Social insecurity

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 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Social insecurity

  1. College pals in frat from 45 years ago and wives or girls we dated meet every 2 or 3 years at Florida Southern College and linked up on Face Book instead of emails.Maybe 70 strong. It was horrible. It seems our wives post hourly re whatever they are doing at the moment all day long. Hundreds of posts invading my life each day. Why do they think anyone cares that Samantha lost her first tooth, the dopey cat’s this and that, your toes hurt and you’ve changed religions? Again. I shut down the whole works . And with all the nonsense none ever visited my blog. Which by the way has very good nonsense.

  2. All this makes sense to me and I’ve never felt apprehensive about leaving a comment whether you respond or not 😉 I agree that a lot of the apparent social networking can make us feel more isolated and alone, though I am also blessed in having found some astonishingly good friends through online connections, people who are real soul sisters, who got to know each other through words. (via Twitter, not Facebook, it’s a totally different culture).

    I’m sorry you feel lonely.

    Maybe there’s some aspect of art that would make you feel connected – inside? does that make sense. Sometimes my loneliness feels like it is a missing of a bit of me, not really other people.

    I feel connected to you because your art sits in front of me and sometimes when things are a bit rocky around here I remember our dreams and plans about a love nest with a blue egg at its heart, and it brings me back to what is important.

    Just so as you know.

  3. “Maybe there’s some aspect of art that would make you feel connected – inside?” Yes, Joanna, I do think that when I am able to go back to art I will feel better. But although art lets me access my deeper self, I am still alone in the room. I miss having company in that room, so to speak (in the flesh).

  4. Diana,
    This was a truly lovely post. I completely agree and empathize regarding Facebook. I, too, found it to be depressing. What was the point, really? And yes, I understand that some people might say “Well, you put your life in a blog. What’s the point in that.” But they are two separate entities. One brings me solace, the other only disappointment. So I closed my FB account months ago, and I haven’t missed it at all.

    You might actually like the comraderie of tumblr as who you follow is completely up to you, and there is none of that competitiveness of FB. I follow people who post poetry, photographs, art, and some fandom. I really enjoy it as a social media as I am continually being surprised by poems I’ve never read, and quotes that are not in my collection. More often than not, I get inspired by something I have read on tumblr and translate that into a blog post.

    Just a suggestion.

    As for deleting all of those people . . . they weren’t really people, were they? They were avatars, and they had no meaning in your life. The comparison to television characters also makes complete sense to me as I have a select few shows that I watch religiously, and I feel connections to certain characters that I know aren’t at all real, but they bring me a measure of comfort and joy.

    I know that you are still hurting over the loss of your friend, and that will probably continue for quite a while as she was such a mainstay in your life. I also know how hard it is to return to our art (whatever form it takes) during grief as it seems so hard to even try.

    I am thinking of you and wishing you well.

  5. Diana,
    Your articulate post about the mourning of your therapist contrasted to the Facebook cyber reality resonated with me. I also lost a long-time therapist and the depth of that loss is proportionate to the depth of her knowing me. Facebook, on the other hand thrives on superficiality and to me, showing off. It’s a way of trimming our lives to the best picture, the short triumphant post of all the exciting parts of one’s day. Except that’s not really what makes me feel close to someone else. It’s a new version of keeping up with the Joneses.
    Loss is loss. Relationships shift and fill in one’s life in a different way, but we never stop missing our lost loved ones. There is no sugar-coating grief but time does add some numbing layers on the pain. I envy those who have complete faith in an afterlife because they have the comfort of believing we will all be together again. My best to you as you travel this difficult part of the road and know that there are those who understand.

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