Johnston: Real human connection feels unnatural. I want to change that

Jun 28, 2024, 2:00 PM

dating at her age cohosts caitlyn johnston and debbie dujanovic stand side by side...

Editor’s note: This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

SALT LAKE CITY — I’m Caitlyn. I am 29 years old. And I don’t know how to talk to people in person. 

Walking into the gym on a Saturday morning, headphones on, world out. When suddenly I hear a faint call and someone waving my attention.

Confused and almost insulted that someone was talking to me in person, I saw an old friend I went to high school with waving hello and showcasing an attempt to connect. In person.  

Related: Dujanovic: Introducing the “Dating at Her Age” podcast

After I processed who it was and awkwardly waved hello, I realized just how unnatural an in-person connection felt to me in that moment.

Why did that interaction feel so absurd to me? Why did a friend saying hello to my face send me into a panic?

It’s because many of us in today’s digital age have lost the ability to connect with people in person. I’m honestly not sure I ever learned. Since we have become so consumed by finding connections online, we end up not finding it at all, even when it is standing right in front of us each day.  

I can’t help but wonder — is this why I am still single?  

This is something my co-host Debbie Dujanovic and I talk about in-depth on our new podcast “Dating at Her Age.” 

Debbie jumped on the dating apps as the new way to connect after divorce… and now it seems like the only option – but can we go back to the way things were before we were all glued to our phones?  

Real human connection feels unnatural 


In the gym, I started observing the way I presented myself and how others interacted as well.  

I tried to make eye contact with one man working out and realized this was uncomfortable at the gym while someone was holding their breath trying to lift massive amounts of weights.

Therefore, the gym may not be the best place to try my new goal to meet and connect with people in the wild. But it was worth the effort.

I left the gym and headed to one of my favorite coffee shops for a second attempt at human connection.  

Environment matters. Put yourself in places you want to be

In our latest episode of “Dating at Her Age,” we called in extra help on this issue and something Intermountain Healthcare and Real Salt Lake psychologist Dr. Tom Golightly said caught my attention.  

“When we are talking about trying to meet people in real life, I don’t think I would go to places that don’t interest me… What spaces do you want to be in?”  

So I thought, what places do I want to be in? I love coffee shops so that is where I went next.

Split Leaf Coffee in Bountiful is a mix of two of my favorite things – plants and coffee. I figured that if I love this place so much, the people I want to connect with may also be in the same building. Right?  

Now for my next task – interaction.  

Dr. Golightly gave me a tip during our conversation to use the environment to start a conversation, such as asking someone in line what their favorite drink is before you order.  

Putting it into practice

So I ordered my sugar-free hazelnut latte hoping that someone would be standing in line next to me so I could use this advice. However, I was the only one in line, so the only person I ended up talking to was the barista.  

I made an active attempt to stay off my phone, ordered my coffee, and took a seat in the crowd. I tried my best to keep my energy open and my head up instead of hiding it under my headphones.

The awkwardness set in because I was just staring into space and not sure what to do with my hands.  

So, I pulled out my laptop and started jotting down notes of what I was observing as one of my greatest skills is people-watching.  

Were the others thinking the same thing I was? Was anyone else looking for connection in this small coffee shop and we just don’t know how? Are we all just afraid to engage with each other?  

Next to me was a man working on his computer with headphones on taking a business phone call while working on his laptop. Across from me, another man, but with no headphones on, also working on his laptop.

No headphone man seemed more open to being spoken to than the other.

The rest of the shop consisted of girlfriends out for coffee taking part in what seemed like active girl talk.

I may have even witnessed a first date happening right next to me. I hope it worked out well for them.  

Oddly, I found myself much more comfortable sending a compliment to one of the girls on their outfits because being a girl’s girl comes naturally to me.

Being a flirtatious girl towards men does not because, what if they reject me? Or better yet – what if I actually like them and they like me back?  

Emotions are temporary and rejection will happen

“When we empower fear, worry, fear, sad whatever emotion we are experiencing to make the decision, what we tend to is we pull ourselves away from the things we really value,” Dr. Golightly said. 

“I am afraid of getting shut down, but I also want to meet someone in real life… what’s the value that you hold? If that’s what you want, then I can’t let the fear make the decision I’ve got to let the values make the decision,” he added.  

So, I spoke to nobody.

Fear wasn’t the main reason while in the coffee shop. Everyone else around me seemed closed off to connection so nothing organic could really happen.

Are dating apps my only choice?

Dating apps are ‘snack food’  

My first attempts at human connection in the wild were not an immediate success. Does this mean I am stuck on dating apps forever? Dating apps don’t naturally work well for me.

I brought this up with Dr. Golightly. Something he said transformed my perspective on this.  

“Our phones are a vehicle… they’re not the endpoint.”  

Mic drop moment.

You mean I don’t have to sit on my phone all day and talk to someone through an app I don’t even care to have on my phone?  

“Your interaction virtually is like snack food, and I love Doritos… But if I eat Doritos all the time, I am going to get sick,” Dr. Golightly said. “I do like Doritos but now I need a sandwich. I like this little taste because I want to connect and I enjoy it. But let me put it down.”  

I am a part of the problem

Among my other observations, I noticed many others – not just men and women hoping to connect with each other for dates — but humans are looking to connect with other humans.

I observed an older woman working on her physical health but seeming a bit nervous at the gym full of young athletic hopefuls.  A simple smile or hello from a few people would have likely made her feel much more comfortable. I could have been the person to do that.  

In many settings, I do default to keeping my head down and pulling out a device when I feel uncomfortable. I know that I am limiting myself from connection due to the way I put my energy out in public settings, and I will continue to work on that in hopes that others feel more comfortable in the wild when I am around.  

How many men have I pushed away because my energy wasn’t open?  

Dr. Golightly emphasized this in our discussion.

“I know a lot of men that are of dating age that will not approach someone unless they know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Now after these realizations, I am making an oath to myself to make a continued effort whenever I am in a public space to be energetically open — no matter how tired I am or burnt out from the work week and how anti-people I am feeling for the day.

It seems contradictory, but we need to disconnect to really connect and satisfy this need for human interaction.  

While I didn’t make any new connections on my outing in the wild, I did have a great time spending time with myself.  

Join the conversation and share your crazy dating story by leaving us a voicemail at 801-575-5599! 

Caitlyn Johnston is a producer for KSL NewsRadio and the Dave & Dujanovic Show. She also produces and co-hosts “Dating at Her Age” on KSL NewsRadio. Follow her on Instagram

Follow “Dating at Her Age” on Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok. 

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Johnston: Real human connection feels unnatural. I want to change that