I got off Facebook a little over a year ago. I’d had an account since 2006, and while I had tried the occasional deactivation and the periodic purging of the gorged “friend” list, I realized I was quite the addict. Not addicted, as many of my friends joke, to finding out what other people had going on in their lives or to keeping up with old connections–no, in a weird way I was addicted to myself in the form of my Facebook profile. I would sign in at least once an hour just to see if anyone had noticed me. Had someone posted on my Wall? Liked my status? Sent me a message? Tagged me in a photo? And if they had not, I inevitably logged out feeling a little low. Maybe no one loved me, after all. I mean, they couldn’t even be bothered to acknowledge my electronic existence via social networking site. Never mind that I just checked the stupid page an hour ago.
So I finally took a step back and reassessed the situation one September afternoon in 2010. I had to acknowledge, first of all, the absurdity of the whole thing. I was seriously allowing this electronic reality to color my perception of myself and my relationships. Not just my casual acquaintances, but my real relationships as well; you know, the ones you should believe in and hold on to because those people still really love you even when they’re not blinking at your Facebook profile and clicking “Like” under your latest status update. I could feel the resentment welling up within me when my best friends wrote nice things on other people’s Walls, but not mine; or when my sisters tagged all their friends in photos but couldn’t be bothered to give me even a thumbs up.
And then of course there were the hundreds of casual acquaintances who had either accepted or requested my friendship, whose very presence in my “friend” list added to that haunting feeling of loneliness, because they couldn’t be expected to give a flip–really–about anything going on in my life since they weren’t actually part of it. Yet I resented their not caring; their names and faces were showing up in alphabetical order under the heading “Friend” in my profile, so for goodness sake, couldn’t they live up to the label?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, but equally (maybe more) painful were the close friends who had begun to relegate me to contact via Facebook. Instead of a phone call or a letter or an email, I’d get a comment on my Facebook Wall: “Hey love! Haven’t seen you in a while. Let’s catch up soon.” Party invitations were superseded by mass Facebook invites. Yes, I even got invited to an old school friend’s wedding via Facebook.
Somehow, Facebook set about equalizing all my relationships, and it did so by reducing them all to their lowest common denominator: me. My friends on my page, commenting on my Wall or status updates, sending me messages, tagging me in photos… Excuse this public examination of conscience, but Facebook allowed me to place myself up front and center to myself, and to demand that everyone else in my life do the same, to some extent–at least pay attention to me.
Anyway, after some serious soul searching I took the plunge and deactivated my account. After a few weeks (once the headaches and random dizzy spells had worn off), I figured out how to delete the account permanently. I haven’t looked back. To this day I experience a little burst of pride when some new acquaintance tells me, “I’ll look you up on Facebook,” and I can reply, “Oh, I’m not on Facebook. But let me give you my number…” If I ever hear from that person again, we’re already much farther along the road to becoming actual friends, since they’ve had to make the real effort to reach out to me. And vice versa!
And I’m sitting here a little over a year after Facebook, daily overcome by the knowledge that I am loved. That bears repeating: I am loved…and I know it. Granted, my list of friends has shortened considerably. Were I to sit down and write out the names of all my friends, I’m sure it wouldn’t quite tally to the 600 + I had at one point while on Facebook. But I spent way too much time and energy on Facebook desperately needing to be affirmed and loved, and constantly finding myself hurt because so many of my “friends” simply weren’t close enough to me to actually love me. Now, while my contact with others is less frequent, it’s always far more meaningful. And I’m more confident in my belief that, even if people aren’t contacting me or spending time with me or even thinking of me in this moment, the people who matter most still love me. There’s a lot of peace in that conviction.
What’s more, my relationships are no longer reducible to me. I’m forced to remember and acknowledge the existence of the other person in all his (or her) fullness, and not as just another profile page, thumbs-up sign, or comment on my Wall.
I actually sat down to write a post about friendship, and ended up writing an entire post on Facebook. I guess I’ll write more on friendship later. For now, for all of you who’ve asked me (or just wondered) why I’m not on Facebook: as Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story.”