Facebook is amazing. And awful. We all know that. I’ve been on Facebook for about four years, and I credit being connected to various people from all times in my life to feeling better about sad times, like when I announce that I’m sad as I observe the death anniversary of my father or post a Christmas family photo from my childhood as part of remembering him. Or when my dog was dying. I also credit Facebook for the little lift I get from posting a nice photo of my kids, or my wedding photo on my anniversary — the “likes” from all over the world really add something nice to my day. That being said, I think I’m in the category of being an over-sharer, something I hoped never to be. On my recent vacation, I couldn’t stop myself from posting approximately one photo or pithy, trying-to-be-clever post per day (sometimes more).
Why did I do this? Two reasons: 1) it’s such a habit at this point — I’m too attached to Facebook and my 470-ish friends, that make me feel like I’m not a lonely loser and never have been, 2) I’ve actually had a hard year, not the hardest by any means, and not for any good reason. It’s just kind of existential, something about being post-40 and feeling like my whole career/family life/quotidian existence is an unhealthy mix of hurry up and wait. The holidays especially filled me with what can only be characterized as a distinct lack of gratitude and joy. I rushed around fulfilling my obligations and trying to stay healthy, keep my family healthy, but unfortunately 2012 was a year when I reflected on a number of the poor decisions I’ve made and how the ripples they make continue to affect my life. I also had good things happen in my career and personal life, but the year didn’t end on an “up” note for me. So I think the over-Facebooking my vacation was part of an aggressive fake-it-til-you-make-it campaign on my own behalf. ”Look! See how awesome your life is! You’re having the time of your life with your family!”
I have done this before, I’ll probably do it again. That’s just how I am. Saying it out loud helps me try not to rely on anyone else’s “likes” to tell me that my life is going along as it should. I’m not going to bother with the dumb new year’s resolution I made last year — to spend less time on social media and more time with my kids. I try to do that every day. I am reading a book now, called The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman, and part of what I’m getting out of it is that “goals” and “resolutions” can sometimes sabotage you — as a part of your subconscious acts out the exact outcome you are trying to avoid. So for now, my new year’s resolution is not to have any “resolutions.”
As much as I know that I display my worst traits in my use of Facebook, I can’t help cringing at how some of my other “friends” use Facebook (this includes people I went to high school or college with — who I may not have exchanged a single word with, but we weren’t enemies, therefore I don’t turn down their friend requests). One man I know is documenting his entire custody struggle with the mother of his child, a child he just made contact with for the first time. His daily posts are of blurry photos of him stalking the compound of his former partner’s home, almost getting run over by a car, and what his lawyer and the court says are the legal details of the situation. The flurry of comments are all of our former classmates, egging him on, encouraging him, telling him what a bitch his ex is. I don’t pretend to know what “should” be going on — and I know that part of what he’s doing is just trying to reassure himself that he’s sane and a loving father. But it’s kind of awful to watch. He set up a Facebook account for the 3-year-old son he doesn’t have custody of, and a bunch of our classmates have all “friended” the toddler. And he set up a Facebook group asking for financial help as he fights the legal battle. I don’t begrudge the money ask, but the kid Facebook account and the he-said, she-said posts just make me cringe. I guess if I were in his situation, I would not care one iota for my “dignity” — but I just can’t help feeling like using Facebook this way is not helping anyone – not my “friend,” or his child.
Another of my “friends” is someone who always seemed a little odd in high school, a loner girl who always had a boyfriend but whose voice I don’t remember because I think I never heard her speak. She’s the mother of a teenage daughter now, and while many of her posts run towards religious ecstasy, some of the posts have been about how to talk her daughter out of suicide. I don’t even know how to respond to this. She must be so desperate for answers that she’s turning to Facebook, like a spiritual magic 8-ball, for help. Some of our classmates did step in and say things to assuage her fears. But what could any of us say, really, thousands of miles away and not really “knowing” her or her child?
One “friend” from high school, whose friend request I almost didn’t accept because I remembered what a bully she was, after years of humble-brag big house photos and gorgeous ski vacation photos with her several handsome children, recently Facebooked her horrible divorce. To her credit, and probably because she’s afraid of legal action, she just writes cryptic DSM-IV-type definitions of narcissistic personality disorders and drops hints that she’s referring to her ex. Before that, she Facebooked the violent bullying incident her daughter had suffered at the hands of some local “white trash girls.” I felt really bad for her daughter, but the whole circus was just awful to watch.
I’ve hid a lot of these people on Facebook, or limited the posts of theirs that I see. I know it reveals so much more about my discomfort with other people’s pain and pathos that this all makes me uncomfortable. And I guess I should just leave Facebook or severely limit my use, since it often brings out parts of myself that I prefer not to acknowledge.
But Facebook is a funny thing, and everyone’s always trying to write “rules” or crabby opinion pieces about what a-holes everyone is, like this piece in today’s LA Times. It’s the slipperiest slope to write any kind of definitive “way to be” etiquette guide about Facebook, so I will never try. I don’t know if Facebook is a net positive or a net negative, but I know that, when it’s working well, it’s one of the surest ways to feel less alone as I hurry up and wait through this part of my life.