Some Observations About Relationships On & Off Twitter

I joined Twitter on 14th September 2008. I didn’t really think much of it. I randomly saw these messages from people. I stayed away.

‘Razzdino is now following you on twitter’

Suddenly, amongst those unknown people I was following, there was a face I knew. I started having twitter conversations and sort of started liking the platform. Soon enough, I found a few interesting people to follow.
I took my time to get to know the platform, which is how it should always be. In the last one year or so, I have got to know a lot of people, made some lovely friends. There’s always a flipside to it.

When you follow someone on twitter, you know the intimate details of their life. It’s almost like you peep into their heads. Yes, you know what they eat, who they hate, which film they’re watching. You know every bit about their life as long as they’re tweeting. You end up having random conversations at odd times too. However, in the offline world, you don’t get access to such details about a person and at such regular intervals unless you literally live with the person.

You love the conversations, you love reading their updates, so obviously, the next thing you do is add these people on facebook and on gtalk. No harm done. You’ve never met them, but you do feel a connection. But what happens when you meet them offline?

I have met almost a couple of hundred people off twitter. I think I have observed enough to say this. When people who follow each other online meet offline, they end up interacting like they know each other for eons. We all have masks online, so when these two people’s online masks do not match their real-life masks, it ends up making things awkward.

Some people are just as loud-mouthed as they are on twitter, some people are as quiet as they are active on twitter, some people are far cooler in real life than they appear on twitter and vice-versa. Meeting people offline can shatter your pre-conceived notions and bajao your expectations. I agree with Bombay Addict when he says, ‘I think at some point we start expecting people to behave in a certain way. I think those expectations become a burden. I’m ok with imperfect people. I like imperfect people. They’re like me. I don’t think I can live up to anyone’s expectations and I don’t think I want to. I will be inconsistent.

How many of us have the maturity to say this, least of all implement it? I don’t. But I am inconsistent, which brings me to my next point.

When you’re friends with someone via twitter, especially when the friendship came about quite quickly, there’s an immense pressure to be something you’re not. Friendships should evolve over a long period of time. The time gives you a chance to know the person for who they are, for the flaws that they have. It took me a long time to understand this that on twitter, you tend to share, reply politely and be the warmest person ever. There are chances that you’re not like that at all in the offline world. But someone who has managed to be friends with you via twitter, will always expect the niceties out of you. It’s not their fault. They’ve never seen your flaws.

I’ve had people throw tantrums because I had the time to attend tweetups but I didn’t have the time to socialize with them. This person had made friends with me via twitter and within a matter of weeks, she had decided that I was her best friend. When this tantrum was thrown my way in real life, obviously, I reacted the way I would in real life. She couldn’t relate to it because she didn’t know I had the ‘mind your own business’ side to me. Back then, I fumed. I really didn’t know why a person would expect me to be their best friend. Now, after the detox, I understand. She saw what I showed her and she wanted to continue to see that.

It is important to understand that relationships on twitter, however rosy they might seem, are relationships based on online personas. If you want them to be real, take it slow. I have a bunch of friends whom I have followed for years, I met them a few times and our friendship evolved slowly and steadily. These friends have lasted. Because we took our time.

Too close, too soon does NOT work.

38 comments for “Some Observations About Relationships On & Off Twitter

  1. June 17, 2010 at 6:32 am

    A very well drafted article, S!

    I agree with you completely. I’m on Twitter since 2007 and witnessed so many relationships blooming/breaking on this platform.

    My take? NEVER trust blindly anyone on Twitter (or for that matter on the web) & get influenced by observing their online persona. There are more fakes and less genuine profiles.

    It’s always a good idea to meet someone in real and then take your relationship to the next level.

    However, not many would agree with me. In the past, I’ve had various discussions with numerous people on Twitter and everyone has a different view towards online trust factor.

    Nevertheless, I’m glad, someone blogged about this 🙂

    Cheers!

