I was a Facebook holdout, a lone wolf. I refused to sign on to something I simply didn’t support, something I found silly, useless, juvenile. I fought my feelings of alienation when, during playdates with our children at the park, my actual friends would meet their Facebook friends in the flesh and laugh and talk about all the great stuff they learned about their mutual Facebook friends on Facebook…huh? I was in complete denial that I felt like I was missing out, like I was the kid in high school who didn’t get invited to the party. I held on strong to my convictions and didn’t join Facebook for years. Then this past March I gave it up, signed on and became addicted. Addicted to the constant stream of virtual human contact, to the anticipation of being friended, to the excitement of “connecting” with people from my past, but mostly to the 24/7 “contact” with the world of the living because, as a stay-at-home mother of highly spirited children and the wife of a man who works long and late hours, sometimes I need a little distraction and contact with the world outside of my home.
Once I joined Facebook, I became a part of an alternate reality where some people have 500 plus friends. 500 plus friends!!! I can’t even wrap my head around that! I mean tops I’ve got three good, solid, true blue friends. I also don’t really have many acquaintances because I don’t particularly see the point. It’s not that I’m anti-social; it’s just, why would I be in a relationship that isn’t going to move forward? It’s like remaining with a boyfriend for fifteen years but never getting any real commitment on his part. I want my acquaintanceships to move forward and develop into true friendships, but, as I have come to realize, some people just aren’t interested in everything that real friendship entails. Perhaps many of my acquaintances choose not to become friends with me because of the fact that I am a weird chic and not for everyone, but I think the bigger issue is our reluctance as a people and society to foster meaningful relationships. This reluctance seems to illustrate some deeper sociological issues and gives us insight into how, why and what friendship has become. Why are we so willing and needy to accumulate “friends” on Facebook but not friends in the flesh? What does this say about us as adults and how are we to teach our children the value of true, genuine friendship?
Yet, when I think about the “friends” I have made since I became a mother, I understand how we devolved from classifying friends into best friends, friends and acquaintance categories to making the distinction between real friends and mommy friends to having real friends and Facebook friends without really making or perhaps even knowing or caring about the distinction. As a stay-at-home mom I have to say that I was SCHOOLED in what friendship has become. When my Jack was a baby, I met a group of women at the library’s Mother Goose Time and we started a playgroup. All of our children were very close in age and we began meeting regularly and friendships were quickly formed. For me, the birth of my first-born was so profoundly life altering and special that anyone I spent time with became very significant. I naively thought that the bonds I formed with other mothers during that time were quite possibly forever. Then I learned that I was a “mommy’ friend, as opposed to a real friend. References in emails and conversations made it very clear that, with the exception of myself and a few other mothers, members of our group had compartmentalized the other women in the group into a separate and distinct category. This unique “mommy” friend category made us the recipients of late night panicked calls about sick children and invitations to child friendly Halloween parties, but our part in each others’ lives ended there. Real friends were included in the rest.
So if we put up with “mommy” friendships, it makes sense that we would accept Facebook friendships–cold, impersonal relations where we bitch and talk at and inform each other about ourselves without the space nor the expectation of the reader that we will explain ourselves, explore topics or discuss anything in-depth. So why do we do it, and how is it possible that we would ever become addicted to it??? Are we so very disconnected, so very lonely? Are our expectations so very low that we will put up with and crave Facebook friendships and connections and updates? I guess the answer is yes. Yes, we want to connect with the outside world. We want to feel popular and liked. We want the “company” of others no matter how it comes to us.
Using Facebook for companionship reminds me of when I was a child and my mother would bring my brother and I to visit my great-grandmother and my great-uncle at their studio apartments in the elderly housing complex. Inevitably, regardless of the time of day, the television would be on. As children, my brother and I spent our afternoons in the sunshine playing outside. It just seemed so incredibly wrong and unnatural to us that, on afternoons where the sun shined so brightly you could see the dust of seemingly clean apartments dance in the light of sunbeams, a person would remain inside with the television playing watching As the World Turns or syndicated episodes of God knows what awful cop-buddy series was popular ten years earlier. I remember one day asking my mother why old people watched television in the afternoon and her answer was, “because they are lonely.”
Maybe that’s it. Maybe we are all lonely and needy and in want of connections to others and our past and life. So, we Facebook. Let’s just hope that when we are ninety and our great-grandchildren visit us in assisted living that they don’t find us, rather than watching syndicated episodes of whatever is popular on television today, Facebooking virtual friends; friends who never really cared much about us to have a real friendships; friends who seldom if ever visited us in person or sacrificed or shared or compromised like real friends do. Let’s hope that in addition to our great-grandchildren, we have real friends who visit us. And, above all else, let’s hope that our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have real friends who love them with a true, real, actual love that transcends the virtual world.