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Exit 243. I had been thinking about doing the same thing.

Recently, a friend of mine who has been known to read this blog sometimes shared an article from the San Francisco Chronicle in which she was quoted.  The article tells the stories of people who, through DNA testing, discovered that they had previously unknown biological relatives.  I would imagine that such a discovery would bring up a lot of very complicated emotional reactions.  My friend (who gave me permission to share this article) now has positive relationships with multiple newly discovered half-siblings.  But not every one of these kinds of situations has resulted in a happy ending.

One of the other people quoted in this article (not my friend) mentioned having been contacted by a cousin that she had just recently discovered the existence of.  The article says that this woman thought that her new relatives “seemed like decent people,” but she unfriended her newly discovered cousin on Facebook and cut off all contact after discovering that her cousin was a supporter of President Donald Trump.  My first reaction was that this woman was being shockingly closed-minded and petty.  Cutting off family and loved ones, and questioning whether or not they are decent people, because of whom they voted for just seems wrong.

But then I realized that I had been thinking about doing the same thing.

I have some views that are not shared by many of the people in my social circles.  A certain such issue has been in the national media quite a bit lately, and I have been seeing many angry Facebook and Instagram posts on this issue.  The thought has crossed my mind that I need to do a mass unfriending on those sites, because I’m tired of hearing all this crap and feeling like the whole world is against me.  But if I were do that, aren’t I being just as petty and closed-minded as the woman in the article whose response bothered me?  Isn’t it healthy to be exposed to different points of view?

Yes and no.

What is healthy is having a fair and respectful discussion on these issues.  What is healthy is understanding where those who disagree with you come from, and why they believe what they do.  And a few of my friends have been genuinely attempting to do this when they share controversial posts.  I have no intention of cutting off contact with any of these.  But others are clearly not interested in learning about the opposite side.  They might be trying to rally and encourage their own side, or they might be trying to piss off or intimidate the opposition.  But reading that kind of thing, especially when it comes with an incorrect characterization of why I stand for what I do, tends to just make me unproductively angry.  I will acknowledge, though, that I probably have some misconceptions about their side’s motivations as well.

Should I be cutting off contact?  Should I be trying to engage these people in discussions?  I think that’s something I’ll have to decide for myself on a case-by-case basis, keeping both their intentions and mine in mind.  It should also be noted that many of the people involved I was never extremely close with, and I never see or talk to anymore, because of changing social circles or (in some cases) the other people having moved away.  I feel less bad about removing those people from social media as compared with people I see on a regular basis.  Also, it should be noted that Facebook offers the option of “unfollowing,” where someone’s posts do not show up in your feed but you stay friends and you can still see their posts if you look for them.  Instagram offers no such option as far as I can tell, but I wish it did.

So I haven’t undertaken a mass unfriending or unfollowing yet.  And it’s not something I need to decide right now.  I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Exit 187. In an unfriending mood.

So I could be sitting here writing about how much I don’t care about this year’s Super Bowl, because I don’t particularly care for either of these two teams, and because I’m a little disgusted at the state of the NFL with all the protests and stuff like that.  But I kind of wrote about that already last year, when I also didn’t care much about the game.  I just now missed the Super Bowl kickoff by a few seconds because I was peeing; I suppose that says a lot about my level of interest in this game.

So instead, I’ll write about something else, continuing my post from last week.  Where we left off a week ago, I was contemplating unfriending some people on Facebook.  I had six people in mind specifically when I wrote that, and about a day after I posted, I pulled the proverbial trigger and unfriended five of them.  It felt like time to burn those bridges.  I’m a little hesitant to write this, because I feel like I’m airing other people’s dirty laundry behind their backs.  I generally feel that if you have a problem with someone, the best approach is to go to their face and have a conversation.  And I didn’t do this.  I thought about it, because I would have wanted to know why if someone was unfriending me.  But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to open myself up to any more hurt or disappointment.  Also, I’m going to write mostly in generalities, so I’m not gossiping behind anyone’s back.

I know that at least one of the people involved here used to read this blog occasionally a long time ago, and I know that the person on the chopping block who I decided not to cut off reads this sometimes as well.  On the off chance that you, reader, are one of those who got unfriended and you feel the need to confront me, you know how to find me.  I apologize for not talking to you first.  But be aware that I might not reply right away, or at all.  I don’t know if I’ll be ready to have that conversation.  I”m feeling hurt and confused about a lot of things right now.

Three of the people involved, my issue with them stems to an incident that happened approximately two years ago.  I talked to all of them around that time, and one of the people I was even on somewhat good terms with again for a while, before this person found another social circle to associate with and we grew apart naturally.  The main reason I cut off contact abruptly is because I wanted absolutely no lingering hope that things would ever again be the way they used to be.  Because they won’t.  These people are not who I once thought they were, and they have disappointed me one too many times.  I know that I should let things go after this much time.  But it’s hard, especially given the nature of what happened.  I feel too deeply, I care too much, and my life is not such that I can easily move on from this kind of thing and find other people to fill the void.

