Meeting Online Mom Group Friends IRL is Painful

alone man person sadness

There comes a point in every mom’s life when she’ll discover online mom groups and become transfixed. I did.

About three years ago, I found a local mom group tied to a high end children’s clothing group. The group is an off-topic chat forum, with posts about everything ranging from potty training to baby formula hunts to dildo recommendations.

But far from superficial, it’s a place where moms can share their sorrows and joys as they compare momming notes. 

Is teething at this age normal? 

Do your in-laws do this too? 

And the screen grabs of text messages and post comments. To make sure that we, too, cannot actually believe that the bitch said that

The best and worst thing about my mom group 

The best thing about my mom group: it’s local. 

The worst thing about my mom group: it’s local. 

Which means there’s a good chance I’ll meet many of these women IRL at some point. They’ll dislike me. And it will ruin the magic of this mom group — or at least dull the enchantment.

I’m a bit clunky when it comes to my friendships and social relationships. Always ill-at-ease with obsessive thoughts traipsing through my brain. 

Ok, I’m the last one here at this outing and this is weird. I should go. I want to go. But if I go, they’re going to talk about me and how weird it is that I’m here so long. 

So what do I do? Stay an hour longer, of course.

Because I feel so awkward I don’t know how to not-awkwardly leave. And if I stay here until they pass out and go to bed, then they won’t be able to talk about me. Each minute that passes intensifies the sheer weirdness of my predicament, and yet with each passing moment I feel more and paralyzed in anxiety and fear.

I’m the person who browses your garage sale and then buys something to be polite, even if I don’t like anything, so that you won’t be mad at me.

After trying on several garments, I’ll tell the sales clerk to put an item on hold for me at the cash wrap. That’s my elegant escape so the clerk won’t get mad at me for not buying anything.

I overdo it, when it comes to present-buying and birthday parties and doling out goodies to Trick-or-Treaters. I don’t ask for gift receipts, lest I hurt someone’s feelings. 

Like John Mulaney, I’m a people pleaser. I want you to not be mad at me. I need to know, overtly, that you are not mad at me. At every moment of the day. But unlike John Mulaney, I’m not very agreeable. 

It’s paradoxical being an unpopular people-pleaser. 

Yet in my mom group I can share deeply personal life episodes and find commiseration and laughter and tactical advice. Moms share about money woes and domestic abuse and drug addiction and infidelity. And find sanctuary.

Why would I want to ruin my digital safe haven by meeting these people IRL? 

Totally, right? Or sheer stupidity? 

But when you’ve got a good thing going online, why ruin it by meeting them in real life where your social anxiety will kill the vibe.

It’s why for nearly 2 years I carefully avoided meeting any moms in this group. 

You made a Facebook group purchase? It’s on the front stoop. 

You live close by with kids my age? That’s nice. Bye. 

You’ll ring the bell to say “hi” when you pick up? Um, I’ll be busy. For every single minute. For four hours straight.

One mom asked me to come outside and toss her items in the car, so she wouldn’t have to park and wake her sleeping baby. 

I bribed my husband to do it. 

“You’re f-cking crazy,” he said. 

(“What’s your point?”)

Eventually I let down my walls  

A year ago, I picked up a group purchase and said “hi” to the mom. I went to a trunk-or-treat group event. I made playground dates.

As I’ve done so, the group has shifted from being my safe haven to a place of social anxiety. And it’s more prevalent with online encounters than the IRL ones.

While I am people-pleasey, I’m also brash, cynical, and realistic — when it comes to politics.

(Which inclines me to believe that God must be real — and have a sense of humor. How else could this freak-set of incongruent traits bubble up in one person?)

I see racism and sexism in most things (because people are human beings with flaws and biases), and I speak up.

I see (point out) racism and sexism in the words and actions — of self-identifying white liberals. The kind with BLM signs.

I’ve always been outspoken on racial, gender, and social equity issues, and tried to challenge the way I think about them.

