Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The ocean of life: another Facebook Expat muses

By Mary C. Tillotson

h/t Laura for starting this conversation! And note: I'm musing here, not preaching, so if you want to stay on Facebook, I'm not judging you.

When I got off Facebook, a college acquaintance was seven months pregnant. I’m sure she’s had her baby by now. I haven’t seen photos, and I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. Or twins, or a stillbirth, for that matter. I don’t have her email address, though I suppose I could ask around and find it without much trouble.

But she and I weren’t super close in college and haven’t gotten super close since, and if I never find out how her pregnancy ended, that’s okay. I keep in touch with some of my college friends, and one friend from St. Ignace (where I lived and worked after college before moving to Virginia), and that’s enough. With some of them, one of us will email a link to an article and we’ll get into a long email conversation about it (and the rest of life). With others, I exchange letters. One of my closest friends, we’ll forget about each other for a few months, play phone tag for a week, talk for a couple hours, then forget each other for another few months.

And that’s enough.

Like many in my generation, I’ve moved too many times and will likely move a few more times before we settle (if we ever do). Every time I move, I meet new people, and about the time I can’t imagine a routine that didn’t include these people, I pack up and leave town, off to another adventure. I graduated and moved; got married and moved; left the homeschool circuit and took a desk job. Or, back in my college years, the summer ended and I left camp or my internship.

I’m glad I’ve met all these people. Their perspectives and experiences have enriched my life, and mine, I hope, have enriched theirs. But all that enrichment has not given me a superhuman ability to keep so many friendships. I’m still finite, still limited, and as hard as it is to admit, I don’t have room for everyone.

Now that I see that on the page, it sounds harsh and cold, like I’d rather hide in a closet of bitterness than talk to you. But I don’t think it’s bitter to marry only one man; I don’t have the capacity to love two people the way I love Luke. Friendship isn’t exclusive and doesn’t require as much effort or time, but it requires some; I can have lots of friends, but not an infinite number. And not a finite thousand, either.

Facebook allowed me to stay up-to-date on my friends’ and acquaintances’ major life events, but it didn’t allow me to have tea with them, or chuckle at their kids, or make muffins in the cramped dorm kitchen, or get lost together in a swamp just north of camp. News and life updates might be the conversation I have when I chat with my friends, but it’s not why I chat with them. That’s like saying nutrition is the reason I eat. I might think it is, but something would be lost if I could pop a nutrition pill and skip dinner.

After a long conversation with a long-distance friend, I deactivated my Facebook account. (This article was the fruit of that conversation, if that says anything about our conversation.) If you’ve ever done it, you know you have to jump through a few guilt-trippy hoops to actually finish deactivating. One of them:

Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?
Deactivating your account will disable your profile and remove your name and picture from most things you've shared on Facebook. Some information may still be visible to others, such as your name in their friends list and messages you sent.
Your 159 friends will no longer be able to keep in touch with you.

This was followed by photos of five Facebook friends with little sad-puppy-face messages: “Anna will miss you,” wept the words above Anna’s photo. “Julie will miss you,” lamented the words above Julie’s photo. Three other “friends” who I hardly talk to anyway will desperately miss me, too, I was informed. I laughed out loud: Julie is running this blog with Joy and me; Anna was the long-distance friend who convinced me to deactivate. I don’t need Facebook to stay in touch with the friends I’m going to stay in touch with.

As for the rest of them, it’s okay if we fall out of touch. I don’t have enough laughter to rejoice over every birth, or wedding, or promotion. I don’t have enough tears to weep over every death. I don’t have enough time for meaningful conversations with everyone. The world is too big, and I am only me.

That doesn’t mean I think that acquaintance of mine who is, presumably, no longer pregnant isn’t worth befriending, or that her child doesn’t matter. It means that I can only do so much, and that not all relationships are the same. She has other friends, and many of them are closer to her than I am, and I’m okay with that. Her child matters to her in a way s/he (or they?) will never matter to me, and that’s as it should be.

If I don’t spend an hour scanning births, engagements, weddings, graduations, job promotions on Facebook today, I have one more hour today to spend on the phone with a closer friend, or at dinner with my husband, or emotionally recharging so I don’t spread myself too thin. I can be a better friend to the people I am friends with, and let others go off into (what my dad calls) the ocean of life.

I wish that new mom the best.

And that’s all I need to do.

Recommend reading: Down with Facebook! by Matt Labash; written in 2009, it's a little dated (I think poking and snowballs are long gone) but his point is still valid - and hilarious.

1 comment:

  1. "If I don’t spend an hour scanning births, engagements, weddings, graduations, job promotions on Facebook today, . . . I can be a better friend to the people I am friends with, and let others go off into (what my dad calls) the ocean of life." This. Yes. Exactly! . . . and I also think it's hilarious when FB warns that so-and-so will miss you if you leave.


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