Maybe I saw you yesterday. Maybe we haven’t seen each other in decades. Maybe we’ve never actually met and never will due to distance and circumstances. And yet, somehow, we’re friends on Facebook and that’s good enough for me.
Really. That’s it. You can stop reading.
I’m not here to:
- pile on any social media guilt
- ask you to recall how we met or describe me in one word
- insist you cut and paste this message to prove something.
I’m just here to say in my own words — original, not copied from some viral post — that I pay attention to you and that you matter to me.
Details of your life come up in my feeds. I’m happy when I hear about the good things and I try to post on your wall to celebrate with you . Though I feel sad reading about the bad things, in those situations I try even harder to post, to lend support and send a little love your way.
I care, and I try to express it with integrity and sincerity, but lately I’ve felt judged because my care doesn’t appear to be measuring up.
I’ve noticed a ridiculous number of these “let’s determine the quality of our friendship by seeing who reads this to the end and then cuts and pastes this to their page” posts. To me, this is Mad Libs: My Sad Life — you know, that story with the blanks you fill in with random words selected out of context. The post whines about lost friendships, how this is the easy solution to figure out who really cares, just cut and paste and for god’s sake don’t simply ‘like’ because then it won’t count.
The closer I am to the person posting, the less I pay attention; I figure they’re aware of the quality of our relationship. But I also know what’s going on in their day-to-day lives, the real events and hurts and losses that don’t show up on social media, and if they’re in pain, I’ll reach out.
For those whom I only come in contact with through Facebook, I wonder.
I wonder if they’re cutting and pasting because they’re going through a rough patch and want to ask for support, but can’t bring themselves to do so in a direct way. When we’re shaken down to the core, sometimes the hardest thing is to admit fear or grief because that makes it real. So it’s less scary to put up a viral post. Others read it, they respond, everyone’s happy, life goes on…yada yada yada.
You might think I’m overreacting, but this type of post is bad for all of us. It’s the social media equivalent of emotional spam.
That’s because it’s not genuine. It’s not their words. It’s just a viral woe-is-me, not worthy of any of us. It prompts responses that are rarely heartfelt or moving. They’re words coerced by social force, and they pass right through us. They don’t stick. They’re the junk food of compassion, lacking real empathy, and they don’t satisfy anyone, least of all the person seeking validation.
I came to this understanding not through Facebook but through honest-to-goodness real-world face time in the writing classes I teach.
Every semester, adult students who are largely strangers show up at the writer’s center. They sign up for a course, enter the first class, sit down, and make themselves vulnerable. Most are willing to strip down to an emotionally naked state, trusting that I — and their fellow students — will take them seriously and their work even more seriously. Some expose their cruelest hurts and humiliations, hope for reassurance and the grace of connection and care, and email me privately with even worse stories because they have few other places to turn for support.
I give what I can, knowing that our best and worst selves pivot on a single, critical moment. I try to respond with honesty and authenticity. I try to show them that in that moment I hear them, I see them, I embrace them. Every aspect of them.
We want connection. Connection to our friends, acquaintances, even total strangers. It’s communicated most easily in a hug, when you can wrap your arms around them, offer protection however temporary, and take in physical pain or joy. Few of us can be where we ought to be in the exact moment we’re needed, so social media has become a substitute. Good or bad depends on the quality of the interaction. Garbage in, garbage out.
If you need that spark of connection reminding you what’s important and what matters — if you’ve hit a bad day and you’re here on Facebook to find one reassuring word, message me. This is why social media has become bigger than anyone could have predicted. At its best, it reconnects us in deeply meaningful and powerful ways. One to one. Specific and honest.
Don’t do a cut and paste. Don’t judge your friendships by who responds and who doesn’t. There are long stretches of time when I cannot be on Facebook and I may miss something vital in your life. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care.
Instead of sharing these silly “friendship test” posts, every time you open Facebook, find one person who’s had a good thing happen and one person who’s had a bad thing happen. Post your joy or your compassion on their page, and be authentic and present for what they’re feeling. Be there in the moment.
What goes around comes around. And when it comes to social media, karma’s not a bitch but a blessing. Be grateful for the community that surrounds you. I know I am.