Interacting with men online makes me panic a lot. The panic itself isn’t an anomaly. Almost every daily interaction I have with people has the white noise of panic humming in the background. Online interactions are even tougher for me because I can’t pick up on physical cues or tone. This is true for a lot of people. And adding to that, when men use social media to contact me out of the blue, I really do panic. I feel fear. I don’t know why this is. I will add that I am signed up for a few dating sites and I can barely ever work up the nerve to check them. But here I’m talking about mainly Twitter, where there is not an inherent dating component. Which is to say, when people DM me out of the blue to hit on me, it sends me into a tailspin of, ”wait, what?!
It’s not that I’m not flattered. I am beyond flattered. Trust me, growing up a fat, unpopular kid, the idea that anyone would have any semblance of interest in me is thrilling. But perhaps I never learned to trust myself around those interactions. This makes it sound like it happens a lot and that I’m ungrateful. Neither is true. I’m not trying to brag or complain. I want to explain why sometimes I don’t answer back to these unsolicited messages, and maybe why sometimes other people don’t answer back, either.
It’s not because you’re gross. It’s not because I believe myself to be superior to you. I answer when I can — when the social interaction doesn’t cause me to panic beyond belief. A lot of guys do okay at starting conversation, even. They start off casually and treat me like a person, neither as someone on a pedestal who, if I answer, is gracing them with my reply, nor someone who owes them an answer, either. These interactions are lovely and great, though still personally a bit tough.
The hard interactions usually start off way too sincere or way too demanding. Since I’m on the site for comedy, most of the people I talk to are in comedy too, so supreme sincerity sets off red flags. If you message me about my appearance, my guard is automatically up. (I’m making jokes — wouldn’t you want to compliment me on those instead?) If you compliment me too much, again, my mind sets off bells of “what does he want me to do?”
That sounds like compliments inherently are bad. THEY AREN’T. Compliments are lovely and again I’m not trying to sound ungrateful or not flattered. I’m having trouble explaining this, but just know that when you turn a fun, humorous site into a place where you try to romance someone, it becomes a bit odd and sometimes off-putting.
I IN NO WAY want to close the door on all direct messages because it is a social site made to interact with people. but imagine messages as what you would say to a stranger after they do a comedy set and they’ve just come off stage. It would be rather weird to tell them they’re really pretty or to just give them your phone number, apropos of nothing. The fact that they’re pretty has nothing to do with the fact that they’re funny. If you ignore the jokes in favor of how they look, you’re sweeping who they are under the rug in lieu of what you see.
Also, please never press someone to meet up or keep in contact with you. “We should…” can be a scary way to start a sentence in an early message. It comes off feeling like I owe you already. I’d rather just talk to someone on here and eventually it gets to that point.
If I were a man, by now I would feel so confused. Girls want us to hit on them and not hit on them? Pay me compliments but not like that? I’m sure it seems like you can’t win. I’m sorry. I want you to know if I had easy answers, I’d write them in here. There are “rules” and nuances and degrees of finesse that are always moving like those staircases in Harry Potter. What works for one person will creep someone else out. (That holds true for how women treat men, and men treat men, and women treat women, too).
Here’s the thing, and THIS GOES FOR MEN AND WOMEN: treat people like they’re a person, just a person — and things will work so much better.
I know there are going to be A LOT of nuances here that people might find problematic. It bothers me in a lot of ways that there’s so many shades of gray. There are a lot of details that aren’t coming out how I want them to. But the other night, I lost hours of sleep because I was feeling guilty about not answering someone on Twitter. And this is not the first time. I don’t know the right way to handle some interactions. I’ve botched a lot, I’m sure.
If someone would tell me how to work on that, I’d gladly listen. I’ve tried not engaging at all. I’ve tried saying I have a boyfriend (when I did). I’ve tried joking my way out of things. I’ve ended up making people hurt and upset. I understand this is such a delicate area and no one wants to offend anyone. But I wanted to share why, sometimes, I personally don’t answer. Because while I’m flattered that you’d reach out — really, I am — I still don’t owe you my reply.
And anyway, wouldn’t you rather we have a better story to tell our kids than “Oh, we met in 140 characters or less?”