The Facebook Phenomenon, part one

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Okay. So I’m on Facebook. I actually have been for quite some time – longer than most of my peers in my age group (the old people, I guess). Not nearly as long as my recent college-graduate daughter, of course. I initially signed on so that I could see her photos (because a mother never can get quite enough of seeing photos of her 20-something daughter drinking, holding suspicious-looking red cups, or with people who are drinking or holding suspicious-looking red cups), but as I friended and became friended it took on other meaning for me.

Over the last year I’ve reconnected with old – old – friends; people I haven’t seen in 30 years. I’ve also used it as a remarkable networking tool with professional colleagues and people I meet at conferences or workshops. I’ve gotten a little work here and there and even had a fascinating discussion on it the other night resulting from a status update about digital immigrants and digital natives (stuff I talk about in my real life, not my “I’m getting divorced and it’s all about me life”). It has an awesome combination of real-time communication and asynchronous communication that really, I think, facilitates connection for everybody.

Once the divorce stuff started, it was interesting to see the role that Facebook played in it. The first thing was my relationship change. I did that early on – right after Mr. Ex moved out – and within about one second of my changing my relationship status Allie called me on my cell to ask if I really wanted that showing up on everyone’s feed. You know, the thing that seems to be alive on the screen; telling you that these people became friends, this person is doing laundry, this person just changed their profile picture… Hmmm. She was right – while I wanted it out there, I didn’t want it hitting everyone’s screen (everyone being everyone who was my friend) before the girls and I had the chance to actually speak to some people and tell them. So I changed the privacy setting of my relationship. Easy enough to do, but it really made me think about the immediacy of the Internet and how powerful that immediacy could be. What used to take days, months, perhaps years to get around could now spread through cyberspace in mere seconds.

As the months progressed FB continued to play a role in the divorce communication. And admittedly, it also played a small role in some snooping. Mr. Ex and I are still FB friends, so I see a little bit of what he’s up to. Nothing stalker-ish (I’m not driving past his house at midnight, y’know?), but I can see his status, notes on his wall, invitations he receives. I could see when he and his former, ahem, special friend (and I don’t mean special like in small school bus, either) became friends. And I have to admit to getting a small bit of satisfaction when I clicked on “don’t show this person again” when FB suggested she and I become friends. Sigh. A snub – even a blind cyber one – can still feel so good to administer.

It also felt good when his friends (real ones and FB ones) reached out to me when the divorce news spread to offer support, when my own friends chat me at midnight to chide me about a snippy status, or when a wistful status update (my favorite one is that I’m grateful for the love and support of good friends, family and colleagues – duh… who isn’t?) gets me the proverbial cyber-hugs that I can’t get for real at midnight when I’m alone at home.

To be honest, I think that one of the scariest things that a midlife divorcee faces is the ease with which one can become socially isolated. Think about it; when you have young children who need you to continue to function – drive them to soccer practice, pick them up from Hebrew school, take them to the school concert – much of that is what keeps you from becoming socially isolated. I mean, if you’re a sane and responsible parent you pretty much buck it up and suck it up and do what you have to do because the kids need you to. But for those of us whose child-rearing and child driving days are behind us, it’s easy to just hang out at home and wallow in social loneliness.

To a certain degree, FB helps you avoid that isolation, even if it only facilitates contact via a laptop screen and keyboard. And while it’s not the same as a gentle touch on the shoulder or a close friend’s hug and it lacks non-verbal communication signals like body language and facial expressions, it’s better than nothing. I know that in the last almost-six months it’s been invaluable for making me feel like I’m not alone, that I will survive, and that there are people out there who have survived this before me. Not to mention that it often makes it easier to make a date for coffee or breakfast or invite a former babysitter, now a  young mom of four going through a nasty divorce, to Shabbat dinner.

tomorrow – more thoughts on FB and divorce

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Filed under Communication, Technology, Transition

2 responses to “The Facebook Phenomenon, part one

  1. Carol

    Divorce sucks for the offspring and the former partners at any age, even under the best of circumstances. I have often said that my divorce, as the mother of 3 young kids, was easier for the reasons stated in your blog. Physically, I was taxed to the max. But, it was the carpools, sleepover (the kids, not mine) school meetings and soccer games that gave me the instant connections. I rarely had that alone time when I started to wonder why. In fact, since I was only depending on myself to get things done, I had no anger at anyone for letting me down. That felt much better. Sundays, when Mr. X would take the kids for a few hours were the worst hours of the week. So, that is probably the closest I felt to what you are describing. I tend to block the unpleasant memories out.

  2. Debbie Harris

    Ah Carol – time – time is the problem when there are no kids to buffer. That was probably true of the marriage, as well – as the kids grew up and move on, you start to wonder if that’s all there is.

    Thanks for your comment!

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