Talk To Me
Updated: Jun 5, 2021
Social media can be a challenging place, especially for younger people. As the years go by, the age of people who spend a considerable amount of time and emotional energy on social media has gotten lower and lower, which frankly and unsurprisingly, is problematic.
Not because young people shouldn't have the privilege of being on social media, but because many of them don't yet have the social and emotional maturity to successfully navigate the requirements of building relationships or how to successfully cope with the inherent rejection that is almost always a key part of the process. And that's before you even get into things like the toxic effects of constant negativity, comparing themselves to others and FOMO.
A common sentiment we see expressed on Twitter, often by a younger person, is "popular people are jerks because they don't care about you unless you have tons of followers", which usually means "they didn't respond to my DM or the last 10 I sent!" There are so many different problems with this, and I fear that many young people might not have all the tools needed to really think about the situation in a more complex and necessary way.
We often think that if we perceive our intentions as good when instigating an interaction, then it should entitle us to a favorable result.
"I am a good person, trying to be friendly/helpful, so if this person is also good, they should want to recognize and respond to my good intentions."
In a perfect world, intentions might count for a lot more than they often do, but in the world we live in, it's more often how you communicate and what the effects of your actions are rather than what you hoped they would be, that tends to matter to people. If you pick the wrong words to communicate, it can even have the opposite effect of what you intended. That's why words exist, to let us be clear in what we say, and yet we're always so quick to lay the blame elsewhere when misunderstandings and problems happen.
As people get older, and gain experience, they learn the rules of social relationships and how to say things in ways that are more likely to have favorable results, the tough lessons that usually only come with heartbreak and struggle. You can try to explain to a younger person the things you learned the hard way in the hopes that they will take them to heart and won't have to experience the pain, but the reality is, people often don't seem to have the ability to take something to heart if the lesson didn't affect their heart. Things often don't matter to people until it becomes personal.
So the first step is accepting that good intentions do not automatically entitle us to favorable outcomes. The second step is realizing that the burden of effective and interesting communication rests on us, as we are the ones who are invested in the interaction.
Young people are often eager to feel wanted, accepted, useful. They yearn to find meaningful connections to others. Truthfully we all do, but it's especially urgent in young people because they're just starting out and don't already have a lot of relationships to gain security from.
Because they are often exposed to social media at a young age, they often don't really know how to be engaging yet, and even explaining it to them step by step does not enable them to instantly communicate engagingly. They may even think that being engaging means that they can't be themselves, they have to try to act like someone else they know is popular or what they think someone wants. They can tend to get frustrated very easily and often require a lot of patience, which is something that is usually in short supply, especially when it comes to complete strangers.
When someone is "ignored", on of the first things people tend to do is attribute it as a character flaw of the person they were ignored by. I used quotes because while in many cases the message is seen by the recipient, in some cases it isn't. There are any number of valid reasons why someone wouldn't see a person's message, so let's bypass that and assume that they did see it, and did choose not to respond. How could they? What complete monsters.
It's astounding how frequently we fail to consider that our experiences, our lives, our wants and needs may be completely different than others. It seems so insanely obvious and yet how quickly we forget when there is any misunderstanding or communication breakdown. A lonely, bored person sends a DM to someone, maybe even sitting there waiting, expecting a response in a matter of seconds or minutes. They think of other people almost like search engines you can input a question or a phrase into and get instant results. I don't think this is a conscious thought, because it's ridiculous, but our emotional intelligence doesn't always care about logic.
It's no one's obligation to take time to respond to comments or questions from strangers, unless it's in the course of their actual paying job. If we are strangers, and want others to want to interact with us, it is our obligation to communicate in the way that best accomplishes that. And before that we must also recognize that even if we phrase everything in the best possible way, it does not guarantee us a response, but it absolutely increases the odds of getting one.
If you want someone's attention, especially someone who is or seems popular, it stands to reason that you should probably say something that is going to get their attention and show them that you respect them right off the bat. Short, common and banal statements like "hey", "hi", "how are u?", or anything that doesn't immediately have something more to say are patently ignorable.
"I like your [thing you have, trait, skill]" is slightly better, but how effective it is depends on whether the thing you're complimenting has to do with something that they had to work to achieve or not. Telling someone they're cute, or their suit is cute, is nice, but it isn't the same as saying you liked their story, or art, or something they took the time to create or do. And not just that you liked it, but something about why or how you liked it, is even better.
But also, we can't assume that flattery will be the key that opens the door to getting people to want to talk to us, because chances are countless others have used the same approach, so even though your praise may be sincere and heartfelt, it can unfortunately be common enough that it doesn't affect people the way we think it will. Maybe they're used to people praising them just to get what they want them and feel cynical about praise. Again, we really have to think it through a little before just jumping to assumptions about motives and character.
If you're contacting someone with a specific question or goal, that's ideal because the person instantly knows what your intentions are, it doesn't require them to guess or make leaps of logic or go through rounds of pointless formalities to get to the point. Treat everyone's time as valuable, not just your own. If the only goal you have is to get to know someone better, then be as friendly, respectful and patient as possible. Tell people up front that there's no rush, or that you understand if they don't get to reply. Show people that you are respectful and compassionate before you expect them to show you they are. The person who cares the most about an interaction is almost always the one who has the greatest burden of effort. Don't put the burden of conversation on the person you're reaching out to with short, meaningless answers that don't further a conversation.
But, you might think, this is all so much work! Why do I have to treat just wanting to say hello to someone like a job interview?
Because when you first meet someone, whether you like it or not, you are making a first impression, and it's a critical one. Even in text, maybe especially in text because you don't have any other factors to mitigate the impact of the words you choose. If your first words to someone who you want to interact with are boring and cliché and the person has heard them a hundred times before, what motivation do they have to continue?
If you decide that you can't be bothered to put all this effort into meeting people, that's your choice, but the more socially skilled someone that you want to talk to is, the more they are probably going to want anyone to whom they speak with to be. You might really want someone you respect to mentor you and guide you and help you learn how to be socially proficient, but we all want things that unfortunately no one is likely to jump up and volunteer for. If you're not someone's kid, it isn't their responsibility.
This is not to say that we shouldn't try to have some patience and understanding in dealing with younger people who are still socially finding their way - but it's not our responsibility, it's just something we as compassionate people can do.
Ultimately, this is a social media topic that seems to recur every several months or so, and while I expect that the individuals who might benefit most from reading it probably won't, it's a poor excuse not to try. If it helps even one or two people, it's worth it.
It's not hard to see how accountability has become a huge current theme of our society, how frequently the culpable and powerful avoid it, how thirsty the masses are for it, and how reluctant so many people are to accept responsibility for things that they have a direct and major role in. Communication is no different - we must all be accountable for how we do it.
Communication is the basis of most everything we accomplish, and if you want someone to interact with you, the impetus is on you to both say exactly what you mean in the way that best represents your feelings and your goals and encourages reciprocation, but also to recognize and think about the factors that might affect when and if they reply. Adjust your expectations, it's always better to expect less and be happy if you get more than expect too much and constantly be disappointed.
People who are "popular" usually get that way through a combination of talent and excellent social skills, and as a result they have numerous relationships and responsibilities. It's not their job to cater to people whose social skills are still developing or need work.
You can like and respect someone without it being a requirement that they like you back equally as much, or even know you at all. Some people aren't going to, and it doesn't make them bad people. Make your best attempt and hope for the best. If you don't get a response, that's life, and there are millions of other people out there, some of which you will probably have better luck with.
And if you feel like you did everything in the most polite, engaging and considerate way you possibly could and it didn't get a response, then hey - it's their loss, right? ;)