Turning An Acquaintance Into a Friend

Turning An Acquaintance Into a Friend

Today’s question for Nina comes from a blogger struggling to take an online friendship offline. Here’s what she’s really asking: What’s the secret to turning an acquaintance into a friend?

 

Nina is always accepting anonymous questions so keep them coming!

Dear Nina,

Another blogger (let’s call her Anna) and I follow each other on Twitter and Instagram and on each other’s blogs. Although I comment far more on Anna’s blog than she does on mine, I get the sense through our writing that we have a lot in common. I especially get this sense when Anna periodically initiates a quick comment to me on Twitter or Instagram. In those cases she’s obviously proactively gone out of her way to reach out, even if slightly. I was doing this a lot myself in her direction initially, but I got the feeling that I was being overbearing, so I dialed back.

Anna and I happen to live less than 25 minutes apart, and I’d like to get together. I see her publicly comment to other folks on social media (who live much farther away) that she’d love to meet up some day, and in some cases she has done so with bloggers in our geographic vicinity. She’s never suggested anything like meeting up with me though. I’m afraid that if I suggest a quick coffee or something, I might rock the apple cart or seem like I’m stalking her and the pleasant acquaintanceship we have now will vanish, which I don’t want either. I’m so terrible at reading signals in real life, so via the internet is even harder! Advice?

Thanks!

Trying to Take the Next Step

 

Dear Trying to Take the Next Step,

This is an excellent question and it really has nothing to do with the internet or blogging though the online relationship adds an extra layer of easy, quick intimacy and therefore confusion. More than the online issue, however, I want to focus on the idea of turning an acquaintance into a friend.

I suspect that many of us have experienced what you’re describing. I have certainly felt that pang of rejection that comes from watching someone who seems like good friend potential connecting with others, but showing no interest whatsoever in me. It’s the kind of situation that can leave one wondering, What’s wrong with me? Why not me?

Why do some acquaintanceships deepen and some stay on the surface forever? There’s no exact answer to that question because any of the following or a combination is possible: chemistry, timing, or simply one’s friend plate being too full at the moment.

You’re correct that some of this takes an awareness of signals. I think you’re better at reading them than you realize. The fact that you dialed back from commenting so frequently on Anna’s social media happenings when you noticed a major imbalance tells me you’re paying attention to cues. I would never endorse a tit-for-tat approach to online or offline relationships. However, when your gut tells you that you’re consistently putting in far more effort, it makes sense to spend some of your reading and commenting time elsewhere. That goes for offline relationships, too!

IF YOU WANT TO HANG OUT WITH ANNA, YOU HAVE TO ASK.

 There is truly only one way to know if Anna is open to getting together: You have to ask. It’s entirely possible that these other bloggers who have been out with Anna are the ones doing the asking. Maybe Anna is particularly magnetic and people tend to seek her out. It doesn’t mean she won’t have room for you, but it is more likely that you will have to take the initiative.

And when I say, ask, I mean specifically state what you’re hoping for and provide some options. I say that because when an acquaintance says, “We should really get together!” I hear, “blah blah blah.” On the contrary, when I hear, “Send me a Tuesday or Thursday that you’re free for coffee,” I hear, “I want to be your friend.”

A REAL LIFE EXAMPLE OF TURNING AN ACQUAINTANCE INTO A FRIEND

Beth became my good friend after she blatantly pointed out (in an email) that we have tons of friends in common and she couldn’t see any reason why the two of us did not have a friendship of our own. She added that she always enjoys talking to me when we run into each other and that she would love to see me on purpose. Then she offered some lunch dates. I found Beth’s honesty and directness utterly refreshing. I responded with, “You’re right. Let’s do this.” We met for lunch several times without any of our common friends in tow. We exercised together every so often the next year, and had play dates with our kids at some point after that. Now I can’t remember a time when Beth was not a trusted friend, but it probably would not have moved out of the acquaintance phase had she not reached out and had I not reached right back.

