In college I decided to give up Facebook, and although it wasn’t a misbegotten New Year’s resolution or Lenten promise gone astray, that decision only lasted about a semester.
It was something I needed to do – to back away from a good chunk of my social life until I could get my own life straightened out a lotta bit. And since Facebook was where my social life was at least documented, we went on one of those “it’s not you … it’s me” sorts of breaks that we all roll our eyes about later. Mostly because we know how that ends.
But let me tell you – FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. Come on, it’s four letters and begins with an F. That should tell you right there. It’s bad. So when in the course of that Facebook-less semester, I constantly worried about embarrassingly self-absorbed questions like:
- Am I being tagged in photos?
- Wait, did they even post the photos I was in?
- How will people know I was there?
I knew I would return to “my social life” (read: Facebook) in a fit of predictable desperation. It was only a matter of time. And that time happened to be about a semester.
Fast forward enough years. You don’t really need to know the number. A few college, grad school, job and personal lifetimes later, I’m back in the city where the first breakup happened. And I’m ready to leave for real this time.
I live in a city with millions of people – literally. Some of these people I see every day, on the same blocks, at the same times, on my commutes to and from work, or when I’m walking my dog (see also: Lessons from Salem). Some of these people are wearing suits. Some of these people are pushing strollers. Some of these people are wearing the same clothes they’ve been wearing for the past seven months of me passing them on the same corners, and while it upsets me, I worry about the day that I might not see them there at all.
I realize these are all real people. They all have lives that are real. Relationships that are real. Interactions and hopes and dreams that are real. Disappointments and heartaches and struggles that are real. And in the midst of those real things, for them and for myself, I just don’t see a place for Facebook any longer.
Because at the same time that I’m surrounded by millions of people –
sometimes too closely, like on a crowded train that’s delayed for what feels like the millionth time, and the heat’s blasting and someone’s yelling, and I know I’m going to be late to work, and I’m piping hot mad –
yes, at the very same time that I’m surrounded, I also sometimes feel alone. Alone because in the middle of Facebooking and being surrounded by these people, I have forgotten to prioritize spending time with my REAL friends. You know, the ACTUAL PEOPLE who are in my life. And yes, many of these glorious people have Facebook accounts. But I don’t want to type to them there anymore.
I miss the kinds of interactions that can only come in-person – you know, the stuff you notice when you’re sitting across from someone in the coffee shop, or in a classroom, or sitting in the cubicle next door. Or, when that can’t happen, the sorts of things you notice when you’re video chatting or on the telephone. The things that seem to close any distance between two people who would otherwise be separated by one or hundreds or even thousands of miles.
And because I am feeling at once surrounded and alone, at once connected and removed, at once in-the-know and out-of-the-loop, I’m calling B.S. on my own millennial obsession with Facebook. And I’m leaving that behind.
But wait!, it will say, think of all the memories we have! Did you find someone better? Are you really moving on?
[I actually cannot wait to see what absurd begging the network has ready for me at the very moment I hit “delete.”]
Yes, I will say, there were memories. But those memories belong to me and my friends. The real people who inspire me to move on to something better. To life itself. To more adventures with the littles.
This time I’m ready.
Ryan Vale McGonigle
Comments on the Featured Image: I took this photo along the waterfront of a park I love – and that Salem loves even more – in my neighborhood. It always reminds me that there are people in those buildings. And people outside of them. And then I am reminded that I have no reason to feel alone unless I want to be alone. Because real life works that way.