Friday, July 13, 2012

In which I hijack The Prosers because Facebook won't let me type a status this long

I could be the poster child for Facebook. I moved across the country 12 years ago, and many of my friends have scattered across the globe. For me, Facebook has given a second chance to important friendships that got lost in the hubbub of getting married, starting careers and finding our place in the world. Facebook-haters say that if they didn't care enough to stay in touch in the first place, why would they want to find them on Facebook? That must be the reason why I have a Facebook account and they don't--because I do care.

What I Do On Facebook:
I can't be the only person in this world who got a wedding announcement from their dear friend who works for the FBI and then lost the envelope that had her return address and new last name. And then I moved. It's a true story, and sadly, as far as I can tell, she's never gotten a Facebook account. I'm still hopeful that she'll turn up someday. (We'll just gloss over the fact that someone from the FBI ought to be able to find me, shall we?)

When I got engaged, my best friend was a guy, and for reasons too convoluted to mention here, we lost touch. Years later we found each other on Facebook. We live on opposite coasts, but when he was out my way, I got to visit with him and meet his wife and daughter. In what other generation would that even be possible? Technology is a wondrous thing.

I've got more stories like that than I could possibly share here--people that left a hole in my heart, and Facebook filled it. You know who you are.

At least for me, networking=making new friends. As a writer, Facebook has given me the opportunity to get to know other writers across the world so personally that it's easy to forget we've never met face to face. Writing projects have matured there, friendships have grown and I've received and given writing help. Writers spend so much unstructured time on the computer that we've almost co-opted sites like Facebook and Google Plus. Sometimes I just get the shivers when I look at all the raw talent that surrounds me on Facebook. It's incredible.
Staying in Touch
Even my friends that live within a 20 mile radius are pretty scattered. Facebook has given me a way to get to know many of them in ways I never could have without it. It's helped me to keep in touch with teenagers from church, and to get to know some of my children's friends and their parents. As passing acquaintances, we might never have realized how much we have in common. But as Facebook friends, some of them are my favorite people.

The Dark Side of Facebook
Up until a couple of months ago, one of my favorite pieces of Facebook has been the opportunity to get to know my dad's side of the family. They too have scattered hither and yon, and they use Facebook to keep in touch. As we've gotten to know each other, I've acclaimed Facebook far and wide as a gift from God himself.

Last week, my dad's sister, who also happens to be one of my childhood heroes, unfriended me on Facebook. Over the years, I'm sure lots of people have taken my name off their account. But this time it hurt. It really made me stop and think about how what's happening on the computer screen isn't real. I can't see what's happening on their end of the connection. All the information I have is what they tell me. What I think is lighthearted banter might actually be a seething mess of sarcasm and anger. What I think is the gentle rekindling of a friendship might actually be a desperate neediness and anger that I'm not doing more. What I think of as a conversation between friends might be ennui or even repressed judgment. How would I ever know?

(Fictitious characters are so much easier to understand. Few authors would dream of creating such an unreliable narrator, and I probably wouldn't read that sort of book.)
Whether it was logical or not, being unfriended by my aunt and the subsequent fall-out made me question other people, including her children, who I used to babysit when they were small. I've loved getting to know them and their families, in spite of living across the country from them. But what if it isn't real to them at all?

My husband is not a member of Facebook. The very idea is laughable. He's one of those people who rolls his eyes and reminds me that Facebook and reality are two very different things. Last night, he and I had a long heart to heart. At the end of the conversation, as I expressed my hurt and confusion, he asked me one question that changed everything. Of course I can't remember the exact phrasing, but it was something like, "Were your expressions of friendship and love authentic?" and my answer was unequivocally yes. Maybe I'm an aberration, but I've tried to use Facebook as a place to show people my most authentic self. Then he said, "Then don't ever change."

And that fixed it all, because he's exactly right. I'm going to leave my heart out there for people to hurt. My Facebook friends, it's all real. When I find out Scott has started writing again, and I say I'm excited about it, it's because I feel a real connection with Scott, who I've never met, and probably never will. My happiness for him is genuine. When I say that I'm glad that I can talk to my cousins, because I've loved them all my life and I'm sad we lost touch, I mean it, and I've got to let myself believe that they mean it too.

And when I say that my aunt was my childhood hero, there isn't some deeply hidden insult encoded in that. I don't mean that I liked her until I grew up and realized that I was better than her. I mean that there are pieces of me that only exist because my life touched hers, that the obstacles she's overcome astonish me and that she raised three amazingly empathetic and kind-hearted children. I'll always be glad they are in my life.


  1. I'm not very active on facebook, but your post makes me think I should be. :)

    It is hard to keep in touch with people, and technology certainly makes it easier. That is a great thing.

    I have participated in writing forums and this blog of course, and communications through the internet can be tricky, without body language and inflections. I've worried sometimes that things might not have come across the way I intended. But I like your husbands advice about not worrying about it if you are being authentic and speaking from your heart. That really is all any of us can do.

    I hope you can work things out between you and your aunt. I'm sure it is just some misunderstanding.

    Great post!

  2. Thanks MaryAnn. It was extremely cathartic to write, and I needed it, even if it was slightly off topic. Thank you all for being patient with me. I have no better idea than any of you what happened with my aunt. I'm sure it will all work out eventually.

  3. Facebook has been very valuable to me as well. In those few years where I moved all over the country, I garnered a group of friends whom I miss just the tiniest bit less because I can still see what they're up to. Plus I love hanging out with all my writer friends. :)

    Glad that this post was cathartic to you. In my opinion, that's a better reason for a blog post than many others.

  4. I loved reading your post. Facebook is an excellent tool, but like you, I've experienced the pain of losing a family member to social networking.

    My sister is a single mom and a darn good one. My parents and I can't imagine life without my nephew, and I know my sister's life is better because she had him. Still, we've got one distant relative that used Facebook to voice their extreme distaste for my sister's life choices. It got to a point where we had to cut this person out entirely. I don't understand why people choose to be hurtful. I don't understand why they are judgmental and condescending. I'm kind of glad I don't get it.

    I hope you don't let this bad experience change how you interact with people. Don't worry about whether you said enough, or too much, or if your friends are genuine, or if they are harboring a secret anger for something you may or may not have done. Just like you don't know who you might have offended, you never know which lives you touch and the positive impact you make every day.

  5. What do Richard Dawson and Facebook have in common?....

    Hope everything goes well for you and your family.

  6. What do Richard Dawson and Facebook have in common, Sheena?


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