One of the other people is someone who mostly posts angry political rants against people like me.  There are lots of people who I have unfollowed for this reason, but kept on my friends list, just in case, and they don’t make me consistently angry.  And the fifth is his wife; I have no direct reason for unfriending her, except that I don’t really know her in a context apart from her husband.  So why unfriend them and not simply unfollow them?  I honestly can’t give a good answer for this.  I think part of it was just that I was in an unfriending mood after unfriending the three people I mentioned above.  Also, the way I know them, the role they played in my life, is one where the fact that this guy posts so many immature and angry political rants makes me particularly sensitive to what is going on.

I know that some of my friends are still friends with some of these people.  If you know who I’m talking about, I don’t have a problem with any of you staying friends with them, of course.  And don’t stop inviting me to things just because one of the people I unfriended might be there.  I’ll put on my big boy pants and deal with that when it comes up.

I might be willing to go into more detail in private conversations, but that’s all I’ll say publicly.  Maybe someday I’ll feel healed and ready to move on.  Part of me wants to say that maybe someday I’ll be on good terms again with all of these people, but honestly, I don’t know if that’s best, and I don’t know if that’s what I want.

Exit 186. The voice of a ghost singing words a quarter-century old recently pushed me to make a difficult decision.

The voice of a ghost singing words a quarter-century old recently pushed me to make a difficult decision.

Okay, I suppose that’s explaining it in an overdramatic way.  Let me back up and explain.  A couple weeks ago, Irish musician Dolores O’Riordan died unexpectedly.  Ms. O’Riordan was best known for being the lead vocalist of the band The Cranberries, who had three big hits in my late teens.  At least that was my extent of Cranberries knowledge over the years.  (I should point out, though, that as friends started posting Cranberries music on social media as tributes to Ms. O’Riordan, I found a couple more of their songs that I recognized.)  They weren’t one of my favorites back then; I was mostly neutral toward their music.  I always liked the song “Dreams,” although I don’t think I ever knew the title until maybe five years ago when I was expanding my collection of 90s music for making retro gaming playlists.  I had completely forgotten about “Zombie” from some time in the 90s until seeing someone perform it at a karaoke bar in 2015, but that is a good one too.  The third song of theirs that I remember, however, was definitely my least favorite of the three, and ironically, those are the quarter-century-old words that I’m writing about today.

I hate trying to interpret song lyrics, because I was always bad at interpreting poems in high school English class.  But the way I’m reading this one seems pretty straightforward: the narrator has been treated badly by a significant other, but her feelings for him still linger.

So what does that have to do with me?  I may not have been treated badly, or treated others badly, in the specific ways described in the song lyrics, but I understand that sense of feelings lingering from both sides.  And I did something about one side this week: specifically, the point of view of the other character in the song, not the narrator.  I called someone I met on Christian Mingle and told her that I just didn’t feel like we were clicking.  It’s hard for me to do that, because I often can’t pinpoint a specific reason for it.  She didn’t do anything wrong, but I just didn’t really feel like she was someone I could see myself spending my life with.  And I didn’t want her to have to feel like she was wasting her time with me.  And as much as that hurts on both sides, I think that’s better than pretending to make something happen when I know I’m not feeling it and stretching the heartbreak out over several months.  (This makes me think I should link to another relevant song here, this one not having any direct Cranberries connections, but it does use the word “linger” in the same context – by the way, I saw this band live for the third time last week, they didn’t play this song but it was an AMAZING SHOW!!!)

I’m wondering if there are other lingering issues I need to deal with (double meaning, issues related to old feelings lingering… lingering issues of lingering, if you will).  In this case, I’m more like the other perspective of the song, the narrator dealing with her lingering feelings for someone who doesn’t care for her in return.  In particular, I have a lot of people I’m still in social media contact with whom I’m not sure if I should be in contact with anymore.  Some of these are people I knew in the past who mostly just post angry political and/or anti-Christian stuff that I don’t agree with.  Some of these are people whom I’ve had various issues or hurtful experiences with in the past. Some of them are acquaintances from certain social circles who are just arrogant jerks.  Most of the people in question here I have at least unfollowed on Facebook, so I don’t have to think about them any more than necessary, but that begs the question, what purpose would it serve to unfriend them completely?  If I don’t see these people anymore in real life, and I have things set such that I don’t see their posts on social media, is it necessary to take any more steps?

It might be.  It might help me find closure in my mind and put a stop to the lingering (there’s that word again) issues once and for all.  But, as I’ve said before, maybe I’m overthinking social media here, but I find it hard to cut people off like that.  If you are my Facebook friend, that means there was a time when I wanted you in my life, and it’s hard to let go of the hope that we’ll never be close again.  But maybe it’s necessary to let go of that.  There are people that I once hoped to be close with, but realized that I didn’t want to after all once I saw what they were really like.  And there were people I was once close with, but then they changed, and my hope is that I might once again someday be close with who they were before, not with who they are now.

So I don’t know.  I don’t have an answer for how to deal with these situations.  But it’s something I should be thinking and praying about.  I need to take care of myself, and it isn’t healthy to let people linger in my life who are causing more harm than good and probably won’t change.

Exit 122. Everything is more interesting when you focus on the positive.

