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I have an online friend who I have been talking to for the past few months. Let's call her Alice. We get along well and share some interests and can talk about stuff for a while.

I've begun to feel like I'm always the one who has to initiate conversation, and when I'm talking to her, I'm usually the one asking questions (to keep the conversation going) which she answers earnestly. She doesn't sound uninterested or bothered by my questions.

For example, we might be talking about holidays we've been on. I'll say I've been to X, Y and Z, she says she's been to A, B, and C, and to keep the conversation going I'll ask her questions about the places she visited or where else she'd like to travel to, but she doesn't ask me about the places I've been to or any other questions unless I start talking about them first.

My questions are:

  1. My social skills aren't great so I'm trying to learn what different cues mean. Does her behaviour "mean" anything like, am I doing something wrong, is this warning of a deeper problem, or is this normal?

  2. How can I encourage her to initiate conversations and ask questions back?

  3. From what I understand, you go from acquaintances to friends when both parties care about each other, and she has said that I am her good friend and that she trusts me. But in another friendship, me and a different person asking questions about each other or showing mutual interest in each others' things means "care". Is there something that I'm missing with my friendship with Alice or am I worrying too much?

Edit:
I don't think the issue is a lack of interest. She's told me that she thinks of me as a good friend, she's said that she enjoys our chats and is fine with my questions, and she does reply to me with well-thought-out answers. I like talking to her because we have several niche interests in common that we like to discuss at length. We are similar ages and from similar cultures.

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    Regarding #1, we can't read her mind, but did you ever ask her just that? So she's an online friend - what does talking mean - chatting, video chat, talking on the phone etc.? – Anne Daunted Jan 3 '18 at 14:21
  • It will be useful if you give us some example conversations you've had with Alice. The type of questions you ask has a lot to do with the type of response you can expect. Questions need to be open-ended with room for debate and deviation. Post some of your BEST conversations as examples so we know how far you've gone in trying to make this work. – Crazy Cucumber Jan 3 '18 at 14:27
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    @AnneDaunted I have not asked her that. We chat via text. – Pyritie Jan 3 '18 at 14:27
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    Since you chat via text, how do you know that "[s]he doesn't sound uninterested or bothered by my questions."? I agree with CrazyCucumber that examples may be helpful in this case. – Anne Daunted Jan 3 '18 at 14:32
  • @CrazyCucumber I updated my question with a few examples but I don't have access to chat logs to look up things at the moment. – Pyritie Jan 3 '18 at 14:41
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The only one who can actually tell you what her behavior means is Alice herself. In addition, you two are chatting via text only and it's hard to draw conclusions about one's chat partner.

But the important points are

  1. "I have an online friend who I have been talking to for the past few months."
  2. "I've begun to feel like I'm always the one who has to initiate conversation, [...]"

You consider her your friend and you are not satisfied, or at least a bit confused about your one-sided conversations. Since she engages in conversations with you, it's probably safe to assume that she considers you to be a friend, too. And when problems arise in a friendship, it's usually best to tackle them together and be honest.

Ask her about what she expects from your conversations.

  • I suggest you have a normal and friendly start into the conversation.
  • Approach this in a non-accusatory way! The goal is not to play and win a blame game, and it may not be clearly anybody's fault. Instead, it is a problem you perceive and you hope that you two can solve it together.
  • Alice should feel comfortable about opening up and that she can honestly state her opinion and her feelings about the matter. Avoid creating the impression that some threats lure in the background (e. g. like "If you don't show interest in my activities, I see no future for our friendship." or the like).
  • Don't be too forcing! If she doesn't want to have the conversation, leave it be and go on like normal, if you want - don't punish her for it.

So in essence

  • ask her what she expects from your conversations and what she likes/dislikes.
  • tell her how you feel about it yourself.
  • drop the topic if she doesn't want to talk about it, but you may ask if you could continue on a later date.

Whatever problem there is, only you two together can find out what it is and solve it. But if you are honest, friendly and respect her boundaries, you increase your chances of her opening up to you.

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    I wouldn't be surprised if her answer to "why" is just "I dunno". These kinds of decisions aren't usually very conscious decisions, and are probably just a result of lack of inclination. – Shufflepants Jan 3 '18 at 21:26
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    @Shufflepants I agree that the answer may not be satisfying, but even in this case, she then knows how the OP feels about it and has time to think about the issue and maybe what she actually wants becomes clear to her as a result. In the end, asking her is the only way to find out why she behaves that way, we can only speculate. Also, the OP doesn't burn any bridges. A more forceful approach ("If you don't tell me why you never ask questions back, I will drown a puppy!") may be more successful, but also damage their friendship. – Anne Daunted Jan 4 '18 at 13:28
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In relation to 1) it is not possible to provide a "one fits all" answer, certainly not without further context. This is because such behaviour can indicate a great many things. Some people, for example, might appreciate the communication but don't initiate conversations for fear of coming across as annoying/clingy or because they are simply introverted. Others might feel obligated to answer communications even if they are not too interested due to not come across as unfriendly. People might also have a lot on their plate making it difficult to find the time to start talking to people on their own.