IF ANNA DOES NOT REACH BACK

The reaching back is where things can get murky, and I know this is what you’re fearing.   After you ask Anna if she’s free for coffee or lunch and offer specific dates, you might get something back like, “Would love to! Things are so crazy right now. Let’s touch base after spring break.”

Before you allow yourself to fall down any kind of shame pit, let’s give Anna the benefit of the doubt. She may truly be too busy to commit to a date right now and prefer not to schedule out too far knowing that she could have to cancel. I would try one more time after spring break in a case like this, but if at that point you can’t get her to commit, it’s time to move on with no hard feelings.

Here’s where you will have to keep reminding yourself that any lack of interest on Anna’s part is likely not personal and truly just about the factors we already discussed, namely, timing and the friend plate being too full. I brought up chemistry before, but I think it’s worth mentioning that even good chemistry is not always enough to overcome the anxiety over spreading oneself too thin.

If Anna does not reach back, you should not feel bad about yourself (she hardly knows you), nor should you worry that the pleasant online relationship you have will change. That piece is in your hands. As long as you don’t act wounded over the situation or entitled to her time, I don’t see any reason why the good rapport you two shared would change.

BOTTOM LINE

A good acquaintance, either online or offline, is not as special as a good friend, nevertheless, she can still be a value-add to your life. As far as I’m concerned, this can be a win-win situation.

Good luck!

Nina

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74 comments

  1. Joy says:

    Ooooohhhh, Nina, you got me thinking now…a lot! As you may already know, I’m an introvert and I think I’ve reached a point in my life where I no longer actively seek friendships. I love how you differentiated friendships from acquaintances by the reaching out process. I almost never reach out anymore. And it’s making me ask myself why. You’re right that it could be chemistry or schedules. Either way I think I’m being a commitment-phobe by not even wanting to try. Lots of questions to dig through and so, thank you. Love it when essays make me think deeper

  2. Kristen says:

    Great advice, Nina, especially that reminder in the last part about if/when the other person doesn’t ever reach back: don’t take it personally–though certainly easier said than done sometimes! Also love the advice about suggesting a specific plan–I am certainly guilty of the vague “let’s get together” line (which goes nowhere) and have seen plans solidify when I throw out specific ideas.
    Kristen recently posted…She Keeps SecretsMy Profile

  3. This really came at the perfect time…have twice met with an acquaintance-hopefully-turning-into-a-friend… which leads to my question. I know if the person turns you down before you’ve ever met, it’s not personal, but at what point can you feel fairly secure that it’s moved into real friendship…e.g., what if fizzles AFTER we’ve met several times? The question for the ages, right? Haha, want to join us for a drink and you can analyze how we’re doing? 🙂
    Julia Munroe martin recently posted…Am I a Writer? Are you?My Profile

    • Nina says:

      Just put your phone on speaker and down on the table and I’ll listen in. Ha! That would be amazing if I could. You know, that is a very fair point about it not being personal at first . . . though it may be “personal” later in that the personalities and chemistry does not quite mix, I still think it’s best to not take it too personally. What I mean is, to not let yourself feel any differently about your worth as a friend and as a person. Sometimes chemistry (which is hard to define and explain) is just not right. Both people could be quality and each have wonderful relationships with others, but something about the mix of the two does not feel quite right. Or it doesn’t feel right ENOUGH given the constraints of time. Forget it, I’m flying to Maine to see what’s up with this one. 😉
      Nina recently posted…Acquaintances vs. FriendsMy Profile

  4. Julie Burton says:

    Nina, this is great! I am very glad that we took our blogger acquaintance status to a real friendship very quickly. I am grateful that we were both open to the friendship as I know it doesn’t always happen like that. It does always feels a little risky to be the one to reach out and be vulnerable, but it is often worth it. And even if it doesn’t work out, there’s no shame in trying.
    Julie Burton recently posted…Not Yet 50, but Way Past 40-Something. What is 48 to Me?My Profile

    • Nina says:

      Julie, one day I will write about our story– or we can co-write it!– because it really was a success. Love that we have already spoken on the phone today, via text, and via blog. Success online and off!
      Nina recently posted…Acquaintances vs. FriendsMy Profile

  5. Sarah says:

    I find online “relationships” awkward. It’s difficult enough with relationships in real life (and I’m happy you tackled that issue, too) but online friendships are difficult. I know a few tweeps who met online and have met up. They had a grand old time but, alas, they live across the pond.

