Facebook, and the demise of a “real life” friendship

September 18, 2009

Facebook stole my friend. Or maybe it just stole my ability to pretend my friend was someone she wasn’t.

Yes, it sounds dramatic, but sadly, in real life it’s just kind of sad more than anything else.

Social networking is where it’s at, right? At least, that’s what I had heard from all the cool kids. I finally caved and joined Facebook a little more than a year ago.

My 23-year old niece from Colombia had spent six months with us, and we had become quite close. As she prepared her suitcase to return home, we chatted about keeping in touch, and she chided me for not being on Facebook. She explained that she hardly ever checked her regular email anymore, and that if I really wanted to stay in touch with her, I’d need to join Facebook.

I was resistant. I know myself and my time-wasting capabilities all too well, and based on my friends’ descriptions of their Facebook experiences, social networking seemed like a slippery slope to Time-Suck-Land.

But my affection for my niece was strong; I threw caution to the wind and just did it. I created a profile on Facebook, populated it with some basic information about myself, uploaded a photo of the sunrise outside my house, and sent her a friend request.

Needless to say, she was thrilled, and I felt marginally important when she wrote a glowing salutation on my Wall – everyone could see how happy she was to hear from me, and I felt somewhat flattered. My cheer gave way to abject horror when two super-sketchy characters from my high-school past contacted me within a week of each other.

I had never considered this-I had worked extremely hard for years to avoid most everyone I ever knew before graduating from college. Now, here were two people who’d brought me only discomfort and problems when I knew them in real life (and whom I’d successfully avoided for years), searching me out and sending me messages on Facebook.

I quickly edited my information to remove references to my educational history, counting on there being enough people with my same name to make it harder for folks to contact me. I rarely update my status, and I never take any of those quizzes or polls. I assumed the role of lurker.

My lurking began innocently enough, actually – I popped into Facebook when I remembered it existed (about every two weeks at the time). I looked over people’s updates and feeds, and reflected on how I generally had nothing of interest that I would want to tell all 26 of my Facebook friends. Then, I began noticing the increasingly more frequent status updates of a casual friend of mine.

This friend, I’ll call her G, had recently broken up with her serious boyfriend, and had apparently decided that Facebook was the way to not only prove to the world that she was fine, single and still nubile, but also to broadcast her whereabouts in case anyone (maybe the boyfriend? Another prospect?) needed or wanted to know.

This fascinated me – This tactic was very different than that of other frequently-posting friends, who seemed to use Facebook as a tool to engage their friends, to create conversation and keep one another updated on their lives. G was using Facebook as a self-marketing tool, to sell herself, to sell folks on how content and happy she was.

It was addicting. I began checking in on Facebook more and more frequently, and G didn’t disappoint. Each time I logged in, there would be another attention-calling status update from her.

She’d describe which bar she was in, how exhausted she was after a long night of partying, how amazing life was on a day she’d spent simply basking in the sun. G included information about what incredible trip she had planned, what type of fatty deliciousness she’d eaten with her girlfriends the night prior, how nice her office is, and how devilish she felt in this particular moment. She even updated her status about how much she was enjoying X outing or activity—while in the middle of said outing or activity—instead of simply enjoying said outing or activity.

Soon, however, I realized I was reading G’s updates with a different attitude. I began showing them to my husband, and he read them aloud in a sing-song voice, waving his hands around and adding snide commentary. We snickered over her Barbie doll photos, wondering aloud where all G’s class and self-respect had gone. We were making fun of G.

It just seemed so sad, really. G is a vibrant, beautiful and intelligent young woman with a decent job, car, and house. She would seem to be a “catch.” However, she suffers from what appears to be, at least according to her Facebook profile, a major obsession with impressing everyone else—even if it happens at her own expense.

I began to think of G differently. Each Facebook status update seemed to reek of desperation, of loneliness, and of fear—and I found myself reacting to this quite negatively. Where before I had greatly admired her, her polished poise, and her laudable life goals, now I found myself thinking of G with little patience, sneering at her updates, rolling my eyes about the “amazing” and “fulfilling” life she purportedly described on Facebook.

How about some self-reflection? I wanted to ask. How about a hard look at yourself? Where are you going? What are you doing? Why are you waiting for someone else to rescue you? These are questions that friends can ask each other, and that they SHOULD ask each other. It was in this moment that I realized I no longer felt like G’s friend.

This was a shock. G and I had never been really close, but we saw each other occasionally on a social basis and I always enjoyed hearing about her life. I suddenly became aware that the increased intimacy with G and her life as displayed via Facebook had completely changed the nature of our relationship—for the worse. Facebook outed G as flighty, terminally discontent, and unable to be present with herself—not the qualities I search for in a friend.

Now I am reconsidering my own participation in Facebook, or at least the frequency with which I browse everyone’s news. I don’t have many friends to begin with, and I don’t want to take the chance of forced e-intimacy or an off-key electronic presence ruining any other friendships.

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2 Responses to “Facebook, and the demise of a “real life” friendship”

  1. ruby Says:

    Interesting and worrying. I’m so glad I’ve resisted all efforts to persuade me to join facebook. It seems full of potential problems.
    http://www.ascrapbook.wordpress.com

  2. shawncita Says:

    Thanks for your comment! I suppose it can be awfully complicated…I’ve heard a ton of Facebook-related drama that typically stems from either ignorance about how the site/system works or about how easy it is to misread someone on a computer screen…Either way, it was quite a surprise to me.

    Thanks for bring your site to my attention – It looks really nice, and I’ll look forward to browsing often as I continue in my own written journey!

    🙂
    Shawn


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