Finding Your People (Part 2): Meeting Internet People

In September 2012, I stepped off of a plane in San Francisco, weaved my way through the airport, and dialled my friend Steve on my cell phone when I couldn’t spot him. It was our first time meeting, and I had basically no reservations about flying halfway across the continent and letting a then basically complete stranger (okay not quite) show me around San Francisco and then drive me down to Palo Alto for Stanford Medicine X.

A year earlier, in September 2011, I bought my Issues in Sport textbook, and then wandered to the front lawn of the university to meet Dia (in her pink coat), who was in Winnipeg for work. We proceeded to a Second Cup a few blocks away (a Canadian coffee chain!), and I missed my next class because we got so absorbed in conversation. A month before that, my aunt and I had road-tripped to Chicago, and on our first night, enjoyed a meal with my friend Rona at a lovely vegetarian restaurant. Rona, Steve, and Dia, it happens, I connected with all because of asthma.

Since then, I can’t even count how many “Internet People” I’ve met in person—the short answer is probably at least a hundred with conferences in the mix. As much as I love the online world for making my ever-growing group of Friends From the Internet possible, I value these in-person meetings so, so much. They add depth to friendships that can be sort of attained by Skype or Google Hangouts or FaceTime, but takes much longer to develop. Rona has since moved to Arizona, but since our initial meetings, Steve and I have met in person on four different occasions (one of which was a week-long trip to Vancouver). In a 13-month span over 2015/2016, Dia and I have connected in two different cities on five different occasions—one time in Denver, Steve was in on the adventure as well, and it was wild. (That trip, centred around the American Thoracic Society conference that we tried to sneak in to, we also had coffee with Canadian asthma physician and researcher Dr. Dilini Vethanayagam, and visited with Dr. Sally Wenzel, a world renowned doctor and severe asthma researcher from the University of Pittsburgh’s Asthma Institute).

I’ve had really good luck for the most part taking my online friendships offline, and often, they don’t actually have much if anything to do with asthma. I meet my friends Scott and Heather in Minneapolis for grilled cheese whenever I’m in the area; in May, after a whirlwind morning of UberPOOL during Toronto’s rush hour (does rush hour end in Toronto?), two subway rides, and a Google Maps situation, I found myself at Sorry Coffee with joggler Michal Kapral. Yeah, I said joggler—he runs and juggles at the same time (by the way, you may recognize Michal from this commercial!). I didn’t know it, but it turns out Michal has asthma—sometimes, you just discover random internet people are actually random internet people with asthma who freaking run and juggle and have asthma all at the same time. DO ALL THE THINGS!). And, like usually happens, we had coffee, Michal showed me the Health Quality Ontario office (unexpected bonus!), and our time went way too fast and I had to head back for the meeting I was in Toronto for!

Of course, these are the awesome things about meeting internet people. And for the most part, I think that people are safe. I always say that I think meeting an internet connection (the right way) has as much chance of going bad as my risk of being hit by a car. As I’m known for, this is not actually a finding based on real data ;). I do a few things make things safer, and always follow my instinct, but, so far so good. Here’s what I keep in mind when meeting people that I’ve met online:

  • Vet them a bit. Do they have a good variety of friends, pictures on their social media profiles (the more, the more reassured I often feel), a decent amount of information, and can you back most of it up somehow? If you have a good number of mutual friends (who have also met the individual in person), you can probably be a tad more lenient.
  • How long have you known them? Have you developed a decent relationship with this person over months or years?
  • Have you spoken virtually “face to face”, as in using Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout?
  • Meet in a public place. This goes without saying, I’d hope, but meeting for coffee, lunch or at an event is important. (We’d Skyped dozens of times first, but I would not say “Meet friend from the Bay Area in San Francisco Airport and then immediately get in his car” is a good method in general!)
  • And, of course… Trust your instinct.

I believe, for the right friendships, taking online relationships offline is super important. Some of my very best friends I’ve met on the internet—and because I’ve chosen to do it right, I’ve had good experiences. It doesn’t—and shouldn’t!—be all about asthma. As in my previous post on the subject, knowing people with asthma that’s like yours can be a really amazing thing, as long as it pushes you to be better! In all cases, “We became friends because of asthma, we stay friends because of awesome," should hold true. A couple weeks back, I toured Alberta (and a bit of Montana) with my friend Jessica—we met on Twitter via the Asthma Society of Canada, have met in Toronto a few times, and jumped over a few provinces for an adventure. Because yeah, we became friends because of asthma, but we flew out to roadtrip for pizza and dinosaurs. Because that’s way cooler.

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