Ask Jono: Comfortable Online, Awkward In Person
Good day, Dearest Jono!
First of all, I just wanted to say that I LOVE your advice column! I read practically every single one of your posts. They're both helpful and hilarious! Second of all... I need advice. I won't start this one off by saying, "There's this boy..." so instead, I'll start off with:
I am a 17 -year-old girl who is a junior in high school. And (drumroll please) THERE'S THIS BOY (sorry, I tried) who is also 17, but he's a senior at another high school about two hours away. We met last May while my older brother and I were grocery shopping. We talked for about a half hour in the store, and realized that we actually have a lot in common—we both share a similar sense of humor, like to challenge ourselves academically, and have pretty much the same colleges in mind.
Before leaving the store, I asked him if I could add him on Facebook, and we ended up chatting on there quite a few times throughout summer break. Over time we didn't get to talk as frequently, because we both had work five days a week (we were both camp counselors, but at different camps), but when we DID talk we'd talk for hours at a time. We ended up with a ton of inside jokes, and we learned a lot about each other's lives. He seemed friendly and caring, as well as witty and extremely hilarious, and I felt like we clicked extremely well. Since school has started up again a few weeks ago, we haven't been able to talk as often, but we still text a few times a week. (He generally prefers typing on a regular computer to texting on a tiny cell phone keyboard, so our texts end up being not-too-frequent, but lengthier; as opposed to being short but extremely frequent.)
Sounds great, right? Well... During the summer, I asked him (twice—once hinted, and once directly) if he ever wanted to make plans to meet up in person, but he declined (both times). He claimed that he's socially awkward (he doesn't even really like webcamming or phone calls), and not nearly as exciting as he seems online. He told me that he's actually pretty boring, and that I probably wouldn't like him as much in real life as I think I would. He suggested that I seek out awesome people in my own school, and that although he's fine with texting me and talking to me on Facebook, he'd like to keep our "friendship" at that. He promised me that it's nothing personal—and that I seem like a very friendly and interesting (in a good way) person who's fun to talk to—but he doesn't want to be anything more than Facebook friends, really. Nonetheless, we still continue to talk to this day.
I have my own friends, and my own life, yes, but still... WHAT GIVES? This guy honestly seems pretty cool... there's no way he's that bad. He has friends in his own school (and a few in mine, although they're all senior boys that I don't know that well), so I know that, although he's a bit introverted, he's not completely non-social. He has good grades in advanced classes, and he's involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. He's really clever and creative. He doesn't seem boring to me in any sense—our conversations never fail to make me laugh. But he simply refuses to hang out in person, ever. I've even suggested small things, like grabbing tacos at the nearby Mexican place, but he isn't interested in anything—except for texting and Facebook chatting.
I understand that he's shy around people he doesn't know that well, and we're both really busy with our own lives... but on the other hand, he seems a bit insecure and closed-minded. I'd really love your input. Why is he like this? Is there anything I should do here? Oh, and will he possibly change by the time he's in college?
Indefinitely stuck inside of a cell phone
I'm aware that I inevitably find some way to relate everyone's questions to how I behaved in high school. I realize that, by now, you must get to those parts of my responses and go "Yeah right, Jono. Yawn." Then you probably roll your eyes repeatedly, sighing a few times and making a dismissive yapping motion. But no, really: I was this exact guy.
I had several relationships in high school that involved meeting a girl from another area, then talking to her mostly online, where I could actually think of charming things to say instead of just going "uhhhh" and falling down the stairs, which is what I would definitely do in person, even if there were no stairs anywhere. In one case, after a lengthy online friendship, one girl asked me to her prom, where I was so relentlessly boring that they had to evacuate the town. (Well, not really, but it was a metaphorical disaster, anyway.) Later, I went to homecoming with with a girl who assumed, due to our online conversations, that I was a functional human being whose brain would communicate thoughts to his mouth, which would then say them. She was tragically mistaken. In person, my brain just went "A GIRL, WARNING, WARNING," and my mouth went "uhhhh" and this, too, wound up being a disaster.
One of your questions was "Why is he like this?" and the best thing I can compare it to is giving a speech. For most people, writing a speech isn't all that hard, but then they get up in front of an actual audience, and they go "The um thing about uh productivity is blehhh" and barf hilariously. Well, you're the crowd, and he fears metaphorically barfing upon you, and if he's acting this way, there's a pretty good chance that he would do that.
You said he's otherwise kind of social. I can't tell you why this is, because not all people with Brain Mistakes are the same; maybe he's completely comfortable around guys, because guys are not girls, or maybe he's just known these people long enough that he's comfortable around them (just like how anybody who gives enough speeches can eventually speak with confidence and aplomb, or at least learn how to barf secretively into a concealed bucket when nobody is looking).
As for what you should do here, and if he'll change, those things are partially up to you. On one hand, he said he wanted to keep this relationship a platonic one, and you could just respect that, but on the other hand, I assume he's saying that because he fears how badly this might go. Right now, in person, he will act like a totally hopeless goon, and he knows that. So the only way to get this to work is to make it absolutely clear that he can be comfortable around you, and that you'd be fine with it if he opened his mouth and all that came out was trombone noises for two hours. He's going to be as awkward as a dog on a bicycle, at least at first. But this phase always passes, and eventually he will just be as awkward as an ambulatory dog, and then eventually, he'll just be as awkward as an awkward human, which I assume is something you can work with.
Every presidential election, we throw around the phrase "lowering expectations" to predict debate performance—if everyone thinks your candidate is a fifth-degree Rhetoric Master, and then he shows up and talks like some regular schmuck, it's worse than if people think he's a schmuck and then he's a schmuck. So people imply that their candidate is such a bumbling idiot that he is literally going to fall off the stage or light something on fire. Well, your goal is to you approach this situation understanding that he might literally actually do these things. I can't promise that this will work—there's a good chance he'll persist in saying no—but I can promise that the only way he'll agree to hang out is if he thinks that there is absolutely no earthly way that he can possibly let you down. If even that doesn't bring him around, then nothing will, at least nothing that you can do. Accept his offer to just be platonic friends and move on. And you never know—maybe time and college will heal his goony brain.