  6. Nina,

    As usual, spot-on advice on navigating the murky waters of online and offline friendships. I tend to reach out to acquaintances whose company I enjoy and sometimes its developed into great friendships, while in other instances only a cursory exchange materialized. Ultimately, though, to really know, as you point out, is to try and ask.

    Love this practical approach to friendships. Looking forward to the next column.
    Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri recently posted…What Others Have Given UsMy Profile

  7. Funny – when I see someone post a question here, I feel myself get all panicky and ask myself, “What SHOULD you do? What would I do?” Then you calmly lead your readers to a perfectly reasonable and thoughtful answer. Perfect. Spot on, once again!
    Melissa Crytzer Fry recently posted…Silent SnapshotsMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Thank you! To tell you the truth I’ve been letting this one sit for a few months. I knew it was a good question, but I had to really think about my answer. And . . . I cut myself off after a few pages. I could have gone on and on!
      Nina recently posted…Acquaintances vs. FriendsMy Profile

  8. Justine says:

    I am also guilty of saying “Let’s get together!” but not following up. I think I’ll try to be more careful to make firm plans or perhaps not say it at all, lest I lead someone to think I’m flippant. You got me thinking, Nina, so thanks!
    Justine recently posted…an invincible summerMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      I’ve been more careful about that too. I really try hard to just say, “It was so great to see you!” if that’s what I mean and not say, “Let’s get together,” if that’s NOT what I mean. Often times it WAS great to run into someone, but that doesn’t mean we need to have lunch the next week.
      Nina recently posted…Acquaintances vs. FriendsMy Profile

  9. Shannon says:

    Nina, you have given some really sound advice here. Making friends on and offline can be awkward sometimes. I hope the reader takes your tips to heart and puts herself out there because the worst thing that can happen is a dis and, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not so bad.
    Shannon recently posted…Marriage Isn’t SafeMy Profile

  10. Oh, I wish I’d had your advice about 2 weeks ago, Nina. I was in this advice-seeker’s shoes in wanting to turn an online acquaintance into a friendship, but I probably overstepped my bounds. I haven’t received a response.

    But I take to heart your suggestion that the lack of response is not personal. It’s likely due to timing or her friend plate is too full. (I love that phrase.) Thanks for making me feel better.
    Jackie Cangro recently posted…The One With the GreyhoundMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      It IS possible (re: bounds), but some people are also notoriously terrible at returning emails and even texts. Sometimes I’m with friends and I see a horribly huge number of email notifications on their phones and it makes me anxious just at the thought of it. Not saying you should assume all is good to go with this particular connection, but I wouldn’t assume the opposite either. I would leave the ball in her (or his?) court and still keep the online relationship intact as it was if you enjoy that particular connection.
      Nina recently posted…Acquaintances vs. FriendsMy Profile

  11. This topic was interesting to me as a blogger AND as the person who usually is on the receiving end of invites. I am a very outgoing person and I almost NEVER initiate plans with my real life friends and sorta wait for them to ask me to do things.
    The truth is, as outgoing as I am – I really love my alone time too. So I have a lot of trouble balancing my alone time and my friends time. I think that if someone from the internet who I might very well have a lot in common with asked me to something,g I might not want to get together. Not because I’m being a snob but just because I can’t keep up with the friends I have already, and I feel so GUILTY not having time for the people I’ve befriended. I might not want another person to feel guilty about.