As for 2) you could try and express to Alice that you really appreciate the conversations with her. But again, depending on the reason for why she is not initiating conversations, this might not really lead to a change in behaviour on her end.

8

Some good points here already, I just want to give a little more psychological insight into things.

  1. I've been on both sides of the fence in this situation. Of course it's impossible to say for sure, but in general her behavior indicates a lack of interest. Where it gets complicated is figuring out why that is. It could be something as harmless as being distracted, tired, preoccupied, or similar. Or it could be a genuine lack of interest in the friendship. Then there are possibilities like she's got something going on in her life that is causing stress/anxiety, resulting in her withdrawing from social interaction. Whatever the case, the fact that she's actually responsive and not giving other signals like agitation or dismissal leads me to believe it's one of the more harmless possibilities.
  2. You can't. If she's not motivated to reciprocate, you're not going to change that. She could just have nothing to say on the topics you're bringing up. For example you might find your vacations X, Y, and Z to be interesting but maybe she doesn't. In a perfect world she would know how to handle that gracefully, but a lot of people just don't, and we can't expect them to.
  3. You can't assess every friendship the same way. I have some friends I chat with daily about all kinds of things, and others I talk to only once a month and usually about a single topic or two, but I consider them all to be great friends. How much we get involved in each others' personal lives also varies greatly. Really it's up to you to define what you think a friend is, and the same is true for her. This is one thing I wouldn't put much thought into, friendships happen naturally, and it's difficult (if not impossible) to compare one to another.

So what should you do? Personally, I wouldn't push the issue directly as you're seeing it. There's probably an underlying cause for her apparent lack of involvement, and that's what you should try to explore. Despite all my wordiness above, there are two scenarios I see as being by far the most likely, and you can approach both the same way.

  1. Something in life is distracting her. Could be good, could be bad, who knows. She might be willing to share, or she might prefer to keep it private.
  2. The conversations just aren't engaging her as much. This isn't necessarily a red flag, it just might mean you need to find some new common ground. You're already on the right track by asking her follow-up questions to what she talks about.

Okay here's what I would do in your situation. Keep it simple and friendly, use soft language that doesn't demand an answer, and don't pressure her into revealing anything she might not be comfortable revealing. "Hey you seem preoccupied lately. Anything going on that you want to talk about?" She might open up about what's on her mind. Or you might not find out anything directly, in which case do as I said in scenario #2 above and just try to learn more about her and what she enjoys talking about. Either way, don't put too much thought into it. The more you over-think it, the more awkward it will sound. Best of luck!

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    Thanks for the answer. She often ends up writing long and thought-out answers to some of the questions I ask, and she's said she's fine with me asking questions like that, so I don't think it's a lack of interest in the friendship. Based on some of the other personal conversations we've had, I think that something irl could very well be stressing her out, on top of her just being introverted. – Pyritie Jan 3 '18 at 16:44
  • I'm glad you've been able to narrow it down. Just be supportive without being too nosy. If she wants to talk about it, just listen, don't try to fix things unless she specifically asks. I'm horrible at that, unfortunately, I've got that classic Engineer mindset of "I see a problem, so I need to fix it" which gets me in a lot of trouble – thanby Jan 5 '18 at 12:53
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Other answers seem to be suggesting it's something negative from her side, like she's not interested etc. Alternative explanation would be that she feels her social status is lower than yours, which would make her hold back and let you lead the relationship, so you wouldn't feel she is taking too much space in your life and being annoying.

For example, if I get along well in my workplace with someone who has a higher position than I, I might not be as active in forming the relationship, because I feel I shouldn't be bothering such an important person. On the other hand this behavior can also be subconscious, for example if someone is very "cool" person, more stylish than I, has better job, is very popular etc., I would be happy to be with her whenever he/she initiates the contact, but I don't feel like I have "right" to initiate the contact and possibly bother him/her doing something more important and being with more important people. (I think this kind of thinking might be typical for people who have been bullied a lot, so if you can't relate, maybe discuss with someone who has experienced bullying for years.)

