April 21, 2007. That's the day I relented and joined Facebook. In these last 5 1/2 years, I've seen my friends mature personally and professionally, watched their children grow from ultrasound into tiny adults, celebrated birthdays, engagements, marriages, graduations, and offered support and condolences on the passing of their loved ones. This social network, this entity that binds us as a community, is amazing. I've also learned a lot about myself in the last five years.
1. We are who we are, magnified
What we post on Facebook doesn't define us in our entirety, but it gives us a glimpse into a person's life and what is important to them. For some, they use Facebook to celebrate their children's milestones or their favourite sports team's accomplishments or to espouse their political ideology. Chances are, what you see on Facebook is what you'd get if you spent some time with these people in person. My posts are littered with what I've been baking and celebrating gratitude in the face of adversity. And yes, if you constantly post cat videos, chances are you really love cats. As someone who values depth in character and relationship, I really enjoy knowing people on that level. I feel like I see YOU and that brings me joy.
What do your posts say about you?
2. All is not what it seems
Obviously, not everything you see on Facebook is a complete picture of someone's life. There are those who share every intimate detail of their lives on social media, down to the specifics of their pending divorces, bitter custody battles and dating disasters. Self-absorbed narcissists want all the attention all the time - there's a deeper psychological thing going on. For some, Twitter and Facebook is like having their own reality show and they're the star. But most people aren't like that. In fact, most people don't want to share their disappointments or failures with the world. I know I certainly don't advertise when I'm having a pity party in my pajamas - and we all have them. We only see what people want us to see. Frequent sad or whiny posts suggest that there are some deeper issues (and usually result in friends tuning out said statuses). On the flip side, I never quite trust people who use the word "perfect" with alarming frequency. Nothing and no one is perfect all of the time. There's always room for challenges and growth, even in our failures. And when you're feeling vulnerable and share your pains, we'll embrace you for the human that you are, just as we are also. If you are having regular pajama pity parties, invite some friends over for a pillow fight and bonk each other on the head until you're laughing and red in the face.
Are your statuses creating an illusion or mirroring reality?
3. The definition of friendship
This was a tough one. I'm an optimist: I see everyone I meet as a potential friend and I regularly forget that not everyone is kind, loving and compassionate. I just assume everyone is (I live in a wonderful fantasy world, according to some!). There's a great adage, there are people who come into your life for a reason, season and a lifetime. Before Facebook, friendships naturally waned and we'd lose touch with our reason/season friends. Somehow, there's an artificial idea that adding someone to your Facebook means you have to be their friend forever. Not everyone is deserving of being in your life forever, and that's okay.
We recently returned to Canada from living in Dallas for a year. Several Dallas "friends" didn't show any signs of concern or support when hubby was on 2 month medical leave- nor did they acknowledge our leaving Dallas despite numerous status updates, party invitations or texts. That was a defining moment, literally and figuratively: for me, a friend is someone who sincerely wishes you health, joy, happiness and success wherever you are. If they can't take a minute or two out of their day to do that, do you really want them in your life? The real gems are the kind that show up to help you move, surprise you on Christmas day, make you soup when you're sick, bake you your favourite treats or fly across the country just to see you off. From this day forward, I am only making room in my life for authentic friends - a high bar to set, but for me, friendship isn't about quantity, it's quality.
How do you define friendship?
4. The importance of acknowledgement and setting expectations
Whether you're a regular fixture on Facebook or an occasional voyeur, it means a lot to your friends when you acknowledge them. For me, I make regular use of the "like" button. It says, hey, I saw your post/photo/link and I'm cheering for you/agree with you/thinking of you. If someone regularly comments or "likes" things you post and you don't return that acknowledgement, even on a fractional basis, it can cause some hurt feelings. It's happened to me, as the giver and receiver of acknowledgement. The thing is, we're adults and we can talk about how this is impacting us. Some people place less value on maintaining relationships on Facebook because it is a virtual world, but the feelings involved are real. And friendships do take work to maintain, some less than others. Communicate your needs. And if the other person can't meet them, either accept them or move on. You know what your needs are, and it's more than reasonable to set those expectations. That being said, if Facebook is your only source of validation in life, you may want to get off the computer and make some in-person friends. All things in moderation, folks!
Are you clear about your expectations in your relationships, online and off?
5. The world is a big and small place, simultaneously
Moving from Vancouver to San Francisco to Dallas to Barrie, within a span of 25 months, was a whirlwind of packing, boxes, hotel rooms, unpacking and stress. And all the while, Facebook kept me connected to old and new friends near and far. Thanks to Facebook, I felt more connected to my distant friends and family and hooked into social groups in my new cities that made each transition easier. I use Facebook to connect with fellow coaches, writers and baking enthusiasts from around the world. I use it as a tool to enhance and share my joy and gratitude. What do you want more of, out of life? You can probably find it on Facebook - whether it be cat videos, spiritual quotes, silly jokes, or George Takei-inspired witticisms. There are millions of unique, awesome people in this social network. Your world is only as small as you want it to be.
Where would you like to go from here?
I like to think I'm pretty true to life to my Facebook persona. Mostly upbeat, fairly food-focused, and driven to live a life full of passion and integrity. My life has been enriched by the positive and not-so-positive experiences I've had with friends and not-so-friends on Facebook. For that, I am grateful.