Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Politics of Remembrance

I joined Facebook a couple months ago. It's been quite lovely, catching up with people with whom I lost contact as much as twenty years ago, and keeping a near-daily eye on friends I don't call as often as I should. In turn I can apprise the world of my status -- although my stay-at-home life is dull enough that I can't really justify frequent updates.  The whole affair is simple and casual; it's an online cocktail party, no real intimacies required.

That is why I'm surprised by how self-conscious I am of each individual action online. People are so quick to count themselves as an online friend, but with none of the responsibilities I associate with friendship. There are even contests to see who can have the most Facebook friends. Fuddy-duddy that I am, I am more selective.  People friend me, and I hesitate to include them.  What if I'm having a bad day? If they are part of my circle, do I feel comfortable including them in venting my frustration?  What is the purpose of including them, if I don't feel any attachment?  And yet . . . 

Not long after I joined FB (so hip using the initials!) I was friended by the man I dated through college.  In counting all my loves, outside of my marriage that one was the most significant. I had occasionally Googled him, wondering where his life had gone after I left (wondering, really, if his life had changed as radically without me as mine had without him), but had gotten only glimpses of people who might be him -- a comment by a guy with a similar name on a photography forum, a listing on LinkedIn.  Then suddenly he was there, asking to be my friend.  He included no greeting.  It was like a wave across a crowded room to someone you kind of know, but with whom you aren't really connected. Impersonal. Cheerful. Almost, well, obligatory. "Hey, remember me? We went to college together."  There was no hint of the three years we spent together: sunrises watched and concerts attended, fights over politics and religion, creative late-night cooking, shared intimacies and explorations across several countries.

I accepted his friend request immediately. I eagerly read his now-open profile, admiring his beautiful children (they could have been mine!), unsurprised at his career (I helped him get started), mildy curious about his wife (isn't that the woman he once described to me as a "crazy stalker"?). I then spent the following week dizzy with memories and regrets, relief and confusion. Underlying it all was the question of why he had reached out.  I found I was self-conscious - exaggerating each update for effect, not sure what to say in front of such an audience. Finally I asked, got a bland answer, and have pretended to ignore his presence since then. But I still know he's there, and I self-edit because of it.

On the other side, there are marvelous people out there with whom I would love to reconnect, but I hesitate, unsure if they would remember me. How devastating - to have someone I admired so, who figured so strongly in my life, not know who I am.  Haven't books been written about this very subject?

So, I lurk.  I watch, and wonder, and think about these people I know, and am careful about what I say in this strangely public private forum. I, who am so very bad at politics, am learning.

1 comment:

  1. As always, so true, Y. In in-person conversations/correspondence, there is an automatic tailoring of what is said, and how it is said. Often this is a natural and unconscious acknowledgement that each individual represents a relationship that is unique in its history and context.

    That FB is enveloped within the cosy cloak of 'friends list' is for many a bit misleading. For anyone with multiple friends on one friends-list from disparate times and places in one's life, FB is inevitably more a mass forum than a private space.