Last night, a friend from high school did one of those viral Facebook posts where you answer questions about yourself.  In this one, you were given a year in the past, and you answered questions comparing what you and your life were like in that year and what the same things are like now.  She gave me 2003.  It wasn’t a very long survey, and most of my answers to the questions weren’t very exciting.  “Relationship status?”  “Number of kids?”  My answer was “none,” both in 2003 and now.  I usually only share these kinds of posts when I have answers that are specifically interesting or funny, but I had no such answers, and I noted on my post that my answers for this one were kind of boring, wondering out loud why I was wasting my time with this post.

After I posted that, I went for a 25-mile bike ride… yay me.  I checked my phone during a water break, and I saw that I had two replies, one from another unmarried and childless friend my age agreeing with me, and one from my friend who originally posted it, apologizing and offering to think of some more interesting questions to ask me.

No apology was necessary.  I was not truly upset.  If anything, I was just being overly negative about being unmarried and childless, something I tend to do too often that really only makes the situation worse.  I felt bad at this point for my response… it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

But I had a thought as I continued my bike ride.  Instead of dwelling on something that makes me far more upset than it should, I’m going to turn this around and make it positive.  So when I got home, I thought of some positive changes that I have made and/or that have happened to me since 2003, and I added those to my post.  At the start of 2003, I had only been to 14 states; now I’ve been to 48, plus the District of Columbia.  (If you don’t include airport stops or driving into a state and then right back out just to say I’d been there, it would be 7 then and 38 now).  In 2003, I lived in an apartment in which my mailbox got broken into once a month, presumably by people looking for welfare checks, with neighbors who I could never tell if they were fighting or having sex or both.  Today I own a house (by which I mean I pay a mortgage) on a quiet street.  In 2003, I had never ridden my bike more than 20 miles in one day; today, I have broken 50 miles three times.  I had been to two NBA basketball games in my life up until 2003; now that number is around 80.  I discovered the music of Carbon Leaf in 2002 but had not yet seen them live as of 2003; now, I have seen them 19 times.

Everything is more interesting when you focus on the positive.  It’s not always easy, though.

Exit 41. A dubious milestone.

I reached a somewhat dubious milestone earlier this week.  For a day or so, briefly, I had exactly one thousand friends on Facebook.

It seems like I’ve either been getting unfriended a lot lately, or I’ve had friends deactiving or deleting their Facebooks, so it didn’t last long.  I am at 999 as of this morning.  That number is not entirely accurate, for that matter; it does not take into account couples who share a Facebook, people with separate Facebook accounts for business and personal uses, or people who make Facebook pages for their pets.  And interestingly enough, my 1000th friend was someone I had known for several years but had never been friends with on Facebook, not someone I had just met.

This begs a few questions.  First of all, why do I care?  I’m not trying to be famous, and it doesn’t make me any better or worse that I have a lot of friends.  I just notice these things because I’m a math guy.  But more importantly, is it really possible to have a thousand friends?  And who are these people?  And how did an introvert like me get a thousand friends?  The answer to that is inherent in the unstable nature of my adult life.  I moved away for college, I moved again just before I turned 25, and I moved again at 29.  Most of those places, I stayed long enough that my network of contacts changed, and every time I made a major change like this, there were some people I didn’t leave behind who I stayed in touch with over the years.  And Facebook makes it so convenient to look up old friends that I eventually found others who I did lose touch with, or they found me.  I also tell my students that they can add me on Facebook after they graduate from high school, and in the seven years that I worked at the small private high school, quite a few of them did, and numerous others from past schools found me over the years.

In a lot of ways, this is a good thing.  Facebook makes it easier for an introvert like me to have some semblance of both a social life and a past using the forms of communication with which I am most comfortable.  But I have to be careful as well.  As has been often said, Facebook presents a distorted view of everyone else’s life, only showing what others choose to share.  The Internet also makes it easy for someone with a bad idea that sounds good on the surface to rally others who share their ill-informed views and use the mob mentality to shame people who disagree with them, and Facebook in particular makes it easy to pass on the ill-informed articles.  Sometimes, I just feel like I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

A couple days after I hit 1000, I was feeling particularly frustrated with humanity in general, and I contemplated unfriending a lot of people.  Some of these people I really don’t have a lot in common with to begin with, and I never see them anymore.  I do, in fact, occasionally unfollow people, so I don’t see their posts unless I make an effort to click on them.  But even so, the only people I unfollow are the ones I don’t have much in common with, I don’t see anymore, and who also post condescending inflammatory political things I don’t agree with.  And I don’t want to unfriend people completely, because if someone is on my friend list, that means that, at the very least, they meant something significant to me at one time, and I’d like to hold on to whatever small shred of hope is left that we might mean something to each other again at some point.  (And I have occasionally re-followed people I had once unfollowed if, for example, we start talking and hanging out regularly again.)  There’s that saying about how people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  I’ve never been good at that; I want everyone to be a lifetime friend, or at least to have the chance to be.

So can I keep up with a thousand friends?  I can’t read every post.  And I’ll probably have to find ways to spend less time on Facebook, since I haven’t done a good job of that lately.  But I’ll do my best.