It all started in 2004 in Sadr City, Baghdad. There was this new thing called Myspace.com and I had just discovered Yahoo Messenger’s chat rooms. Being thousands of miles away from my home country, it was nice to be able to meet new people through these links to the outside world. Especially since just prior to deploying, I had just moved to Texas and knew absolutely nobody in the area. Since then, I’ve met all but one of my girlfriends and male flings, as well as many of my non-military friends, through one website or another.
It was kind of nice for someone as shy at introductions as me to be able to meet folks only after having talked to them, either online or via phone, but now I realize it has become a crutch. It was also nice to be able to stay in touch with people I hadn’t seen in years, until last winter when I realized I would probably never see any of these people again anyway.
In the military, I had a lot of success in online dating, though none of the relationships worked out (admittedly, most of these failures were not directly caused by social media). Then again, the one girlfriend I didn’t meet online pawned/took off with most of my stuff and left me three months behind on all my bills with a repossessed truck when I was in Iraq. So, including pre-internet-era dating, none of my face-to-face intro relationships worked either.
This is not just a problem with dating though. The few regular readers of this blog know that I recently moved to a new town for the second time in less than three years. For the last two years, I lived five miles from the Mexican border while finishing college. In August, I did just that and last month I moved back north for a new job that I’m loving so far. I now live an hour from where I was stationed in the military, less than three years ago. You would think that I’d have a bunch of friends left over from those days and thus would have some semblance of a social life. Not hardly. Besides two of the only four guys I still keep in contact with, I’ve lost touch with everyone.
Last year, I started going nuts on social media, realizing it was killing my personal relationships with pretty much everyone. So, in an attempt to separate myself from those people I’d never see again, and to develop more personal relationships with those few I really cared about, I deleted most of my Facebook page and Yahoo IM list. Well, one of those ideas was successful, and let’s just say my relationships are far from more personal.
Now that I’m back near my old stomping grounds, I realize that there are some people that I wouldn’t mind getting in touch with. The few fellow soldiers I wouldn’t mind hanging out with occasionally, a few girls I used to hang out with and wouldn’t mind going further with, and one or two guys I had flings with in the past whom I would’t mind reconnecting with now that I’m slightly more comfortable and honest about this whole bisexuality thing.
The other – and probably the bigger – problem is my seeming inability to meet new people without first meeting them online. My dad is that guy who, after walking away to the bathroom at a baseball game, I would find chatting up some random stranger animatedly upon my return. In as unfriendly a place as Boston even. That never was me. But at least if that guy or girl came up to me, I’d be able to respond with making an ass out of myself. Now I feel paralyzed when a cute girl or nice guy starts a conversation with me (on the very rare occasion that this actually happens) in public. If I am able to reply, I am constantly wondering about when I’m going to say the wrong thing, trip over my words, or begin motormouthing uncontrollably like I’m so good at. Personal introductions nowadays are one of the things I fear most. Right up there with that dream I keep having of falling out of the sky with the inability to wake myself up.
Now, social media is not completely to blame for this new level of social awkwardness. It is becoming common knowledge that combat veterans are having a hard time adjusting to the reality-TV-trumps-the-news society we live in today and adapting back into social situations with civilians. Plus, I was already a shy guy. But with this recent move and the fact that I made a total of three friends whom I hung out with a total of ten times in the two plus years I lived on the border, it’s becoming a bit scary. I hate that I have no local friends, but I also hate going out into social situations, especially alone.
The moral of the story is, be very careful with how you use social media, and really, technology itself. The more you use these tools, the more you come to rely on them, use them as a crutch. Eventually that crutch becomes a wheelchair and you are unable to use your legs anymore. You find yourself incapable of doing things without the help of this technology you have become so dependent upon.