    • June 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm

      Trusting someone blindly on any platform online is highly risky. However, quite a few people on twitter are validated by other people before you meet them. The risk factor is lower, but all I’m saying is that one shouldnt let their guard down. I’m glad the post is appreciated. I was afraid it would upset some people…

  2. June 17, 2010 at 6:41 am

    hey ShaaqT

    extremely valid observations and believe me i have been thinking on these lines for a long time now ….. the online and offline persona thing scares the daylights out of me …. and i keep wondering whether twitter and facebook like apps only give people a way to actually vent off all their frustrations as well as show off the cool side. I have seen people be very hubris about it also and the best part is they want to be like that …….
    Im still bewildered by this but what heck as of now i am riding on the social wave …..

    • June 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm

      the social wave is great as long as you dont gt washed away with it… ride it all you want 🙂

  3. June 17, 2010 at 6:46 am

    Great article! Many would find this very useful coz not all have the ability in them to explain things in a way people can understand. So, thanks for writing this! 🙂

  4. June 17, 2010 at 6:46 am

    Completely agree with what you have to say. I think this post and the one by Bombay Addict should be read by people before they jump onto twitter and get tweeting.
    I think this is true of most networks like twitter, like IRC/ICQ before that and to a small extent chat rooms from the Web 1.0 era. Of course, I’m running the risk of ruffling some feathers here when I raise this comparison.
    I could also extend this analogy of unreal expectations to real life. If you lead a compartmentalized life it is not right on the part of people, let’s say, your colleagues, to expect that you would be the same efficient, polite, helpful person outside of work.
    I’m not who you think I am. I’m not my Twitter persona, nor my Facebook persona. These are just pieces of me.

    • June 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm

      i like the concept of pieces of me. and you’re right. the concept of taking time has got to extend to real life too…

  5. thegabclub
    June 17, 2010 at 8:10 am

    I have had my shares of meeting the worst of the kind people online. Yes a relationship too which today i regret as my worst …
    I realised with all the mistakes I made that its better to start doubting intentions than trusting when u meet someone online. I took a year to know a handful of these few I met online and along the way I did cut off ties with a few but am glad this filteration process have helped me collect the gems I would like to keep for life ..
    You are one of them of course 🙂

  6. June 17, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Hey compulsive,
    I have a slightly different take on this. Twitter is just like real life/world, don’t see much of a difference (esp. now that its become mainstream).

    When we meet someone offline, we are usually nice and at our best behaviour and then as we meet more often, our imperfections start to show….. And long lasting friendships happen when we learn to accept these imperfections of certain people. We can’t accept imperfections (big or small) of everyone, its some chosen select few we like a lot as a package (incl. imperfections) and they become friends.

    We tend to over-analyse online and offline, all of us try to project a certain version to the outside world everywhere (and the real self selectively to people we believe we are comfortable with). Think of twitter like a large workplace and maybe the importance given to online/offline will start to diminish.

    And so far I have not gone wrong with profiling anyone I follow (willingly :P, as some I am forced to follow or continue following for certain reasons) on twitter (the imperfections show up too, its impossible to hide, esp. when the nos are limited), but yes it takes a little time to form informed comprehensive opinions, plus there are lot of references available (check and balances), opinion of people you trust, and of course your own instincts. And I use exactly the same tools in the offline world. Personally I don’t see much difference.

    Also it helps to have realistic expectation (ideally no expectations) and that really simplifies things, as we are all only simple humans. It works for me, as this way I am rarely disappointed.

    • June 17, 2010 at 4:49 pm

      Agreed. I have never meticulously profiled anyone before i met them. it has always been via tweetups or mutual friends. the post is just an observation. kinda saying what i’ve learnt so far. and expectations are unavoidable. they come with the territory, no? especially since u have a sense of knowing the person already

  7. June 17, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I agree 🙂 In that blogging is good. You read the person’s posts and a over a period of time form an image 🙂

    And that gap always exists…

  8. June 17, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    And I should add, you are one of the few whom I ‘admire’ 🙂

    • June 17, 2010 at 4:52 pm

      honored… and yes, we know each other from the blogosphere for nearly 2 years now.. and we havent met… but there’s a bond. these bonds i treasure 🙂

  9. June 17, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    I dont take anything or anyone seriously on Twitter. Also, me being a person’s friend has nothing to do with me following them on Twitter. As a matter of fact I have unfollowed quite a few friends on Twitter cuz I dont relate to their tweets – that does not mean that they are not my friends anymore…

    Like I say all the time, “Its just Twitter, jeez!!” 🙂

    • June 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm

      u didnt roll eyes?
      and yeah, i agree… its twitter 😛

      • June 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm

        Nope. Not this time. I’ll roll eyes when I meet u offline :p

    • June 20, 2010 at 6:37 pm

      My thoughts exactly. nice post!

