How to Create Meaningful Relationships IRL in the Age of Social Media

Don’t let the title fool you—we’ve got zero beef with social media. We love it for its ability to expose us to like-minded internet friends, introduce us to the unknown, and keep in touch with our closest friends and family.

Yet sometimes, as we’re hitting refresh and on our social feeds for the 17th time before bed, we can’t help but wonder if all this “social” stimulation is isolating us more than it’s bringing us together. Are we gathering followers, friends, likes, and comments but losing touch with our humanity?

Will a Facebook like ever replace an in-person compliment? Will a kind comment on Instagram ever substitute a heartfelt dinner conversation? We posed these questions to Fran Walfish, PsyD, Beverly Hills–based family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and co-star of Sex Box on We TV, and the answer was a hard no.

Read on for Walfish’s take on how to put down the phone and cultivate your IRL relationships.

Accept That Social Media Cannot Replace IRL Connection

Okay, we know you feel connected to hundreds of people in your social media network all the time (often a bit too connected), but according to Walfish, there are a couple of ingredients that happen only when you’re face-to-face. “Number one—precise and sustained eye contact facilitates engagement between two human beings. If you think about the mother-infant dyad, when the mother breastfeeds and the baby looks into the mother’s adoring eyes, there’s an immediate click of attachment, engagement, and bonding,” Walfish says.

Secondly, “once you say something out loud to another person, and hear your voice speak it, it becomes real. It’s no longer a thought, and it’s no longer alive in only the back of your mind. It’s out in the world, and it becomes part of your reality. And it’s really important to do that with friends, in addition to a romantic partner.”

Take an Honest Assessment of What Matters Most to You

Let’s get real here—have you ever taken an honest look at how much time you spend on social media—or your phone in general—every day? Did the truth freak you out? If so, your priorities and your actions might be out of alignment.

“It’s important for each of us to slow down and take a hard honest—sometimes painful—look within and ask ourselves, ‘what is most important right now? And what’s most important in the long run?’” Walfish advises.

When considering how you spend your time, don’t let your feelings completely run the show. “Feelings change, from moment to moment. What feels good to you right now”—uhm, like scrolling through our Instagram explore tab for hours on end while lamenting our own boring lives?—“may not feel so good to you in ten to five years,” she says. If meaningful, long-lasting relationships are a priority for you, “plan ahead, and don’t neglect or discard potentially nurturing people from your life.”

Ditch Comparison and Self-Pity

When asked how to handle that nagging “everyone’s hanging out without me feeling” we sometimes get while creeping through our social feeds, Walfish was frank. “People who get caught in the feeling of compare-contrast, jealousy, rivalry, that type of thing, I think they are spending too much time on social media and not enough time directing their energies into real-life, face-to-face meetings with people. And I think the use of social media can become a crutch. If you spend the majority of your time online, then it can trigger those feelings.”

Push Past Resistance

So how does one put down the cell and pick up a social life? Basically, suck it up and make plans. “You will have initial resistance, and all kinds of excuses will pass through the front of your mind like ‘I’m too tired, I’m busy at work, I’m thinking I’ll cancel and postpone.’ No! Ladies and gentlemen, show up. Once you put it in your calendar, then you have to just show up and do it. And the reason is, when you do show up, you should expect to feel immediate gratification and pleasure from the experience. If you don’t, you’re with the wrong person,” Walfish says.

Be Present In-Person

Finally, it’s important to remain as present as possible when face-to-face. “You have to decide that it’s important to you ahead of time. And if it has value and meaning, then make it a priority. It’s kind of a simple thing, you just decide for this sixty or ninety minutes, you’re gonna be there for the other person,” Walfish says. Unfortunately, for the phone-addicted, this means you should also “make a solemn promise to yourself that you’re not going to pick up and look at your cell phone.”

Secondly, “be a better listener. Engaging is not primarily through talking. It’s through silent connected eye contact and active listening. So really listen to what your friend is saying, and use reflective comments, like ‘I hear you telling me ABC—this is what I think you’re saying.’”

Still aiming to unplug? We’ve got advice for that too.

This post was originally published at an earlier date.