Departures and Arrivals

Cleveland was excellent. I mean, it’s always excellent, but it’s not like, seeing the Mona Lisa or climbing Machu Picchu excellent. More like, never-ending pasta bowl and fat pants, empty Target on a Tuesday morning and a day buzz, excellent. You know? Nothing fancy, nothing pretentious or high maintenance. Just a nonstop hang out party with friends. After the stress of job shopping and a slightly less-than-ideal home life, it was exactly what I needed to recharge or at least escape.

Every time I go, I return with the realization that my friendships are not what I thought they were. When I first moved to Ohio, I knew a handful of people from the vintage scooter scene I’d been involved in for about eight years. They were in fact, a significant part of the reason I chose Cleveland to move to. I wound up working with a few and met more as a result, but we rarely hung out. Thinking they would be my circle I was surprised, and if I’m honest, a little indignant that those relationships faltered over my time there. Now when I go back for a visit, occasionally I’ll hear from one or two to make plans but when and if those plans don’t materialize for whatever reason, I never hear from them again for the duration of my stay. I’ve had to recalibrate what I expect from them while taking great comfort in the set of people I met after I moved to town, people who come out of the woodwork and forgo their lives and livers to spend as much time with me as they can. They make the effort.

So, I’ve been thinking about effort among friends lately. I have an… how shall I say it… somewhat adversarial relationship with Facebook. It’s multifaceted in its disappointments and frustrations, probably like most people who feel the way I do about it. It is the only way to keep in touch with people in our modern world, I think that’s fair to say. When do you ever get to see pictures of people’s lives the way we do on Facebook? It is, maybe unfortunately, most often how we find out that our friends are traveling, moving, surfing Pinterest, tweeting, working out, eating, pregnant, engaged, jobless or newly employed, dating, and even dying. It’s the new newspaper, which was the new telegram, which was the new smoke signal, which was the new cave painting. The new everything now, it’s often the only way to get information in our vast neighborhood.

I am a fan of clearing house. Every time I move, I make it a priority to throw a lot away. I clear my closets out and give clothes away biannually. I never have mail lying around that hasn’t been kept for a reason, I clear out my email inbox regularly and am diligent about marking spam. This method of bulldozing unnecessary life items also applies to my Facebook friends list. Why are we now in this age of Twitter followers and Instagram posts more concerned with the number of friends we have rather than the quality of those friendships? I mean really, 518 friends, Penny? And that’s AFTER my most recent controlled burn of the underbrush. Ridiculous. By comparison, my best friend has 1,247. Think about that. I haven’t met that many people in probably five years. Not enough to recognize them when I see them let alone hug or even high five, anyway. She is of the mindset that meeting someone once they should be added to her stable, an idea I can’t relate to.

With Facebook’s recent shuffle in our news feeds wherein they decided which stories and friends’ posts we’d see rather than letting us decide, I began to seriously consider deactivating my account. This is only one reason though, if I’m honest. There are people I try to avoid and unfortunately some of the people in my life share those people in common with me (see previous mention of 1,247 friends). Even with some people blocked and on ignore, I can’t really ever get away as long as we all drink from the same water cooler.

When I posted the link above on a recent status and sort of casually mentioned leaving Facebook, I mentioned the fear that I would fall off my friends’ radars. At least three piped up and said, “Don’t go!” which is nice, but these are people who almost never contribute to my Facebook experience (meaning they don’t email, they rarely comment on my posts). I seem to contribute to theirs it would appear, and thus they want me to keep contributing. I encountered the same thing when I got ready to move to Cleveland, several people looked at me with cocked heads and hurt expressions. Rarely were those people close friends but rather, I had the feeling that they somehow had me in their wall mural like the cover of Sgt Pepper’s. Another face staring back that could step away tomorrow and rarely be truly missed let alone noticed had disappeared (or been replaced).

Let me say here that this is not an attention grab; the consideration of leaving Facebook isn’t an ultimatum to see who steps up to keep me informed about all the things going on in life or to be sure I’m invited to the events that only ever seem to be handled through its invitation system. It’s a genuine attempt to return to real friendships even if that means taking my 518 down to the real 20. I know who my friends are, I don’t worry that I’ll fall off their radars, and the rest of the group will either be forced to seek me out and speak to me directly or I’ll see the friendship for what it is and recalibrate hopes and expectations accordingly.

I have friends who have deactivated their accounts for a month or so in the effort to step away and get back to the real world instead of the fishbowl that is Facebook, and every one of them returns. They truly feel cut off and unimportant to people they thought would keep in touch with them but don’t. I’m sure that’s not intentional, it’s an affectation of life as we know it that the extra effort is simply not put forward. Why text, email, or heaven forbid call 20 people to invite them to a function when you can just throw it to Facebook and let it sort itself out? It’s just so much easier. Perhaps it’s my budding and thusfar quite successful relationship to Dylan that’s beginning to hone this view. His friends don’t rely on Facebook and it’s pretty cool to observe how little they do whereas my friends enter a room and stop speaking, whip their phones out, check in, tag, and tweet before doing anything else. And you know what? Guilty as charged. For some reason, we’ve convinced each other that it matters who knows where we’re at and who we’re with. Why? Forced connection, I suppose.

Did you see this? It made the rounds (on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, how very meta) a bit ago. Take a moment to watch and let it really sink in:

I haven’t made my mind up yet about Facebook. I have made my mind up about my superfluous friendships though, I just don’t let them in. Not everyone has to go into my will. Who has the time for that much intensity anyway? But the other day when my high school reunion committee posted to Facebook about impending plans I received four friend requests from people that I honest to Pete can barely remember. They never sought me out before and frankly, I’m not that hard to find. Why are they friending me now? Simply because we have like, 15 friends in common (only three of which I actually interact with regularly)? What are we going to talk about (if we even talk)? I’m not a collector. Those numbers don’t make me feel better about my life and in fact, make it clear how thin and far we’ve spread ourselves for almost no reason.

Have you broken up with Facebook? Have you killed your account only to start it up again under a fake name and much thinner friend list? How did you do it and how did it go? I really want to hear it so please tell me, even if you do it anonymously.

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