I needed a birthday card, and couldn’t decide which one to choose, so I stood staring at the wall of cards trying to narrow it down. Two women behind me caught my attention as they greeted each other.
“Oh my god, I haven’t seen you in years, how are you? I saw you recently went to Spain, looked lovely. And the kids seem to be doing well, the youngest looks like she’s enjoying school. And your eldest, wow, doesn’t he look like your husband these days! And you got that promotion at work, congrats! You’re doing amazingly, juggling everything…”
And so it went on.
This isn’t the first time any of us has heard, or even participated in this type of conversation, the type where because of Facebook there’s was no need for each party to share details of their recent experiences – they’ve already been published and consumed on a superficial level.
I haven’t been on Facebook for years, I deleted my account because I regarded it as a ‘toxic time stealer’ – hours of just scrolling through newsfeeds of people I barely knew. When I quit (sounds like an addiction, and to some degree it did feel that way to begin with) I initially felt quite excluded. But, very quickly, wonderful things started to happen.
The noise of Facebook, the chatter from people I hardly knew, was replaced by genuine connections. People started to actually call and text me to see how I was. I’d bump into people and be excited to see them – I wanted to know what they’d been up to because I had no idea!
I had more time on my hands, because they weren’t constantly clutching a phone. I questioned myself less because I was able to focus on what made me happy, instead of comparing my own (real) life to other peoples’ Facebook lives. I was more present with the people I was with, I enjoyed the moments I was experiencing as they happened, rather than becoming preoccupied with posting about them and waiting for likes.
Wheeler et al (1983) found that a number of students who had plenty of friends and spent a lot of time with them were still lonely because they only talked about impersonal topics rather than sharing their real concerns. This is another way that Facebook friends can come undone. A lot of those “friends” are acquaintances, friends-of-friends, work colleagues – lovely people, but not true friends. Not the kind you’d be able to call at short notice to get you out of a pickle, or who’d rush over to eat ice cream and listen to you cry about your heartbreak, or with whom you share those private jokes that make everyone else roll their eyes but have you two rolling around laughing.
Coming off Facebook placed all my friends into a sieve – they were all poured in and the ones who wanted to stick around and genuinely be part of my life made the effort. They got my number, or they dropped me an email, and asked how I was, did I want to meet up for a coffee. They made the effort, and I did too. We had real conversations about real things, because I knew that these people were really there for me – I wasn’t having to worry about how my message was being consumed by others. All of a sudden the people I was thinking about weren’t the ones who appeared on my feed most frequently, but the ones I genuinely cared for the most. If I needed someone, I reached out. If I missed someone I called and asked how they were. When we met for coffee, I asked how they’d been, and really listened to their answer.
There was none of this “I saw on Facebook that you had done this, that or the other” – the relationship was fresh it was based on connecting properly – a connection that enriched me, nourished and recharged me, rather than a superficial fast Facebook fix.
Take a break from Facebook, even if it’s just for a month. See who you miss, who you want to hear from. Remove the toxicity of comparing yourself to the snapshots of themselves that people present – that’s not their real life, it’s the highlight reel. Focus on you. Focus on cultivating real friendships that will make you truly happy.