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Meet an online friend each month

What I love most about social media are the relationships you can create. 

Nearly all of my most cherished friendships were first forged online. That’s not an exaggeration. I’ve always viewed social media primarily as a tool for meeting people with similar interests—not as a place to gather followers, be an “influencer,” or to sell things.

As a result, I’ve always put serious effort into turning online relationships into offline friendships. If I’m going to spend all this time posting and scrolling, I should make sure I’m getting a good payout from all that time and effort. Friendships are the best payoff possible.

So in May 2017, I set a personal goal to meet one online friend in person per month for the next five years.1

I adopted a few guidelines:

  1. I didn’t need to meet one single person in each discrete month. I was instead shooting for a pace of 12 per year. I’d check in on my progress at the start of each year, with the goal of reaching 60 by the end of the five years.
  2. These had to be intentional meetings, where I had done some planning to be there to meet that person. If I accidentally ran into someone in a restaurant or something, it didn’t count. But if I attended an event because the person would be there and we had a substantive and personal conversation, it would count.
  3. Couples counted as a single unit, even if I had “met” them online separately.

So, how did it turn out?

I met the goal!

But more than that—I made some really great friends.

Many of which I’ve seen numerous times since we met in person. Many that have stayed in our house (or we stayed in theirs), sometimes the same day we met. Some that we have traveled extensively with. And even some that were in my wedding (and vice versa!).

Of all the people I’ve met, only a single person that was awkward and someone I would skip seeing again. Those are pretty damn good odds in my book.

But that’s not too surprising. After all, not only were they already “vetted” in some sense after often years of online conversations, but they were all people I already considered to be friends—just friends I hadn’t yet spent time with in person. So it was tremendously likely that we’d get along so well.

It was such a success, in fact, that I decided to continue that one-a-month goal indefinitely.

(As of April 2024, I’m currently just 3 behind the pace, which is pretty good considering how that whole covid pandemic thing coupled with my dad’s health decline has impacted our travel since 2020)

How did I do it?

Remarkably, the vast majority (87% in fact) of these folks live out of town. I met about 20% of them as they passed through Phoenix, sometimes offering them a free place to stay for the night. Otherwise, we made time to meet up with the remainder of out-of-towners during our own various travels. For more than a handful that we met, we were both in the middle of a trip, which is always fun.

To make this easier, I created a database of everyone I was interested in meeting and where they lived. Whenever we were planning a trip, my wife and I would consult the database and see who we might want to meet up with.

I also published a form on my website that allowed others to add themselves to that database.

Those two tools made it easier to remember who lived where, and to connect when our paths might cross. It was then simply a matter of sending a simple message: “Hey, I’m going to be passing through your neck of the woods in a couple weeks. Want to grab a beer?”

Of course, the logistics didn’t always work out when we were passing through, and we had a fair number of “near misses” when things just didn’t quite align. But more often than not, it did, and we deepened our friendship with some in-person time.

In fact, I’ve subsequently gotten together with almost half of them multiple times.

The best part of social media is finding “your people.” So take the time to convert those online relationships into in-real-life friendships.

  1. So, I did something like this once before. In January 2010, I adopted (and successfully completed) what I called the #10N3 Challenge, which sought to turn 10 online friends into IRL friends in 3 months. ↩︎

3 thoughts on “Meet an online friend each month”

  1. I had some really good experiences with online friends who became Trail Angels for us on the AT. I even met a friend who drove over the border from Donegal to meet us in Derry when we went to NI. I also have some people who I met IRL twenty years ago but now only have an online relationship with and it’s still good.

    • That’s great, Lou!

      I also trail-angeled for someone I counted in this challenge who was doing the Arizona Trail; met up to resupply him a couple hours northeast of Phoenix and bought him a couple good beers (and a bad burger?) at the shitty dive bar in the trail community we met up in. We ended up meeting up again in Seattle a couple years later while we were both in town on a trip.

  2. I tried to leave a comment, but I think your web page ate it. Anyway, I’m just waving the me too flag, not quite at your scale though.


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