I’d like to say something to my friends who use Facebook because I feel like I’ve lost touch with nearly every single one of you due to my abstinence from this medium, what friendships remain have atrophied to being only echoes of the raucous chorus we used to share,— and I’d like to be better friends. There are few burdens or blessings that are not made better by sharing them with friends, and I bear the bulk of the responsibility for pushing most of mine away.
I stopped using Facebook about a year ago, in 2018, after a longtime friend of mine ghosted me with no word of explanation. Every time I thumbed through my newsfeed, I saw dozens of posts and comments between him and our other friends. It took a few months for the sense of loneliness, isolation, and rejection I felt every time I opened Facebook to become unpleasant enough for me to stop using it entirely. No one noticed that we had stopped talking so suddenly after fifteen years, and when I removed him from my Friends list, Facebook eliminated all traces of him from my newsfeed and post history. It was like he didn’t exist.
When I was more engaged with my friends, I felt that we had stronger, better friendships,—friendships that were augmented by Facebook (and Instagram, for those who see them as separate,) so that we could share more of ourselves with each other. As we started to spend less time face-to-face, it became harder for me to feel connected to the people I cared about. The best parts of of my friendships have been the quiet moments of mutual reflection in between the chaotic vicissitudes of fate, and as our relationships transitioned from “Facebook official” to “Facebook exclusive,” I felt like I lost my value as a friend.
All I could see were ghosts of the people I used to know, carrying on in my absence as if I also didn’t exist. It’s not their fault—I’m not trying to blame anyone by myself for any of this,—my experience simply results from the mechanism by which Facebook operates: engagement begets more engagement, and isolation begets more isolation.
There are many conversations I would love to have in person with any of my friends that I nonetheless refrain from engaging in online, and that preference for discussing sensitive or incendiary topics in a calm, face-to-face manner has left me with seemingly nothing to say in a culture that demands allegiance to a faction, where silence is taken as defection instead of consideration. I spent most of my teenage years locking antlers with people on message boards, engaged in digital debates that stretched on for pages,— and that’s just not the way I like to have a conversation anymore, if such a discourse can be called “conversation” at all.
Without engaging, I deprived my friends of whatever they used to value about my perspective, simply by withholding it. Since I wasn’t bringing anything to the table, I stopped showing up entirely. I thought I could sustain the friendships I cared about without the help of this social apparatus, but the world has moved on and I see that I was wrong,— wrong about my capabilities, wrong about the constitution of my friendships, and wrong about the way I tried to manage my transition. Honestly, I’m no longer sure what my friends even saw in me to begin with. What was I bringing to the table in the first place?
I owe you all an apology. When I decided to stop using social media, without a discussion and without informing anyone beyond the few friends I reached out to directly, I ghosted you. As far as you could tell from my online activity, I stopped caring about you and abruptly broke off all attempts at communication. As anyone who’s ever known someone who died can attest, it’s deeply troubling to hear a voice to which you’ve grown familiar suddenly fall silent.
I ghosted you, and I’m sorry. I was hurt, embarrassed, lonely, and afraid, but that was the wrong way to handle it. I remember when we used to be better friends, and I wish we could be closer. Enough time has passed that we are undoubtedly different people now than we were then (I’ve become a father, for starters,) but I never stopped being in favor of the idea of you and I would be delighted to get to know you better.
When it comes to social media,—Facebook in particular,—I have some challenges to overcome, but I’d rather do something challenging than risk us drifting any further apart. Social media is a problem for me in the same way that alcohol or gambling is a problem for some others, so I hope you can appreciate why I needed to get clean before trying to figure out how to use it in moderation.
If you think we should be better friends, I want you to know that I am open to you via whatever means make you feel most comfortable. If that’s a phone call or a text message, you have my number or I can share it with you in a private message. If that’s chatting over a coffee or a beer, I’ll buy the first round. If that’s meeting you at a party or other social event, I have made great strides in managing my anxiety and work a regular 9-to-5. And if that’s exchanging Likes on Facebook and commenting on each other’s posts, I’m prepared to meet you where you are.
Thanks for taking the time to hear me out. You’ve made me a better person for knowing you.
P.S. If you’re curious about the relationship between Facebook and social pain, I compiled some research on the subject.