My life has changed and so I am changing too. What is real in my life and what is imaginary? Death is real. It forces me to look at my illusions and defenses. I don’t want to delude myself. I have a tendency to do that. I can’t seem to decide (or remember?) what matters to me beyond family, house, and home. I’m sure it’s a protective stance against fear of my own death — a hunkering down. And it’s not the first time I’ve felt this way.
I am only slightly interested in working again at anything creative. It all seems so pointless. I suspect my enthusiasm is dampened by loss. I just want my therapist back. I want little else other than to retain what I have left.
So it was with this disspirit that I came to delete a couple hundred “friends” on Facebook the other day.
Well before my therapist died, I began to notice that Facebook was making me depressed, yet I couldn’t help viewing the news feed many times a day. My friend list had grown over the years to include mainly people I had never met, only encountered on the internet. More recently, I collected quite a few old classmates right before our 40th high school reunion. I guess because I am lonely, I made a habit of watching their lives go by, family events, personal successes and complaints, and I always felt a fondness, like to people I know but haven’t seen lately. But, largely, these are not people I know, and they do not know me. There wasn’t a lot of interaction between us either and I came to suspect that most of those people I was watching were not watching me back (few likes and comments).
Then I read this book:
Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T. Cacioppo, William Patrick
and… this great article from 1956 about the media and para-social interaction.
I found the book after an internet search for “para-social relationships”. What I found was a description of what I was experiencing on Facebook. A para-social relationship is one in which one person knows a lot about another person that doesn’t know you exist. Like fandom. Like TV characters. I personally like several TV characters enough that they seem like real people to me — people I like! That is a para-social relationship. It’s not hard to imagine that this kind of one-way street wouldn’t be as fulfilling as one with a real person that will reciprocate.
There is a difference between TV and Facebook. The difference is that TV characters allow you the vicarious thrill of wearing different personalities from the safety of your living room. The fact that these people don’t really exist is a good thing. That’s what makes it safe to envy, hate, or adore them. The only dark part of idolizing TV characters is that their counterparts — the actors themselves — could care less about you. But if you know that, there is little harm in having fun following a show. TV characters are a little like avatars or surrogates — they are inherently unreal and you would never expect them to respond to you.
On Facebook however, the people are very real, and seeing them daily with their family and friends became frustrating to me. I’m lonely, and they evidently are not. And they could interact with me but most don’t. That’s what was intolerable. The belongingness mechanism that Facebook activates can make you miserable when your friend got dozens of birthday wishes from people you know and you got very few. It feels very much like school days. And whatever happened to emailing? I haven’t had a non-business email from anyone in a long time, much less a phone call. I think Facebook has supplanted real life in many ways. How about letters? When was the last time you saw someone’s actual handwriting? Are we all avatars, all the time?
So I deleted everyone from Facebook that I have never met or had an actual conversation with unless they had been interacting with me on Facebook via Likes or Comments. Otherwise I am reducing myself to being an audience when what I really want is lunch with a friend.
My life is a bit lean right now. It won’t always be that way but won’t change drastically any time soon. I’d like to live my life with as few delusions as possible. I think this makes for less anxiety. If I am to deal with how large the loss of my therapist is, I need to let myself feel how truly small my world is without her.
p.s. I can’t believe I wrote a post about Facebook as if it really matters. How absurd. And yes, I realize there is some irony in maintaining a blog projected at strangers but it helps me to define what I am feeling, even if it is unread. My words here are not me, just my exhaling into the blogosphere. And lastly, I am going to experiment with not replying to comments here unless I am asked a specific question, even though I really like getting comments, because I think it may cause apprehension for the commentor about how I might respond, and it does cause me apprehension when I do respond. So write away, without restraint. I read everything you write
Here are some related Facebook articles: