as it were – enjoying the endorphin rush of another successful show, appreciating the kind words and compliments from the audience, engaging with fans, etc. Unless she was going out of her way to engage you, then odds are good that this was her-as-performer; asking if you were going to come to the next show is more about getting people to come back and fill the seats. It’s like meeting creators at conventions: they’re there with a purpose, and that purpose isn’t about making new friends. It’s rare that you’re going to become fast friends after a brief conversation at their table.

So to be perfectly blunt: there really isn’t any urgency here because there’s no emotional momentum to lose.

I know this is feeling kind of harsh and upsetting; despite all appearances I REALLY don’t like stomping on people’s hopes. But right now, you’ve made such great progress that I’m trying to keep you from ruining it by overstepping things and feeling even worse when things don’t work out the way you’d hoped. Believe me, that painful mix of feeling rejected and “how could I be so stupid” hurts way more than dialing your expectations back. Trust me: I’ve been there and done that so many times I bought the factory that makes the shirts.

So here’s what I suggest: hang tight, practice your approaches – both cold and warm approaches – and get better at starting conversations with people. Take the month to just work on being social. When the next performance comes around, see if you can talk to her a little more afterwards. Don’t go into it hoping to get her number; just work on getting comfortable talking to someone you’re attracted to. And if things are going really well, then ask if you can friend her on Facebook. Simply say “hey, I’m really enjoying talking to you, and I’d like to continue later on. Is it OK if I friend you on Facebook?”

If she’s cool with it, she’ll tell you how to find her. If she’s not – she may say she only talks to close friends or family – then… well, it’s going to be disappointing, but you should still be proud of yourself. You’ll have made another significant step. And those steps are going to lead you to some amazing times in the future.

Good luck.

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