I resisted joining Facebook for a long time. Friends, and even my somewhat reclusive and privacy-valuing husband, nudged me toward it, and I put them off. Who had the time, anyway? It seemed a colossal distraction and luxury I didn’t have as the mother of two preschoolers. Facebook emerged on the scene at precisely the moment my children did. While in retrospect it may have been a pleasant diversion from the demands of motherhood, I surmised that I didn’t possess the clarity required to appear witty and fabulous in real life, much less in a virtual one.
Curiosity got the best of me, though, and I eventually took the plunge. At first, I was the newly departed arriving at the pearly gates to a hero’s welcome: All who had gone before me gushed, “You’re finally here! What took you so long?” Far-flung cousins and old friends shared photos of their charming children; colleagues announced marriages and job successes. It was all so upbeat, so welcoming. I was hooked.
Then it got weird. Like an addict, I soon needed more of my drug to get my fix. If I had a loss of confidence mixed with loneliness, I took a drag on Facebook to feel better. If my posts didn’t get the attention I craved, I upped the ante and became bolder and more audacious. Milestones, anecdotes and selfies had to pass muster online to validate me. I was observing my life from above, as in a dream. Long-dormant insecurities resurfaced with alarming intensity. False modesty, image-consciousness and snark reigned, and my proverbial worlds colliding in the vast online universe began to freak me out. Now all the pieces of my life were haphazardly fused together; unrelated jigsaw puzzle pieces forced to fit. Relationships sometimes fade into obscurity in the real world. Maybe we should let them die these natural deaths, unfettered by our need to digitally resuscitate them.
Extricating myself from Facebook was akin to sobering up. While not a quick fix, it freed me to live more presently rather than vainly crafting my story from a remote vantage point. Imbibing today’s great social lubricant masked parts of my belief system and personality. Addicts fear living without their drug, as though their downsized sober personas won’t cut the mustard in an amped-up world, and I still occasionally crave that high. Plenty of my friends appear to juggle real and online relationships with ease, yet also with doubts that they could stop. My life events—large and small—now mostly take their proper place in the story I weave. It took a good bit of chutzpah to admit that my relationship with social media was destructive, to risk being labeled a Luddite. But real friends bring out our best selves and challenge us to honor our personal truths, and limiting my exposure to the virtual world has allowed me to friend with intention rather than by default. There is no better setting than that.
A professional French horn player, KATIE HAGEN has performed with the Nashville Symphony and as a studio recording musician, touring internationally and performing at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall, among others. Her essays have appeared in Art House America and The Tennessean. She delights in chatting boisterously in real time with her husband and two young daughters in Nashville, Tennessee.