Lately, I’m beginning to feel like Facebook is creeping up on me. For lack of a better term, I call this phenomenon “boundary-creep.” In my case, it’s the boundary between the past and the present that Facebook seems to be dissolving.
In recent months I’ve been getting more and more friend requests from people I didn’t know that well in high school. Nice people to be sure, but it’s not like we shared all these up-close-and-personal moments back in the day. Guys that I really wish had paid a little more attention to me back then now suddenly want to be my friends on Facebook. Nothing personal, guys, but where were you when my first boyfriend dumped me? I sure could have used a little “friendship” back then. Nooo, you guys had to wait until I was happily married with three kids and cholesterol problems.
Truth be told, I’m starting to wonder where all those friend requests are coming from. In my paranoid fantasies, Facebook is playing a giant game of “psych” with all of us, analyzing our mutual acquaintances and sending requests to each of us on behalf of the others. I’m tempted to click “accept,” but I don’t want to subject anyone to that what-the-heck-do-I-say-to-this-girl-I-barely-knew-in-high-school variety of awkwardness. Note to aspiring Facebook friends: send me a message so that I know that it’s you, not some mindless spam engine whose objective is to sell me a Chia Pet.
Much to my annoyance, these friend requests have forced me to revisit the trials of adolescence. I look at my own daughters, one of whom is swiftly approaching the same age I was when he-who-must-not-be-named broke my heart and when I had that awful, gut-wrenching fight with my very best friends. Yes, all the teenage drama has come flooding back. Thanks, Facebook.
Still, I do need to decide what to do about all those cheerful friend requests. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but do I really want a crowd of virtual strangers checking out my lame/witty Facebook posts every day? For all I know, some of them could be serial killers by now. Okay, probably not, but other things could go wrong. I have a penchant for posting articles about religion and politics. Suppose one of my new/old friends tries to talk me out of being a Catholic, or worse, into being a Republican. I’d have to unfriend them, and that would make me feel bad.
Even with old friends I knew really well and was genuinely glad to hear from, I’m finding the chasm of time a little hard to bridge. What do you do (hypothetically), when you find out that one of your very best friends from high school is gay and that you never had a clue. The only reason you know now is that she messaged you on Facebook and lists her domestic partner on her profile page. It’s not that you have a problem with her being gay, but when she doesn’t even mention it in your email exchanges, how are you supposed to react? She obviously knows that you know. If you say nothing, is that the same thing as saying, “Yo, bud, it’s cool, no big deal,” which is what you want to say but don’t because you don’t want to sound like a condescending jerk.
On the other hand, saying nothing at all could be interpreted as an electronic brush-off, as in, “Great to hear from you, but the gay thing’s freaking me out, so have a nice life.” What’s the etiquette here?
What do you do when what you really want to say to her is, “I am so sorry you couldn’t tell me. You must have felt so alone.” But some things just seem too personal to type into a message box after 30 years, so instead of having a real conversation, you exchange pleasantries about your job, your kids, and your pets.
I’ve spent the last three decades avoiding high school reunions. It’s not that my high school years were especially traumatic (at least, they weren’t any more traumatic than anybody else’s), it’s just that I didn’t see any point in going.
But Facebook has changed all that. I think now I can see the value in those reunions, or in at least having tried to drum up a few on my own. I could have talked to people, looked them in the eye, and let them do the same to me. I could have apologized to that perfectly nice guy who asked me to his prom (long story). I could have told an old friend about the keepsake his mother gave me, the one I still have after all these years. I heard she died a few years back. I think she would want him to have it, don’t you?
I could have done a lot of things besides settling for the bits and pieces of ourselves that we deign to post on Facebook.