Last summer, after debating it for months, I deleted my personal profile on Facebook (when I typed that word the first time, I ended up with a typo that read, “Fecebook.” Perhaps my subconscious is still not happy with my decision to return to the world of social networking).
For the most part, I liked being away. I kept my Page, and Facebook converted all of my “Friends” to “Likes” for my Page. It was fun to see my “Likes” jump so quickly (even though I realized it was artificial). I enjoyed not having a News Feed, too, since that’s where my willpower often broke down. Consumed by a need for escape, I would stay up ’til all hours commenting on everything my friends posted and reading (and…ugh…commenting on) often inflammatory posts from friends-of-friends, including the one woman who made remarks about my daughter (whom she does not know) and suggested that I might not have a bible in my possession (me, the religion minor. I counted, and I had no fewer than FIVE bibles on my bookshelf, not to mention innumerable other religious texts—from The Book of Mormon to the Bhagavad Gita—and books about religious texts. I had to force myself to stop engaging in that comment thread). When I finally went to bed, I would lie awake for hours, agitated and anxious about the comments I’d made, sure I’d said something very, very wrong. I’m prone to anxiety and I do this after social gatherings, too, so it’s not new, but I also don’t attend social gatherings every single night.
So, not being on Facebook stopped this pattern, and that was nice.
But there were downsides, too. For one, I found myself isolated socially in a way that I hadn’t expected. When I first deleted my profile I thought, “This will be great! I’ll just go back to what we all used to do before Facebook. I’ll call friends. I’ll get together with people in person. I’ll send birthday cards and write actual, physical letters!” What I didn’t bank on was how completely everyone else’s social interactions centered around Facebook. I didn’t get notes about people having babies. I didn’t know when people had moved or lost their jobs or experienced serious illnesses. I was out of the loop.
For months I decided I would just try harder. There was a bit of improvement, but I still felt disconnected from my friends. I started to wonder if my friendships had been as close as I’d thought they were. And I started to wonder if, perhaps, I just needed to meet my friends where they were. Which was on Facebook.
This month, two things happened that pushed me over the edge to opening a new personal profile and re-friending all (well, some) of the people I’d lost touch with last summer. First, two members of my extended family passed away. At the memorial service for the first relative (which I was not able to attend; all of my family are hundreds if not thousands of miles from me), one of my cousins told my mom that she was interested in reconnecting with me after 16 years. I had no idea it had been that long. She mentioned she was on Facebook and maybe she could connect with me through my sister. But I wasn’t on Facebook anymore. I realized that when I lost access to my “Friends'” profiles, I’d also lost access to the only contact information I had for some of these relatives I’d not seen in years.
The second thing was a very pleasant hour-long telephone conversation with a friend from Utah. She told me she was getting ready to have fairly involved surgery. We talked for a long while and then she said, “Well, I’ll update Facebook and let everyone know how I am after the surgery. [pause] Oh, wait…you can’t see that stuff anymore, can you?”
That was it. I wanted back in.
My compromise was to join using a variation of my name. Anyone who knows me will know who I am, but even if my profile ends up being publicly searchable (which it’s not supposed to be based on the super-duper-lockdown privacy settings I have), people who don’t know me fairly well hopefully will feel enough doubt that if I ignore their friend request, they’ll just think I’m not who they thought I was.
So, here I am, back again. We’ll see how this goes.