Skip to main content

The ‘hello, goodbye’ game

A friend of mine just told me about this wildly useful exercise she did in couples therapy:

They sat facing each other and closed their eyes (which signified ‘me’ time). Whenever each of them felt like opening their eyes (which signified that they felt like connecting with their partner), they did and said, ‘hello!’

Sometimes their partner also had their eyes open, sometimes not. Sometimes while they had their eyes open, their partner opened their eyes and they connected. Sometimes their partner never opened their eyes, and when they were ready to go ‘back inside’ they said, ‘goodbye’ and closed their eyes once again. Rinse, repeat.

I found the explanation of this exercise to be a poignant metaphor, not only for how we interact with our partners, family and friends, but for how we ‘live’ on the internet.

The purpose of this exercise is to let couples see that you can’t possibly always be connected, that you are, in fact, individuals with needs, desires and personalities that simply don’t jibe with each other all the time.

This reality is oftentimes extremely difficult for people in relationship to understand (and what makes relationships so challenging). We want connection when we want it and we don’t want it when we don’t want it. In other words, we want their needs met on our terms, when someone else’s terms have to be considered, it’s quite, um, inconvenient. Shocker: it takes work, collaboration and compromise.

The internet and social media have us participating in this ‘hello, goodbye’ game every time we log on. We say hello and goodbye at will and so does everyone else – we have no choice but to accept this. Sometimes we connect with people at the same time, sometimes we don’t – and there’s a delay between responses. Just like in relationship, if we absolutely require connection, we can set up a meeting where both parties agree to be present.

But, we’re okay with this scenario online. Why?

The view is often expressed that our computer and mobile device screens provide a buffer that allows us to say things we might not normally say to someone’s face. SO, are the screens also allowing us to ‘deal with ourselves’ in a positively abnormal way too? (Or is it that we’re not married to the people in our online communities? Those of you that do communicate online with your partners will have to let me know about that one.)

Are we doing our internet relationships better? Or am I about to get pounded by my readers for comparing the virtual vs. the live relationship? I can see it going both ways.

Weigh in…I know you’re all going to have some strong opinions here.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Sandra Foyt says:

    I’m sure you’re right that some people do say things online they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in person. Mostly, however, I think we self-censor online. There is a lot we don’t share publicly that we might only tell certain friends.

    The ‘hello, goodbye’ game is an interesting analogy; however, as this perfectly describes the Twitter community. Twitter, like other social media, creates a bridge so that you can express yourself on your time, and it can be received on your friend’s time.

    Unfortunately, I’ve found that it’s very difficult to get my real world friends online, so I’m only connecting with new friends who are comfortable with social media.

  • I’ve often remarked that we risk having dangerous expectations of our social networks online.

    Why do we connect online? For business, sure. Because each connection is a potential client, a potential referral, a potential employer. But mostly, we connect because we want, like and need to feel connected.

    The danger is that we ignore our offline relationships because our online networks give us “on-demand” relationships. There’s always SOMEONE to talk to, always SOMEONE to listen to.

    Maintaining a small number of deep, meaningful relationships is hard. It takes work, focus, commitment, energy, time. But a hundred relationships online — comparatively shallow relationships that might APPEAR deep — is easy. No individual relationship takes more than a few minutes to maintain.

    Online relationships fill a void. And for that, they’re dangerous. We tread a troublesome path when we fill the void online, rather than working to complete the relationships with those we should be closest to.

  • Anne Mayhew says:

    Love the post? Definite food for thought. I think the personal relationships have a higher value and expectations on both sides. The internet connections are important and the good ones we make tend to rank higher than others. We can move on from ones we don’t care for because there was not commitment or high expectation going into it….

  • Anne says:

    I think it is a good analogy. I do think that some people will say things they wouldn’t say in person. For me, these are usually in the form of anonymous comments on my blog. I tend to self censor to only present a certain side of myself.

  • --Deb says:

    Because we’re not in the same room. What’s rude (or polite) when you’re face to face with another person is not the same as what qualifies when you’re at opposite ends of the internet, or on the telephone, or using semaphor flags, morse code, the television, or any other means of conversation.

    Having your instant messages ignored, or just virtually missing each other, isn’t nearly the same thing as having someone turn and walk out of the room you just entered. Or not answer when you talk. Because in person, different rules apply!

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    I do feel this way. Sometimes I’m really really connected online–and sometimes I need a huge breather. When I take the breathers, it’s usually because I’m on deadline in my non virtual life, but I hate to think my virtual friends think I’m giving them the snub. It’s not like I would ignore them or not say, “howdy” in real life, but it’s all too easy to not read status updates for a few days.

  • Elli Cucksey says:

    so much food for thought. I’ve made so many good friends online, but I’m sure I’ve cut off or otherwise ignored just as many connections. Some of those I’ve ignored, might have turned out to be good friends to me in the real world. I’ll never know.

    I find it fascinating how often you talk about authenticness and real voices. There are so many people using the mask of the internet to hide who they really are, and to create a persona to represent who they want to be. In the end, I agree with you on the importance of being your REAL self, especially online. I find it to be a wonderful exercise for figuring out who that real self is.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Elli – guess what? I have an ebook coming out soon about authenticity and personal branding. Co-authoring it with Ron Miller ( – very excited!

Leave a Reply