Everyone on the Internet is an Axe Murderer

Axe Murderer

There’s a lot of cultural fear about what might happen if you first connect with people virtually and then meet them “in ‘real’ life,” although I prefer to call this “in physical life”  (IPL) because I think that the virtual is very real. I don’t want to minimize the risks that might be associated with people being exploited or hurt by people they have met online (or IPL for that matter…remember Looking for Mr. Goodbar?)–there certainly are things that you need to watch out for. For example, at least once a month I receive an out-of-the-blue message on Facebook from some attractive man I have never met telling me I have a nice smile, and then telling me his life story and his desire for a real relationship. Pursuing this, or something like this, is not likely to have a good outcome. This is NOT what I will be writing about.

I’ve been fortunate to establish some really good connections with a wide range of people online. Beginning with my LiveJournal blogging days, then Second Life, and then Twitter, I’ve made quite a few friends in virtual spaces. And over the years, I’ve had a chance to meet quite a few of them face to face. @DorleeM once asked me how many people I had met IPL and I was surprised once I actually counted–I first came up with a count of 8, and I’ve never attended one of the major convention meet-ups where people would typically make these connections–those 8 were all personal connections that I made on my own with specific people that I met first online. They don’t include small Tweetups where I have met a group of people at once.

After I counted these virtual–>face-to-face relationships, I realized with surprise that the number is actually much greater than that because in the mid-1990s I had been connecting with quite a few people through an international listserv of EMDR therapists. I established some close connections in that context and then eventually met most of those people at a national conference, some of whom have become very good friends now. What’s interesting to me is that at that time, no one batted an eyelash about me meeting those people, maybe because I was meeting them in a professional context. Or perhaps because it was a group/convention setting, especially a work context.

However, the first time I arranged to meet someone that I had met through a social network, a close friend joked, “be careful, she might be an axe murderer.” I don’t think my friend was joking though. I sensed real anxiety behind the comment. My friend was definitely concerned that people you meet online will turn out to be very different from how they portrayed themselves and even potentially dangerous (see Catfish for a true story of the former). I think there’s something about meeting a person you’ve met online socially that raises the cultural specter of being kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer.

So, Did They Turn Out to Be Axe Murderers?

So I’m here to report that there’s nothing exciting to report on this topic because every person that I’ve met face-to-face turned out to be exactly who they portrayed themselves to be online–and none of them were axe murderers.  Go figure. I’ve wondered about this and have come to the conclusion that I screen people online in some of the same ways that I do IRL I avoid people who feel false (too good to be true), and those who are high-drama, and those who are too slick, and those who just feel “off.”  While the content of what people post is clearly a large part of what I assess, I also have learned to trust my intuition about people, both in virtual and face-to-face interactions. This is a lesson I learned as a young adult–ignoring my gut instincts about people came with a significant price. I have no idea how to completely understand how my gut reaction enters into guiding me in virtual interactions, but it does. I think it’s not just about what the content, but also about the spaces in our interactions and the energy I get from someone. I’m wincing about that last sentence…did I really write that? The scientist in me is horrified. But the me in me is not and will stand by the statement.

Integrating the Virtual & Physical

What’s most interesting to me is that when I first meet someone, it does take some time for my virtual sense of them to integrate with my new-found IPL sense of them. Virtually I acquire a strong sense of someone emotionally and intellectually. When I then meet them IPL there’s a strange sensation as my mind-body processes all the information you get about someone IPL with what I know about them virtually. It’s a bit like processing information on two parallel tracks simultaneously. Eventually the strands come together and weave a complete sense of someone, but it takes some time. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not I’ve interacted with them through video. Whatever I pick up IPL isn’t transmitted through a video medium, although certainly those interactions deepen my virtual sense of someone.

What Have Your Experiences Been Meeting Virtual Friends Face-to-Face?

I’d love to hear about others’ experiences meeting people virtually and then face-to-face. Any disasters? Successes? What’s your experience been like as you integrate that physical life sense of who someone is into your virtual connection?

If you haven’t met any of your virtual friends face-to-face, do you want to do so? If so, what are your thoughts and/or feelings about doing so? If not, why not?

Photo by 1llustr4t0r.com

23 thoughts on “Everyone on the Internet is an Axe Murderer

  1. I recently met someone whom I had only known through Facebook. It was an interesting experience, because she felt like an old friend, as if we had always known each other.

    As I remarked to her, the only thing that seemed weird talking to her IPL (great acronym, BTW) was that it didn’t feel weird. It was oddly comfortable.


  2. Thanks for sharing that Ron! I also have felt very comfortable with people in this situation, but still had that “parallel processing” experience. Sounds like you didn’t have that same experience. I wonder if it’s a function of differences between us in how we process interpersonal experiences?


    • I have experienced the parallel processing you spoke of, but in this case it was brief, if it happened at all. The other cases were old classmates I became reacquainted with on FB and then re-met them IPL. This was someone I had never met before. I suspect it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


  3. I’ve had the experiences where it takes some time to integrate the virtual and IPL and other times it’s seamless…like I’ve know the person forever.