    Oh boy, that sounds so stuck up, doesn’t it? Oh well just a different perspective.
    Tracyontherocks recently posted…Doin’ the No-Pants DanceMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Tracy,

      I’m so glad you wrote with this perspective because this is sort of where I’m at sometimes. I feel that I am spread so thin, and as far as a typical writer goes, I’m very outgoing and friendly. But there are only so many hours of the day and as I add and add and add to my friend plate, the people who are truly lifers, the ones who are there for the really serious moments, may feel pushed aside and I don’t want that. So for me, I DO love to get together in person, but it may just be a few times a year, and that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time. It’s just a time issue. And that’s why I keep telling people who feel they’re getting mixed signals from others to not take it personally. If I schedule way far out, it’s not personal at all. It’s the time problem and the husband/four kids reality. It’s simply not personal and I know the same is true in reverse.

      I hope that all made sense. Wrote it quickly!
      Nina recently posted…Acquaintances vs. FriendsMy Profile

  12. Great advice. When I was a new mom, desperate for friends I really had to push myself to sometimes take the lead and ask someone out for coffee or a playdate. I felt the same way as a new blogger looking to take some online friendships to a deeper level. In both cases, sometimes it worked out, and sometimes it didn’t, but even if when it wasn’t a match made in heaven I always felt a bit better about trying to make the connection. I would remind myself that the only thing I could control was my actions, not the results. Thanks!
    Kathy Radigan recently posted…Motherhood Helped Me Find My VoiceMy Profile

  13. Such a good question, Nina – who hasn’t wondered (fretted, sweated) how to handle this kind of thing? Making friends can feel so awkward, at times. I recently met up with a friend online who asked me to meet her for coffee. I was thrilled. But all she did was talk about herself the entire time (loudly). She’s never asked to get together again. We’re still pleasant to each other, but the whole thing left me scratching my head.

  14. Melissa A says:

    This is just what I needed to read! I’ve become acquainted with a woman who shares my love for books and we live a reasonable enough distance nearby where we could make plans to meet up. We keep saying we want to get together, but I’m usually the one giving some date options. Another friend keeps asking me why the two of us haven’t gotten together when we live so close. I attribute it to clashing schedules and am trying not to take it as anything more than that. At this point, I’ve decided to let her initiate plan making. She knows I’d like to hang out, but I can only do so much from my end. So reading your post really helped validate this new decision. I guess it’s besherte!
    Melissa A recently posted…Orthodox Women Talk: Round FourMy Profile

  15. Mimi says:

    Nina, It’s no surprise you give excellent spot on advice, but I especially love how you globalize the question to apply it to both online and offline relationships. Sound advice for everyone navigating in our world today! Thanks for your thoughtfulness!

  16. Tamara says:

    Ahh, what a good question and answer! At first I was worried I was Anna (not really) but that I could be like her because I do initiate a lot of meet-ups with local bloggers but forgetting one would not be personal. It would just be because I’m actually shy sometimes.
    Although I know it wasn’t me because I comment on blogs a LOT!
    Tamara recently posted…When Spring Comes..(Guest Post)My Profile

  17. Great advice, Nina. The acquaintance to friend challenge also comes into play when we move to a new location. I recently had lunch with a friend who moved to a new city in which she knew no one. Forget friends, she needed to find a way to identify acquaintances to reach out to. Just as you said, she realized that she needed to make the effort then not take things personally if the relationship went nowhere.
    Mo at Mocadeaux recently posted…My 5 Favorite Napa ExperiencesMy Profile

  18. Jack says:

    I found this interesting because the approach and perspective is so very different to me than a man would take.

    I don’t pay attention to how many times I have commented on a blog or talked on Twitter with someone else nor do I ever think about whether they have suggested that they get together with someone and not me.

    If I want to meet someone I just ask. They’ll either say yes or they won’t and we’ll go from there.

    But FWIW, when I think about what I read/heard here it sounds an awful lot like conversations between my daughter and her mom/sisters so maybe it is a gender thing.

