If someone told me when I was in junior high that I would one day have over 500 friends, I would be shocked. If someone then tried to explain that these “friends” were part of a social networking platform called Facebook, I’d probably say “social wha…?” And what if some of these online friends happened be the girls who were currently making my life hell? “Yeah, right,” I’d say with an eye roll, backpack on one shoulder. But here we are, in the age of the Internet, and I have over 500 friends (yes, yes, I know this isn’t even that many by some standards) and wouldn’t you know it, some of these people are the very same who made my adolescence suck. Which begs the question, why stay connected with these “friends” at all?
Let’s flashback to my eighth grade year. It was the 90s. I’m talking flannel and bodysuit wearing (yeah, you remember,) grunge music listening 90s. That school year, my close girlfriends decided collectively that I wasn’t up to snuff and dropped me like a bad habit. The sting was pretty brutal. I had to eke out a social life with whomever I could tag along with. These were strictly lets-eat-lunch-together-but-that’s-all kind of friendships. No slumber parties, no weekend trips to the mall or the movies. They were my life raft through a sea of sad meals and school activities, and while grateful for their presence, I couldn’t exactly call them good friends.
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I had a falling out with my friends in the first place. With the amount of gossiping we did about each other, it’s amazing we were ever friends at all. There was a pack like mentality, which meant we preyed on whoever was the weakest in the group just to assert our own power. Eventually the “weak” one was me. Cut to the present and, of course, to Facebook and some of the people who whispered about me in the halls of middle school are now filling up my feed with pictures of their kids, updates on their latest meal or their complaint of the day. And what do I do? I eat it up.
I liken the friend request from these old tormentors to an olive branch. Me taking that olive branch is then signaling to the world, “Hey! I’m over it! You can’t hurt me now!” I’ve grown up some since junior high and realize that we were all having a pretty awful time back then and that maybe those who weren’t so nice to me aren’t the terrible people of my fantasies. Maybe they deserve to be forgiven. Will I name my children after them? Hell no. Will I like a picture of their really cute kid? Perhaps. Besides, I’m sure there’s more than one person out there whose life was made less than pleasant because of me.
It’s been said ad nauseam that Facebook, and social media in general, has an alienating effect on society and leaves us feeling lonelier than ever. We spend so much of our time online, on our phones, glued to some sort of device, that we shut out the real world. I’m as guilty of this as the next person and am actively on Facebook or Instagram, posting photos in the moment when I should probably just be living in the moment. Another aspect of this phenomenon is that we are constantly comparing ourselves to the many people in our feeds. This is really unfair if you think about it. Most of the time, people are putting their best self forward so that, naturally, their life will seem fabulous. For people my age, it’s weddings and babies and career milestones. It’s amazing vacations or a new pair of shoes. At any given point, someone on Facebook is making someone else jealous.
Couple all of this covetousness with the raw emotions that still linger from middle school, and it makes for one ugly picture. It’s not just any vacation I’m envious of. It’s the vacation of that dumb bitch who yelled “loser” at me across the campus and then had the nerve to friend request me fifteen years later. Then again, who was the one to accept said request? Yes, ma’am. That was me. While I find myself holding on to the anger and the hurt from those times long gone, I also find myself holding onto this “friendship” – this invisible thread linking me to a person who caused me pain.
Why do we choose to torture ourselves? Perhaps staying connected means we’re one step ahead of the game. By being frenemies, we have some of the power and they can’t blindside us yet again with their happy posts and their smiles and their…lives! I see my Facebook feed with that name and that face and it all comes rushing back and I’m standing by my locker trying to ignore that same face, years younger and with too much eyeliner, about to call me a bitch while I pretend to fish out my social studies book. Ugh, keep your enemies, close, right? I realize this all sounds extremely dramatic and yet I’m only half joking. Maybe this, too, goes back to adolescence and the ever present fear of missing out. Even if, in this case, this means missing out on an update from someone I theoretically don’t even care about.
So maybe I can’t totally forgive and forget and maybe I can’t completely wash away my 13-year-old pain. And maybe I’ve watched Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion one too many times. But I can connect with people online and move forward and share in all that life has to offer. Such as pictures of lunches, too intimate complaints about exes and ultrasound photos as profile pics. Which makes me wonder, who, of the 500 or so people getting my updates, is cursing my name, my vacations, my achievements? I know you’re out there and all I can say is I’m sorry; I was an adolescent mess. Can I follow you on Instagram?