Twitter, friendship, and social (media) anxiety

I miss meeting new people. I miss seeing shallow acquaintances for the second or third time and getting to connect with them more. I miss one-on-one side conversations in a group setting, unreplicable on group Zoom calls.

In the same way I am drawn to a new hobby for its novelty, I love to meet new people because of the unfamiliar exchange of thoughts and experiences. A restaurant rec, a good learning resource, a book to read, a place to go—there’s a wealth of discovery to be found outside of one’s usual conversations. This is the allure of NYC in a nutshell—a seemingly endless supply of new things to discover and people to meet.

Lately I have been frequenting Twitter to satisfy the desire to connect with strangers. The concept of connection through social media has been made laughable over the years, but it is definitely still present. There are lots of lovely people online with the same interests as me, both basic and niche, who are friendly and thoughtful and supportive. I have forgotten how Twitter or other words-based platforms can make this more evident over image and video-focused platforms like Instagram and TikTok. I also conjecture that people follow strangers on Twitter more easily. In many industries Twitter is the go-to networking platform, almost required for professionals.

At the same time, Twitter to me (and really, everyone else) is the Bad Place. I easily find myself drowning in others’ strongly held opinions and cowering at all the arguments. I am avoidant by nature; seeing conflict spurs the flight in fight or flight. I hesitate in tweeting any opinion of my own reduced to a few hundred characters, too short for nuance. I mostly tweet in support and promotion of others’ work, in fear that I am not witty or intelligent or funny enough for my tweet to be worthy of existence.

I know that I am a bit mad; no one cares about my tweets or lack of tweets very much! And I know plenty of folks who tweet every half-baked thought and they are doing just fine. My desire though is not to feel so free and uninhibited to post whatever I want; I think prudence in one’s online presence is underrated and useful. But I would like to know how to better withstand being in a place that has lots of good and contribute to furthering the good while bearing the bad.

Reading the latest Ask Polly column ‘Why Do My Friendships Always Fade Away?’ gave me some comfort that we are all shitty at friendships—all of us! At least I hope Polly is right so we can forgive ourselves for not being at our friendship A game. I love to be an open ear for my friends and offer support and encouragement and giggles over meals. I also drop the ball in keeping a text chain going, especially during these pandemic times where interactions feel more draining than usual, and can also be prone to not stating what I want or need, growing resentful, and slowly drifting away.

Perhaps I most miss meeting new people because the stakes are low. Reciprocation holds much less importance. I cycle through reasons to not reach out to people I haven’t talked to in a while—because I don’t know what to say, because I don’t know if they’ll feel pressured to respond. I don’t want them to feel any burden; to be honest I don’t know if I even have the energy to sustain a conversation. I just want them to feel the warm glow knowing that someone was thinking of them and that someone remembers them as special. The glow I feel when strangers and friends reach out to me.

It’s a pandemic and we’re all doing our best. The trouble with that statement for someone with anxiety is that I don’t believe I am doing my best. I want to do better. I’ve started habit tracking “giving compliments” which sounds like the doings of a crazy life hacker person—but it’s somewhat working; I’m remembering more often to engage with people and see a conversation as an opportunity for connection rather than an interruption, distraction, or something to fear.

The longer this pandemic goes, the more I recall an earlier time in my life when I was more Online and outspoken in the company of other lovable wackos. I’m not sure how much more I will meld into the internet by the end of all of this, but I hope I can bring a bit more good to it than to stay detached and ambivalent.