    I met my husband online, well before it was fashionable to do that!! (and not via a dating site) I too was an early adopter of social media 🙂


    • What do you think the difference is between those two types of interactions for you? Can you predict which type of reaction you will have?

      How wonderful that you met your husband online! I’m guessing that he was one of those people you felt comfortable with instantly.

      What kinds of reactions did you receive from friends and family about your relationship starting online?


      • Actually, I was still getting to know my husband when we met…we’d only been corresponding a matter of weeks. I’ve since met people I’ve known for years before meeting in the flesh so they were actually more seamless than with my husband.

        People thought meeting him online was odd I guess, but no one really said anything that made it clear what they really thought. I’m sure some people thought it was very odd!


  4. Hi Nancy,

    I loved this post 🙂 I feel like it was an extension of one of our talks on this subject but you were no longer limited to 140 characters and could be much more elaborate…

    I think it’s fascinating how you feel a strange sensation as your mind-body processes all the information you get about someone IPL with what you know about them virtually and that this feeling still occurs if you’ve had conversations with the person via video… and that it takes some time for the integration of both sources of information to occur to become a more accurate complete reflection of that person. But it all makes total sense…including the part that you naturally use your intuition and/or gut to screen out the people with whom you hang out virtually and in IPL.

    This sounds like it would be a very interesting topic for a study…


    • Dorlee, I thought of you often as I wrote the post, maybe because you’re one of the people I want to meet IPL someday!

      You’re right, it would make for a great study, especially if you could get some brain imaging of the experience of meeting a virtual friend IPL and compare it to meeting other people for the 1st time ever, and then friends that you’ve had for a long time.


  5. I have met a lot of my online friends IPL now but most recently met another blogging/tweeting social worker at a conference. Within minutes of meeting we were asked by other attendees how long we had known each other and had to give the “about ten minutes or two years depending on how you look at it” answer. People couldn’t believe we hadn’t been IPL friends for much longer.


    • What a great experience Katja!

      I think it’s interesting that people find this so hard to understand. Back in the 19th century, it wasn’t unusual for people to correspond by letters for years with someone they hadn’t met IPL or had only met once. I don’t think it was viewed unusually then.


  6. I,too, met my husband online and since then have had online friends who I am privileged to me IPL. Often, it is as others describe, we pick up where we left off from an online conversation..it’s as if we have known each other for a very long time.And in some cases, we have : ). I have not every had an ‘axe murderer’ experience. Like you, I use my gut to vet people carefully online.

    When I met my husband, friends thought it was unsafe to meet a guy online and then meet him in person (in a public place, of course). But, when it came down to it, I knew more about him after chatting online for weeks, than I knew about any man I would meet face-to-face in a bar or at an event. People can be honest and true online and off, they can also disguise themselves even as you see them face-to-face.


    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience Susan. You raise such an important point about people deceiving others in IPL. We need to use our inner compasses to guide us in all of our relationships.


  7. I, too, when I met people IRL, after years on the EMDR list-serve, would always be delighted: “You have a voice!” “You have a body and a face!” It seemed to take a few minutes to adjust to RL with these online friends. 19 years ago, I met my husband through an ad. In the last 5 years, 80% of new clients or consultees have made their initial contacts through a website or email. Some consultees whom I adore, I have never met IRL, just on the phone. No axe murderers, yet, as far as I know. Good post, Nancy.


    • How great to remember the EMDR Listserv connections together!

      80% of your new clients and consultees came from the web or email?! That’s an amazing number…and more evidence about why therapists need to develop a strong online presence.


  8. Like you, Nancy, I have never been to a Tweet-up. But I have met in person with several folks I met virtually. I have a few more I would like to meet. The people were genuine. I liked seeing the body language and hearing the voice beyond the text I am used to online. I found the brilliance of these people shone through and it was mutually beneficial.


  9. I love your phrase “I found the brilliance of these people shone through.” Eloquently said.

    I do want to clarify…I have been to one Tweetup, but I focused here mostly on the one-on-one connections I made outside of group settings. I think it’s scarier culturally when you meet someone one-on-one, even if it’s in a public setting.


  10. What I think is interesting is that we feel the need – natural though it is – to differentiate between online interaction and physical interaction. I haven’t related this to personal interaction until now, but I have long thought that marketers tend to get caught up in the differences rather than the similarities.

    For example, they tend to think of online and social marketing as something different than marketing overall when, in fact, it’s simply another tool in the arsenal. I suppose we can think of online social media as just another tool in the arsenal of interpersonal interaction.


    • I like your perspective on this. That’s certainly how we would view it if we were talking about the telephone. I think it’s probably a measure of how new a technology is that people feel a need to differentiate it.


  11. I met one of my Twitter followers in real life when she moved to Seattle and it was a complete blast! It solidified our friendship and followership and made me think, “wow I can’t wait to meet more!”


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