How do I find myself using Facebook for the first time only now, at the age of 40? I’ve resisted this long not because I am antisocial but because I value my friends and wish to share details of my life selectively and intentionally, without a hint of the narcissism I fear fuels so much social media. Why start now?
A new smart phone greases the gears, and encroaching midlife inspires me to try something new. Now I find myself reluctantly scrolling through head shots like a casting agent. As an introvert, this feels wrong. I have close friendships, one on one or in small circles. I am shy, just like my young son.
It is only in raising him that my social circles have expanded: the neighborhood crew, the playgroup moms, teachers and parents of school friends. Add to that the close friends, colleagues, family and long distance friends, and we are into serious numbers. In the actual world, that is. I struggle to keep up with these people, and have always felt Facebook was a superficial time suck. I’d rather spend my time chatting over coffee.
Now I try to recreate these groupings on line. I hope to fly under the radar of casual school acquaintances, creepy ex-boyfriends and work clients, so I initiate my account using the last name of my husband, a name I never took and have never used in any other context. I also link the account to an old e-mail address and crank up the security settings.
Then the humiliation begins: Sending friend requests to other grown adults, most of whom have been using this technology for 5 or more years and have built enormous networks. I have 13 friends out of the gate and already my feed overwhelms me. All encourage me with positive comments on every family photo I upload. So I cast a wider net. Asking for friendship so overtly is unseemly.
Blank slate. I start slowly, as I might send invitations for a party: my closest neighbors and colleagues, dear and scattered friends from school, the few family members on this network. I only friend one person in each couple I know to avoid overlap. I have no ambitions of a triple digit friend list. I want to keep this meaningful.
As I follow my feed, I get a better idea. I begin to curate my network. I add colorful spouses. The earthy Quaker neighbor who will share inspirational quotes. The office vegan who will spike my feed with activist updates. And the arty architect down the street, who will surely share cool photos and invitations. I look to friends abroad: New Zealand, Germany, Israel and Italy, check. That should be good for global perspective.
My old techie boyfriend answers my friend request in real time chat. (Yikes! This thing is fully loaded.) My husband hates Facebook for its shallowness, but I post a comment on his page anyway: “Pssst, I love you.” Two people like it. (They can see that?) It is a bit like learning to drive in a crowded parking lot.
Still learning to use my phone’s touch screen, I accidentally send friend requests to a couple total strangers. One accepts immediately and her sardonic feminist posts populate my feed. I laugh so hard I almost wake my son. Yes, I am pulled over on a roadside doing this while he naps in his car seat. But it is only on my laptop at home that I can figure out how to unfriend her. (Is that rude?)
Many of my friend requests are ignored, possibly because of confusion over my alias. Or my profile picture, in which I wear a sloppy headscarf and fat wrap-around shades and am hugging my son in his rainbow wig. I try my best to not take these implicit rejections personally.
It is thrilling, though, this rush of connection and reconnection. But as I look at the pages of my true companions, I start to feel a little abashed by my low friend count. I want quality, not quantity, and I am pretty unfindable. There are some outliers, acquaintances with whom I’d like to connect, for social or professional purposes. I cannot comfortably approach them until I’ve reached at least 80 or 90 friends. (Won’t I look desperate, like I am investing too much in my friend request?)
My son pulls me away from my phone, from my new obsession. (But Becky is messaging from London! And Mary Jane just realized it is me!) This is me, Andrea K—–, with 65 friends in Facebook and one eager little boy tugging my hand to go outside and play.
At night his bedtime stall tactics are of the “I need something” variety. I need water. I need blankets. And as he settles into a bed well padded with plush animals, he tells me “I need more friends.” I pitch another teddy bear and sock monkey into the pile. Me too, honey. Me too.