“Are you on Facebook?” Nearly every friend I have has asked me this question in the last year. The answer is a very hesitant “Yes…” followed by qualifiers like, “I haven’t completed my profile yet,” or “I haven’t logged in in ages,” or “The whole thing just overwhelms me.” My friends give me advice for how to manage my Facebook life, and I always tell them I’ll follow it. And then I don’t.
The reason why it overwhelms me can be summed up in two words: high school. My parents sent me to a tiny (my class at its height had nineteen students) Christian school where my life was a living hell from fourth grade on until I went to college. The school discouraged honest intellectual thought (I actually was taught creation and creation only in science classes, and history was referred to at times as “His Story”), and from the time we were but little children, teachers taught us that we were essentially sinful creatures and that without a “solid grounding in biblical values,” we would be lost to “The World.” Our bodies were our mortal enemies, and teachers spanked us when we did something out of line. We girls were taught that we were to submit to our future husbands and that the only reason for us to go to college was to either become teachers or suitable “helpmeets” for our husbands. Girls who got pregnant were expelled.
I never fit in at this schoool. My mind was an active one, and skepticism came naturally to me. Although I didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, engage in fornication, or admit to anyone but me that I wasn’t a Christian until after high school, my inner rebellion must have triggered suspicion from teachers and fellow students (not to mention my parents, who treated me as though I was just chomping at the bit to do all of these things at once, every second of every day).
In such a stifling environment, I went from being a happy, friendly popular kid to a sullen, painfully shy outcast. It did not help matters any that I had a woman’s body and look from the time I was twelve years old, and between that and what one teacher describes as “wisdom beyond her years” (along with the slam, “I hope she isn’t ‘Worldy wise’”), boys stayed away from me. Until my senior year, when some other classmates realized that our school was a bizarre and unhealthy place, I had nary a friend. It truly amazes me after that experience, two of my closest friends are from that school. Even still, we didn’t become close friends until we went away to college.
Those two friends, however, are it. Except for a couple of reunions, I haven’t seen or spoken to most of my high school classmates since 1991. And that’s fine with me. High school was a long time ago, and I have moved on. I wish my fellow high school classmates nothing but the best in their lives. That doesn’t mean, however, that I want to be friends with them on Facebook.
When I joined Facebook, at the behest of one of my high school friends, I listed only my college and graduate school, hoping to avoid the alumni of my high school. I tested the Facebook waters gently. My real name is a very common one, and so I didn’t post a picture, thinking that it would keep most people from finding me. I filled in my religion as “Agnostic,” not meaning that I still held out some possibility of the existence of the Christian god, but instead that I was not willing to rule out the existence of a spiritual world beyond the physical one. My limited profile done, I friended the one high school friend, and a few other close friends, and figured that if that went well that I would then fill in the rest of my profile and join the wonderful world of Facebook in earnest.
My plan didn’t work. I logged back into my Facebook account the next day and found that I had two friend requests from high school classmates. Not wanting to be rude, I accepted their invitations, and that’s when all hell broke loose. I’ve gotten invites from so many alumni that I’m afraid to check the account again.
Here’s what I don’t understand about Facebook: Why do these people want to be my “friend” now? We weren’t friends then, and I highly doubt that we would be friends if we were to meet up again in “real life.” That’s OK. I have no need for these people’s acceptance now, and I’m sure they are doing just fine not knowing my relationship status, what I do for work, or how I pass my time. I’d rather let them fade gently into my past than have to contend with their strange offers of friendship in my present.
All of this is to say that I’m in a bit of a quandary. There are people I’d like to keep in contact with on Facebook, including old college friends, and friends I know now whose updates would amuse me. I know that a presence on Facebook can help me professionally. But I don’t want to rehash high school over and over again. I don’t want invitations to join “All the Christians on Facebook.” I don’t want to read endless updates from people who spend all day doing quizzes and finding Easter Eggs. I already blog, twitter, meet dates, e-mail friends all day, and network for jobs online. Even if I didn’t have this dilemma, I think that adding Facebook to the mix could send me over the edge. So what to do?
I’m not sure, but I’m beginning to feel like I need to make a decision. I suppose if I do want the benefits of Facebook, then the most honest thing to do would be to “un-friend” those high school classmates I no longer wish to know, and restrict the activities of a few others. As one of my real friends said, anyone who knows me well already knows about this weird chapter in my life, and that their presence in my Facebook life doesn’t reflect on me. So maybe I should just bite the bullet and jump in. Or, maybe I should just delete my profile and disappear.
What about you? Do you have people crawling out of the woodwork of your past to request your friendship on Facebook? Are you one of those people who goes looking for everyone you ever knew? How do you handle your Facebook life?