A few years ago we were streaming out some Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds to our gigantic audience of like 4 people, when one of the folks in our chat blindsided us with a simple request: “Can I join you?” It was a request that more experienced streamers would not engage with at all, but like a house of cards our convictions came crumbling down in an instant. Our inexperience laid bare and our judgment dissolved, we let them join us — live and unvetted. Of all the ways that story could have ended, I would not have expected it to end with us having excellent chemistry with what would become a really good friend, which is exactly what happened.
But that story is an outlier and represents the only time in my life that I’ve ever made an ‘internet friend’, and they kind of forced my hand cause I didn’t know how to say, “nah, we’re good,” in the middle of a stream. Like, they could have hopped on our stream and just said the most horrendous shit they could imagine, but instead they were extremely cool. It all worked out, but it’s made me think about all of the online communities I’ve avoided and the connections I never made, mostly because of a crippling social anxiety.
It’s weird to me that in an age where internet anonymity emboldened people to be as vile and repugnant as possible, that I can’t muster the courage to interact with people online. I think my fear comes from that ’emboldened asshole’ thing though, cause while I’m not the type to engage with folks online whether it be positively or negatively, I worry everyone else is gonna be really shitty to me the second I open my mouth.
I see people engaging with each other inside of games, on social media or over Discord, basking in the glow of their shared interests and I wish I had that. I wish I had a place that I could log into and just kind nerd out with random folks who are just as weird and dorky as myself. But I don’t know where to start, and more importantly, I have this crippling social anxiety that makes even the simple task of hitting the automated “say hello” button that pops up in Discord servers a tall order.
All of this begs the question, ‘to what end?’ I have friends that I talk to pretty regularly and we’re all pretty dorky, it isn’t like I couldn’t blab about video games or D&D to them. I guess I just want to meet new people, but regardless of if that’s in-person or online, I’m terrible about being brave enough to engage with anyone new. Like, I’m not even the guy at the party who spends all his time on his phone, I’m guy who didn’t even show up to the party and feels terrible for not going but also relieved.
This isn’t just about wanting to make new friends though, because the other side of this whole situation is me wanting to find welcoming communities of like-minded individuals. I know they’re out there, but I just don’t have it within me to make that jump and engage with one of them. It’s social anxiety manifest in spaces where I assume I’d be welcomed, but the possibility of them being exclusionary, no matter how infinitesimal, outweighs my desire to make new connections. Simply put, I think I’m just afraid of rejection.