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When an Online Friend Isnít Who You Expect In-Person

Posted by Peter Post  June 13, 2013 07:00 AM

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Q. Recently I met up with a friend for lunch for the first time from an iPhone social application. We went to a chain sandwich restaurant/deli. It is the type of place where you order from a front counter and later staff comes around to ask if everything is okay, asks if you need refills and to take up your plates. I was appalled at how my friend would snap his fingers in the air while exclaiming "Excuse me!" to get the attention of staff on the other side of a divider to demand more napkins and a refill of iced tea. The station where napkins were was within eyesight, and I personally would have got up and grabbed one myself. The most appalling thing is that he never said please or thank you. Is it me or was his behavior totally out of place? If it is out of place, how do I bring this to his attention?

G.T., Beaumont, TX

A. The short answer is, his behavior was out of line. Snapping fingers or loudly calling out to a waitperson is simply boorish behavior. Wait staff deserve to be treated respectfully. Just because they are serving or waiting on you doesnít mean they are beneath you and undeserving of respect. Iím not sure what he was trying to prove but whatever it was, the message was lost on you, the wait staff, and the other customers at the deli.

Your situation highlights a larger issue: Will an online friend make a good in-person friend? One of the biggest downsides of online friending is an inability to see or hear the ďfriend.Ē All you really have to go on is the words on the screen, no sound and no visual clues. Without these clues you are missing a large part of who that person is. And you have no clues as to how the person interacts with groups or in social situations. Unfortunately, in your case, without those clues you ended up in an embarrassing situation.

Be it business or social in nature, my advice for people who want to move an online friendship to an in-person one is to do what you did: Meet in a neutral place for a reasonably brief get-to-know-you encounter. A coffee shop or a deli is a perfect location. As a result, you found out your friend has a lack of manners that makes you uncomfortable. Youíll have to decide whether to address his behavior with him, end the relationship, or ignore what happened because you donít want to do something to hurt the relationship. Unfortunately, ignoring his boorishness will only frustrate you time and time again. So unless you want to call it quits with this guy, at least in the real world, gently clue him in that heís not making a good impression and hope that he takes your critique in the spirit it is given. Good luck.

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