Like Being Between a Rock and Hard Place — How I Save My Sanity Online

Photo by Michael Shannon on Unsplash

As a social justice activist, I initially accepted new friend requests from most people due to wanting to connect with like-minded others in America and across the globe. When I first signed up for Facebook, I both accepted random inquiries and sent occasional friend requests to people whose comments seemed aligned with important aspects of my anti-racism efforts. I’ve since had to make major adjustments. Over time, being bombarded with hostile people calling me names due to their anger about something I wrote, resulted in me exploring how to limit exposure to unwanted communication. It’s one thing if someone wants to dispute something I said, but far too often their tone of disagreement can lean toward disrespectful or abusive approaches.

I consider the benefits and drawbacks of online connections by seeking reasonable balance and managing my engagement by taking regular breaks for self-care. I know that it can be hard to avoid some conflicts and tolerate other things. It can feel like being between a rock and hard place at times in terms of deciding whether to stay or go by removing myself from online activities. I would miss out on a lot, especially now during a pandemic when connections are mostly virtual in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus. I also love being exposed to new information, being able to learn from others and to experience a sense of community with people from diverse backgrounds. But I did not sign up for ongoing stress nor unnecessary chaos and confusion.

I’ve received my share of unwelcome advances from diverse men, or aggressive sales pitches from diverse women who seemed more interested in promoting their work than interest in options for collaborative efforts, reciprocal benefit or mutual support over time. As a introvert, it can feel overwhelming trying to sort through legitimate people offering resources as opposed to those pitching scams or seeking attention in ways that create time-wasting situations. Figuring out ways to avoid unnecessary aggravations has been an ongoing process of learning, but one rule is helping me get a grip enough to significantly cut down on intrusive people. If someone requires too much heavy-lifting from me, that alerts me to a need to enforce boundaries.

There are diverse strangers who show up weekly in my inbox and never properly introduce themselves. Some ask personal questions I have no interest in responding to. Some offer nothing solid for me to decide whether I would want to spend time to know them better. There are other people who send their phone number and instruct me to call them. There are people who act as if my life was on hold until they showed up, like men who view FB as a dating site. They think someone accepting a friend request makes them an option, but never ask if you are even available. They assume I should drop whatever I was doing to chat at length on the spot. Not even likely. Irrelevant small talk is like fingernails on a chalkboard for introverts like me. Soooo not interested.

When someone’s identity is unclear or their communication skills are absent, they don’t get very far with me. The most I do is a basic hello back or send a quick “thumbs up” reply. My lack of eager engagement often results in people trying to do pity plays, even asking why I don’t like them (like WTF?…I don’t even know you from Adam or Eve) or getting attitudes because I don’t pursue lengthy conversations I did not initiate. I had to tell one man who said he was bored and trying to make new friends that it was his job to figure out. Another person said I could ask him questions to learn more about him. I said I have no need to work that hard.

I save my sanity by refusing to do the initial heavy lifting for those who lack basic communication skills. Here’s the thing: If people don’t know how to generate an interesting conversation or recognize they should not be so presumptuous with someone who never interacted with them before, they lack understanding of basics for meeting new people. Someone assuming that others are obligated to trust them automatically is a red flag for me. Having multiple names and aliases or a profile with no pictures, also makes me less interested in most strangers. I can easily show receipts to indicate I am a real person with a track record of commentaries and actions related to the social justice activism I am involved in. I even can produce references from people who’ve known and interacted with me over many years.

If I reach out to others, I start with acknowledgment that I recognize we are all busy and would want to know when would be a good time if they are open to a brief, introductory chat about something in common. If I prefer to do a call, I ask to schedule a time convenient to reach out rather than place the burden on them to phone me. Initial contacts with new people require basic courtesy, respect for boundaries and being upfront about why I am communicating. It tends to help move things to the next step, whether related to exploring an activism project, business collaboration or catching up with a family member or old friend. I expect similar considerations, not demands. I owe no one my attention or energy beyond a point. It helps cut down on drama or wasting time I do not want to give.

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