One of my true passions in life is connecting with people. It’s been something that has filled me with excitement and intrigue since as far back as I can remember. People are fascinating. Everyone has their own story, their own successes, tragedies, obstacles and loves. How can people not fascinate you? When I revived my blog this past January the connections I began to make, through my readers and other blogs, thrilled me more than words can express. Through blogging, the entire world feels like it is at your fingertips. I became intoxicated with it for my first month back.
Then something a little creepy happened. I met a blogger through comments he began leaving on my blog in response to my posts. He was gay, charming, well spoken and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. At the time, he also had a blog. I began reading his as well and we would comment back and forth on each other’s posts. Eventually we began emailing through our private emails. Here he was even more encouraging and pleasant. He was so congratulatory of my writing. He really made me feel validated in my decision to become a blogger. I really thought he was great.
The conversation did get a little flirty. Though he lived a far drive away, he began expressing interest in meeting up sometime.
Then, he asked for a picture of me. I replied with one in an email and I asked for one of his in return. He shared a total of three pictures of himself with me. It became very obvious very quickly that these were three pictures of three different people. This was so blaringly obvious that it was somewhat comical. This confused me. He had always seemed so open and honest with me about his life and feelings up until that point. Why would he lie about what he looked like? I politely inquired about these pictures in a follow-up email, which made me nervous because I did not want to insult him. Well, needless to say it did not go well.
He became reproachful to my questions. He was insulted by any insinuation that he would send false pictures. Suddenly, everything he said began to seem shady and like it made no sense. He even tried acting naïve by asking me, “Do people really do that? Share fake pictures of themselves?” Um…this is the Internet, of course they do. He suddenly tried to come across as ignorant of the web, even claiming that he is awful at taking selfies so he has very few, and could get me no others. This man who, only the day before, had seemed so learned about blogging and online communication had suddenly become a 95-year-old man confused by technology.
He disappeared shortly after the picture debacle, coincidentally becoming very busy at that point and unable to email any more. Interestingly enough, he has since tried to reconnect twice, each time seeming to have forgotten about this picture situation. He claims to be oddly forgetful about why we stopped talking, which in my opinion, either implies some legitimate memory issue or some noteworthy craziness. In the end, I view him to be a liar. I feel a gut instinct to distance myself from him.
This experience took somewhat of an emotional toll on me. I felt stupid for having opened up to a stranger so quickly. Did I invite, what could have developed into an unsafe situation by being too open too quickly with my personal information? Worse so, the blogging world felt somewhat dirty to me after this. My positive experience with my blog became slightly tainted and I felt a little violated. Not to mention, I began to feel slightly unsafe in this online community. Was I too naïve to meet people in this way online? Should I be less trusting and more guarded from here on out? Can we ever truly know who another person is online? I was honestly surprised by how much this had affected me.
This one particular experience, combined with some personal stuff in my everyday life, lead to me stepping away from blogging for a brief hiatus from March through June of 2014. Looking back, the break was probably a good thing: a good way to clear my head about blogging and my approach to it.
Moving forward, Gentle Reader, today I feel stronger and better equipped, not only as a writer, but also as an online conversationalist. I find my blog readers to be an extended and very caring family. Though this entire experience did remind me of a children’s book I remember my parents reading to me as a child. It was called Never Talk to Strangers and was written by Irma Joyce. In blogging I wouldn’t say never talk to strangers, but I would say cautiously talk to strangers.
Still this is a good lesson for us all. Be careful with your personal information online. Be trusting enough to make meaningful connections, but not so aimlessly trusting that you place yourself in any compromising or dangerous situations. The Internet, like anything else where mankind is involved, can be a tool for kindness and creation or for harm and destruction.
Please know that I am still passionate about worthwhile connections online. It’s these constructive friendships that make us stronger, so that we are not harmed by the would-be devils. I still encourage the connections. Just be cautious, as well as open, in them.