Getting Back to In-Person Friendships

By Michelle Joyner

In today's digital age, it's easy to fall into the trap of digital dependency, where virtual interactions replace meaningful face-to-face connections. Many of us are so used to a remote world that we don’t even think twice about it. I was only a freshman in college when the Covid pandemic began, and the world of remote working started. While technology does have its benefits, it is also so important and beneficial to have genuine, offline relationships as well. If you are used to your virtual friendships and making friends online, it may seem a little bit intimidating at first to approach people in person. You are not alone! It is something so many of us can relate to, especially after the pandemic. You may be working remotely, maybe you take classes online, or maybe you are just a natural introvert who struggles putting themselves out there. It can truly be so overwhelming, but there are so many ways that friendships can be made and nurtured in person.   

Let’s explore the challenges of digital dependency and provide practical tips for breaking free and creating friendships in the physical world. We’ll also give you some ideas on where you can make potential real-world friendships and some fun friend date ideas.  


But first, why are real world connections beneficial:  

Physical Presence: Actions do speak louder than words. Experiencing the physical presence of another person provides opportunities for fostering deeper connections and intimacy that virtual friendships lack. This can look like eye contact, hugging, and other nonverbal cues.  

Emotional Connection: Of course, you can have a strong emotional connection with someone virtually, but real-world friendships offer a way to physically comfort and express emotions to our friends. This allows us to establish a deeper bond and a sense of empathy that virtual friendships can make a little more challenging.  

Shared Experiences: Real world friendships offer a way for us to share experiences through activities, outings, and activities. Whether it's hiking to the Golden Gate Bridge, trying a new restaurant or cafe, traveling to a new country, or coming to a Social Spark event, these physical experiences create bonds that a virtual friendship can’t.  

Social Skills Development: Interacting with our friends in the real world is so important to developing social skills, especially as a new grad. You can learn some essential skills such as communication, empathy, and active listening, among many others.  

Physical Health Benefits: Real world friendships have been shown to be positively related to our physical health like lowered stress levels, reduced risk of depression and other mental health issues, and an overall improved well-being. Going out and being physically active with friends promotes a healthier lifestyle that benefits us in ways that virtual friendship can’t. 


Now, how can you break free from digital dependency and make real world friends?  

First, and most importantly, you need to acknowledge the impact that digital dependency may have on you. This requires you to understand how excessive reliance on digital devices and social media may be hindering your ability to form genuine real-world connections. You must also acknowledge the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection that may be caused from spending too much time online. Again, so many of us in this stage of life are experiencing this, so that’s totally normal. But if we don’t acknowledge it and seek change, then nothing will change. 

Set Boundaries with Technology: This may be hard (and I am also guilty) but start by establishing boundaries around your digital usage by setting limits on screen time. Put away TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook and prioritize real-life interactions. Just think about the fun you can have learning a TikTok dance with your friend (in person!) or creating memories that can be shared on social media (if you’re into that). Try designating specific times of the day for using digital devices. Maybe try putting your device away after your work and school day is over or give yourself an hour of screen time before bed. Make a commitment to unplugging during social gatherings or quality time with friends.  

Practice Mindfulness: Try to be fully present and fully engaged in your interactions with others. This requires you to put away your phone and focus on actively listening, making eye contact, and engaging in meaningful conversations when spending time with friends or acquaintances. 

Engage in Offline Activities: Explore offline hobbies, interests, and activities that allow you to meet new people and form connections outside of the digital world. Join clubs and community groups and attend concerts or events (like a Social Spark event!) where you can interact with others, share your interests, and make meaningful and lasting connections.   

Initiate Face-to-Face Interactions: Take the initiative to schedule face-to-face meetings with friends or acquaintances instead of relying solely on digital communication. Sure, facetime is easy, but start simply by planning an outing like a casual coffee date, or a group activity that provides a way for genuine interaction and bonding. If you need to meet people to have these casual hangouts with, our membership does just that. 

Be the real you: Authenticity is valuable. Don’t be scared to practice vulnerability by opening and sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with others in a genuine and authentic way. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and receptive to others' vulnerabilities allows you to make deeper connections and practice empathy. 

Be Present in Social Settings: When attending social events or gatherings, make a conscious effort to be present and engaged in the moment. Put away that phone! Again, it may be tempting, but distractions like phones or laptops prevent you from focusing on connecting with others in the moment.   

Seek Support and Accountability: Surround yourself with friends or family members who understand your desire to break free from digital dependency and are there to support your efforts. Try to find others who are looking to do the same. And hold yourself accountable by sharing these goals and progress with individuals who can provide encouragement and accountability.  

Celebrate Your Progress: Celebrate the victories along your journey to overcoming digital dependency and creating real-world friendships. Try making a progress report for yourself where you can reward yourself for the milestones you have accomplished in this journey, and/or a goal for how many in-person engagements you want per week. Recognize the positive impact that genuine connections have on your well-being and happiness and celebrate the growth and gratification that comes from fostering meaningful relationships. 


Socializing Resources

If you are someone that only has virtual friends and are struggling to make the effort to turn these into real world friendships (trust me, you are not alone!), and truly want to change this, there are many resources you can turn to for help.   

Social Spark: Try coming to one of our events or joining our membership to intentionally spark new friendships. You will have the opportunity to participate in groups for weekend activities, or small socials for more casual and personal get-to-know-yous.  

Social Apps and Online Communities: Nowadays, there are so many places to look if you are looking to make long lasting friendships. You can try to look for Facebook groups specific to your area and find people that share similar interests as you, or you can engaging on local Discords and other forums. These sites have lots of people on there looking to make friends and can be a great option, if you initiate hangouts in person upon meeting. 

Networking Events: These events are another great way to look for making friendships with people that share similar passions and career interests.  

Fitness Classes and Gyms: Participating in fitness classes and joining a gym can be a great way to meet people who share a love of fitness or may have the same fitness goals as you. Try striking up a conversation at your next pilates, kickboxing, or HIIT class!  

Bars and Cafes: Oftentimes, these are the most popular gathering spots where people of similar ages come to socialize, work, relax, and make friends. Try conversing with a potential new friend over a cocktail or a latte.  


"Friend Date" Ideas

You can make an adventure out of anything, but here are some friend date ideas for either outdoors or at the comfort of your own home.   


- Pottery making or pottery painting class  

- Explore your city together  

- Cooking or baking class  

- Thrift shopping  

- Attend a local festival or museum  

- Hiking 

- Workout class  

- Plan a picnic  


At home:  

- Movie night  

- Wine tasting and charcuterie board making  

- Pizza making  

- Bake and decorate your favorite desserts  

- Cocktail making  

- Host a brunch  

- Game night 

- Spa day  


So now it's time: Put away that device and get out there! Nurturing your real-world friendships takes a little effort, a sprinkle of mindfulness, and a dash of courage to step away from the screen. By admitting that those digital distractions have been cramping your style, laying down some boundaries, staying in the present moment, and doing stuff in the real world, you'll be well on your way to making genuine connections. Don't be afraid to show your true colors, put yourself out there in social settings, and give those existing relationships some TLC. And don't forget to reward yourself for every small victory along the way! So, here's to embracing the adventure of real friendship!  

Getting Back to In-Person Friendships
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