    • Nina says:

      Jack, I think women are more sensitive to this type of stuff. Not all women of course, but as a generalization yes. That said, my husband will notice if he’s the only one reaching out time after time and will then decide to stop making plans with someone. I think, regardless of gender, there’s something natural about not wanting to be the only one doing the reaching. I would never ever advocate a tit-for-tat policy though online or offline. I could even be 90/10. But 0/100 is pretty hard to sustain.
      Nina recently posted…Acquaintances vs. FriendsMy Profile

  19. Dakota Nyght says:

    I love your advice Nina, it is so heartfelt and honest (and besides that, completely reasonable).

    I’ve definitely experienced the “we have so much in common and yet she shows no interest in me!” before. So your thoughts about being being spread thin and not taking things personally really resonate.

    I am always excited when an online friendship seems like it could develop into something more. I love connecting with people. On the flipside, though, I get a little freaked out when all of the “we’re SO on the same page,” and “you and me both girlfriend,” and “OMG we’re soul sisters” escalates very quickly. It just seems disingenuous.
    Dakota Nyght recently posted…Five Years OldMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      That is such a good point and so well said. I absolutely think it’s likely that the reason some online to offline attempts do not work is the overtop “soul sisters” stuff that can happen online way more easily than is realistic and unsustainable in person.
      Nina recently posted…Acquaintances vs. FriendsMy Profile

  20. Good advice. These things can be tricky especially w/ online stuff b/c you DO feel like you know the person more than you actually do. As we get older it is harder to make friendships & I think the reminder to put yourself out there in great & if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. No harm in that.

  21. Dana says:

    As I was reading this, I put myself in Anna’s shoes. I am not good at initiating meet-ups, but if an acquaintance or friend suggests one, I immediately say yes.

    This was an interesting question, Nina, as was your answer. I always gain a little insight into my own friendships after reading one of your columns!
    Dana recently posted…Do you believe in magic?My Profile

  22. Love this post, Nina! I agree with everything you said. It’s funny — I’ve been going through this a little lately with the other parents in my kid’s preschool class. So far, I’ve found that everyone’s really excited/happy to meet up. Even if that IS just b/c we are all psyched for our kids to have lots of playdates and RUN AROUND. But everyone’s really open to getting together, which is lovely. xox

  23. Justine says:

    Great advice! I have been on both sides, but currently relate to the opting out part of the equation and I’m glad you addressed it. Sometimes are plates are too full to make the meeting happen.

    I am an introvert and need me time, getting me out of the house in the evenings is a feat of epic proportions. A long walk or coffee is more my speed. I feel unbelievably guilty when I turn down invitations for drinks, but during this period of my life with three little kids, nighttime outings with acquaintances seem exhausting. I know I should try to get out more, but my rejections (re drinks)aren’t because I’m not interested in the friendship and more about the timing.

    I love this column, fun reading the comments too.

    Also, thanks for sharing my last post about blogging. I was in Mexico and Internet was spotty, so I didn’t thank you adequately. You sent some great readers my way that I’ve enjoyed connecting with.

  24. Kira says:

    Great column and very timely! I’ve made quite a few good friends through online venues (message boards, before I began blogging) so the notion doesn’t seem too strange to me. But it can definitely be awkward initiating that first meeting. Spot on about feeling more familiar than you really are after reading about someone’s life for possibly years before meeting in person. While I love the internet and all the friends I’ve made that way, I may be odd in that I prefer in person communication before I’d really consider a person a true friend – I feel like I need to see how we relate in the real world first. Kind of difficult as a blogger using a pseudonym, though!

  25. Rivki Silver says:

    Ah, such wisdom again! This topic has been on my mind as my move back to CLE is imminent, and there are some women who I would like to move from acquaintances to friends with.

    Also, this line: “when an acquaintance says, “We should really get together!” I hear, “blah blah blah.” is hilarious. And I’ll keep it in mind!
    Rivki Silver recently posted…My Daughter, Jewish AggressorMy Profile

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