And the moms in my group are of my liberal ilk. It’s a safe place to virtue-signal and exchange thoughts and ideas on the topic. To change how we think about what the code word “good schools” means, and to explore what antiracism can look like beyond a surface level definition.

So it is a safe place, right? Until your social blunders blow up in your face. And become digitally memorialized.


Here comes the dirty delete 

I shared a screen grab of a Facebook post several months ago. It was a thread of a conversation I had had with a momtrepreneur. She had made some unintentionally racist remarks to assuage, if not woo, customers who fear the Yellow Peril

Seeking group perspective, by sharing screen grabs of emails and texts and DM’s, is not uncommon. I shared the screen grabs and asked, “Should I DM her?” 

One group mom commented to her friend, “Here comes the dirty delete.” 

Initially, I thought that woman was  talking about that racist business owner’s comment. So I replied, “No dirty delete, that post is still live.” 

But immediately after, I realized she’s talking about me. 

[Crimson face explosion.]

I’ve transported myself mentally back in time in order to reply to that comment, “Why would I dirty delete that?”

Or to snarkily share with her a screen grab of the DM feature on Facebook and suggest she use it to gossip more covertly.

This isn’t a national group of strangers where we’re having one and done exchanges. 

I’m going to haunt your news feeds for years. This is a local group where everyone is 2 degrees of separation from everyone else. Where we sell and buy each other’s kids’ outgrown clothing. Where we organize meal trains for each other. Where I’m going to read every comment on every post I share, all 8 of them.

Useful social information 

But I’ve decided to analyze these exchanges as useful social information – becoming more introspective and striving to assign good intentions. 

My fumbling, grasping attempts at intermom relationships are for more kids. So I can role model the ability to muddle through difficult things and prevail. So they can have friends. So they can see I exist outside of the sphere of maternity. So I can find a pulse – on which way the arrow of social respectability (if not popularity) is pointing. 

Were I kid-less, I could be a content, introvert-leaning, homebody. Occasionally kayaking or lake-walking. Eating brunch or arguing politics with friends, who, already knowing I’m one-of-the-good-guys, don’t mind the occasional off-brand observation.

I’ve distilled that “useful social information” into this categorical list of offenses: 

  1. Talking about vaccines. (I stay TF out, but I am vehemently for them.)
  2. Talking about at-home births. (I stay TF out.)
  3. Anonymous posts (instead of putting yourself “out there” like everyone else) – a feature I don’t use, but many find controversial.
  4. Using the wrong syntax or mot juste. Check.
  5. Socio-economic critiques. Check.
  6. Employing the wrong tone or inflection (assigned in the reader’s brain). Check.
  7. Having the wrong intent (as interpreted by the reader). Check.
  8. Expressing an opposing view (especially if you have differing political beliefs). Check.
  9. Agreeing with a point of view (for an issue outside of your lane). Check.
  10. Oversharing, over aggrandizing, or over-promoting your own business, blog, promo code, sideline, or personal brand. Check. (I’ll probably share this post later today.)
  11. Talking about race – never again. (Or that’s the goal.)
  12. Sarcastic sense of humor. Check.
  13. Inability to let that shit go – see also incapacity to shut TF up. Check.
  14. John Mulaney style neurosis (minus the conflating substance abuse). No comment.

Just lean into that awkwardness and chill 

But really, I’ve decided I just need to lean into the awkwardness of mom groups. Along with the bone-crushing anxiety, there is support and commiseration and joy.

And it’s hard for everyone. 

Online mom groups are like dating apps. Who knows how online interplay will translate in real life? Dating app chemistry isn’t easy to copy and paste. You don’t want to “date” everyone, yet you find yourself thrust into “group dates” with plenty of duds.

Still, maybe it’s worth some risk.

So I keep fumbling. I keep endeavoring. I keep yearning. 

If you lean into that discomfort, I suspect there’s a whole wide world of moms you have yet to awkwardly meet IRL, and a few solid friends within, so I’m going to just lean into that awkwardness and chill.