  10. June 17, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Good post. It almost sums up my thoughts too about the topic.

    We’ve read over the years how the telephone (and later the internet) has made the world “a small place”.. and brought everyone closer. What we forget sometimes is that this idea is relative. Twitter-like platforms (Orkut, Facebook, WordPress etc.) are really good, only if you know how to take everything with a pinch of salt. Its great to know so many people and connect with like-minds, but as you say we are only connecting with the part of their life which they are exposing to the world.. through updates and micro-blogging. Judging people by a whiff of evidence can prove to be catastrophic sometimes.

    Connections can happen quickly, but as you put it correctly, ‘friendships’ and ‘relationships’ do take time to develop and mature. In fact, I feel that Twitter-like platforms help in giving you a rough idea about a person before you meet him/her offline, and you tend to avoid blind-date type scenarios at every corner in life. Then you can always build on that basic background information. This should even work for employers looking into profile info of prospective job candidates!

    Anyways, I’m re-blogging this, hope you don’t mind!

    • June 18, 2010 at 1:15 pm

      thanks Nikhil. i have been in the middle of many such catastrophes, which is why i wrote this post in the first place. and more the merrier. go ahead and share 🙂

  11. June 17, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    An interesting article, though these things are as vast and fluid as real-life relationships as “Prolific Dyslexic” commented it’s not that different from real-life relations. As clear as generalizations go. I think this post would be good for the Junior Twitterati out there & nostalgic to the old-skoolers.

    As an aside, there’s a novel based on this very thought process.
    It’s called Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman, it actually began online as a blog and was then converted into a self-contained story arc to be more accessible to a larger audience. Though the blog was amusing while it lasted, the published novel is on a level of it’s own. Highly recommend!

    I did a post about it a while back if you’d like to get a feel of it:
    http://www.ramchandra.me.uk/blog/archives/2007/03/anonymous-lawyer.php

    • June 18, 2010 at 1:19 pm

      i am buying the novel on kindle 😛
      and you make me feel like a teacher 🙂 wheeeeeeeeeeeeee

  12. June 17, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Nikhil, This is a great article. The distinction between online and offline personae is a fascinating one. In the end, I suppose it matters most how we choose to use these platforms. But the ‘snippet’ style of Tweeter is likely to always fall short of portraying a whole person…but then again, I think there are offline situations that are analogous. Imagine you go to the same coffee shop every morning, like clockwork, and every morning you stand in line with roughly the same group of people (who are also carrying out their morning rituals). After seeing each other every day for a while you share short conversations, jokes, smiles, various exchanges. None of these people are likely to see the ‘whole’ you….then again…that doesn’t really cover the inane details part. Ah, just some thoughts. I haven’t gone to the coffee shop yet this morning.

    I really enjoy your work.

    Kelly

  13. Kathleen
    June 18, 2010 at 1:33 am

    I agree with your thoughtful post and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you slowly over Twitter! (I hope we can meet when I’m back in Bombay next year).

    I’ve met a couple of hundred people off Twitter, at official tweet ups and other casual meetings. I find that some people have assumed we are “friends” when I’m more likely to call them an “acquaintance”. The people who assume friendship have expressed hurt when I’ve unfollowed them – seeing it as personal. I treat Twitter casually, opting in and out of conversations and following. I always feel really guilty when I unfollow and someone expresses hurt because they have over-invested themselves in the idea of friendship. I’m still working out how to negotiate this!