If I come to think about it for some reason, I might change my behavior. But being active is not something that comes naturally if someone has higher social status than I, so I need something to make me realize he/she really wants to be my friend and that I am allowed to be initiative and he/she will be happy if I do, instead of being bothered and annoyed. So if this is the case, what you can do is to tell her in a friendly way you would appreciate if she was more initiative.

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    This is a great answer. In addition, I'd suggest possibly 1) She values what you have too much to risk losing it by saying the wrong thing. 2) She simply enjoys it when you drive. – Easy Tiger Jan 4 '18 at 11:56
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I am boldly guessing the situation, and some or all might not apply to your friendship. Please take no offense where I guessed wrong, I did not mean to assume either way.

I see several possibilities:

  1. She might be just bad at coming up with discussion topics, beeing either socially inexperienced, an introvert or - allow my nonspecific terminology - a boring person. In that case there is not much you can do, except thinking along those "provide a safe place" lines.

  2. She might enjoy your chats, but consider it an entertainment service you provide that she can consume. In that case you can either accept it or ask for more engagement.

  3. She might be bored by the discussions, but not outright ending them hoping for they get more interesting further down the road. In that case you should steer away from weather/holiday/everyday topics.

  4. She might be distracted (TV, other chat, whatever), and answering takes less effort that coming up with ideas. In that case it helps if you agree on when to chat, and do not try to start a chat just because she is online.

Since you can't know which it is, you can try to maximize her engagement and see how far it gets you. I suggest that you first of all try to find topics that she is truly interested in.

  • "What was the last time you laughed so hard you could not keep sitting?"
  • "If, whatever you do the next 12 months, in one year from now your life would return to this exact moment - how would you spend that year?"
  • What was your happiest moment of the last year?
3

It's possible that it has nothing to do with her relationship with you, and she's just better at that side of the conversation.

What you describe sounds a lot like the way I am with conversations. I tend to be what people call "a good listener," and I can help carry a conversation pretty well, but if you put me on the spot and ask if I have any questions of my own to ask, my first instinct is to simply freeze up. That's just the way some people are.

1

There are so many possibilities here. She might not be that interested in you; she might not have any intellectual curiosity about other people or places; she might not have anything to say; she might be distracted by messaging someone else at the same time, she might be 7 years old or 70 and doesn't know what to ask a person your age; she might not be a she at all. Online relationships are artificial in that you have no context, can't read social clues, and really have no idea who you are texting with.

There may be cultural differences that you have not been made aware of; there may be language differences.

You don't mention your age, but if you are young person, arbitrarily 14-18, I suggest trying to make friends with people your age in person. You will have a much better idea of what the person's motivations and interests are.

It can seem that online friends are easier to talk to, easier to be yourself with, but unless you interact with people in person, you are really just responding to your own projections about this person.

You sound like a thoughtful and sincere person, try to make a friend at school or through other people. It may feel like there is more risk involved in talking to someone in person, but there is actually less risk because you know who you are talking with. Once you meet someone in person you can get to know them better online if that is your comfort zone.

  • Thanks for the answer but I don't think it applies here. I should've specified that we're more than just casual friends, we're both in our mid-20's, and I know what she looks like. We are both native english speaking americans. I am friends with her because we have several niche interests in common, and I seriously doubt I could find anyone in my local area with them as well. – Pyritie Jan 4 '18 at 10:23
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“An entertainment service” - Think about that. There is a concept called social credit, we naturally build it by helping others and engaging in small talk etc.

You seem to be in a situation where you are investing a lot, without reciprocity. She just seems to like attention, and it could be yours or anyone else's. If she would be kind, and that is a precondition for friendship, she would show interest in you. A genuine interest isn’t that what friendship is about?

When do you call someone a (real) friend? Is she just as interested to chat with you specifically, as you are to chat with her? If you read more into the chats than what is on the screen, in the long run, this ‘friendship’ can be very disappointing. As a test, I suggest measuring the time it takes for her to contact you, while you don’t contact her. I’ve tried this on many so-called friends IRL and many could never pass this simple test. Be kind, but don’t invest too much social credit in self-centred individuals. There will be no return.

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    I downvoted, because this is kind of "let's assume the worst and not give her an opportunity to change" -answer. – Boat Jan 4 '18 at 8:08
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    Objection: this is making that opportunity explicit. – bbaassssiiee Jan 4 '18 at 8:40
  • I meant opportunity for Alice, not OP. – Boat Jan 4 '18 at 8:41
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    While I agree with the poster that OP should not get overly emotionally invested, it is obvious that he already is to some degree. At this point, he can only benefit from clearing the situation and not shutting down without further explanation. – Sven Jan 4 '18 at 18:19

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