    • June 18, 2010 at 1:25 pm

      I know exactly what you mean. Follow/unfollow on twitter has nothing to do with what we think of them offline. But these days, thanks to the coverage twitter gets in the mainstream media, everyone takes twitter and their follower count seriously. it sort of bothers me… but i am sure people will get over this obsession.
      and yes, i’d love to meet you when you come to mumbai next. like you said, its been a long journey and something tells me its a journey that’ll be fun if we take it offline 🙂

  14. June 18, 2010 at 5:13 am

    I’ve never taken any twitter relationship offline so I’m not quite sure if I’d be the right person to comment on this topic. However, having said that, I know exactly what you mean cause I have pissed off “enough” number of people by not meeting them through twitter. (which btw in my defense has just been Circumstantial)
    I agree when you say that slow is the way to go. Keep your expectations minimum and who knows out of the 10 people you meet, your job’s done even if you manage to make 2 real friends.

    • June 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm

      absolutely! those 2 people are always worth it… and yeah, i would never have gotten so obsessed with twitter if it wasnt for you 🙂

  15. June 18, 2010 at 10:30 am

    I’ve a slightly different take on the matter. For me where i meet people does not compartmentalize what friendship i have with them. So to say, i don’t have blog friends, twitter friends, orkut friends (yes back from the good ol days :P), work friends, college friends, bus friends, train friends and aeroplane friends…

    Nor do i compartmentalize ppl as offline and online friends.

    For me the comparmentalization is as follows

    strangers, aquaintances, friends and close friends…independent of the source they come from.
    My expectations from them is as a result of that. Some times you click almost from the word go and sometimes it takes years for the flower to bloom and sometimes things sour up

    But yes what you pointed out are very real dangers of online initiation and hence where i see potential i try to see if we can take the relationship into real life soon, (though i’ve had friendships that lasted years online before even coming to the phone level :P) for this very reason…online gives u a deep look into a person but it usually can’t give you the broad picture they stand in

    (yes my comments are some times as long as pplz posts 😛 )

    • June 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm

      hey u shud do a post in answer to my post… some very valid points u had there 🙂

  16. June 18, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    don’t tempt me… 🙂

    bribes are welcome though (wat batch of cupcakes you got going in your oven abhi 😀 😛 )

  17. Joss
    June 18, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    The most disastrous relationship I ever had was with someone who I wrote to for over a year before meeting them. Yes, I wrote to them using a pen not a keyboard. But it was the same problem you desribe in your post – a persona had been created. The persona, however, had been created by someone with time to choose his words carefully to put him in the best light. Once we met up, however, I found he had a rather nasty temper. The unedited version of the man was rather different to what I expected.

    e better people are at writing, the more convincing and attractive this persona is. My son, who is a good writer, was once told by a girl in his school that if his offline persona was as cool as his online one she’d go out with him straight away. However … Poor boy! Since then he has made some very good online friends who have given him more support than his 3D friends. So that’s great. I wish all this online stuff had been around when I was younger.

  18. sundar39
    June 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Good observations. Nicely put. A valid post.

    a href=”http://www.workathomeforum.in”> Work At Home In India </a

  19. June 26, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Loved this post.
    Yes–very rightly said.
    I have made some great friends over my blog (whom I now have met several times in real life too) but it has indeed taken YEARS..Instant thing just does not work.

    Well said!
    Cheers
    preeti

  20. June 30, 2010 at 6:41 am

    Loved reading your take on relationships and twitter.

    I’ve met very few people from Twitter till now. The ones I did meet turned out to be really interesting and fun people. There was the one off disappointment, but I wrote it off as poor judgement on my part.

    Your post hits quite close to home for me. Since I am primarily a health blogger and tweet a lot about my posts, research and reviews, when I meet people offline they expect me to look and behave a certain way. Some think that I am supposed to be this freak who only works out, counts calories day and night, and makes organic energy food all day 😀 I noticed that the friends that stuck on were the ones who didn’t come loaded with these expectations, who also followed my tweets about my other interests.

    Great perspective and insight as always. Cheers!

  21. Rabindra Singh tait
    September 1, 2010 at 3:08 am

    You said it right and described the good and bad your friend from Hyderabad

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